The things we do for love: Simran Mangharam on lessons learnt in 2023

What does it take for a couple to stay happy? There are some who seem to thrive, over decades, with little visible effort. As a new year dawns, I spoke to five such couples to see if they had anything in common. The list of their dos and don’ts overlapped far more than I had expected. About 80% of the points below appeared on the lists of all. Here is their top 10.

Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett play the efficient and much-in-love survivalists Bill and Frank in Episode 3 of The Last of Us. Given how well they collaborated and coped in the midst of a fungi apocalypse, they likely followed a plethora of great rules.

Don’t threaten to leave or end a relationship: All the couples I spoke to said they operated with the understanding that the sentiment of “I want out” would never be put into words. Partly because such a statement would be untrue, and would therefore constitute not a real point of no-return but something else entirely: a cruel and rather bullying threat.

Know how to navigate each other’s existing personalities: One partner may be a neighbourhood organiser who is engaged in a battle over parking spaces. The other may not care what happens on the street outside. Then again, one may be passionate about art; the other about their sneaker collection. It’s important to make room for interests, and disinterest.

Respect each other’s choices: Whether it’s a decision to change careers or refuse a promotion; try a new side hustle or work extra hours for sheer love of the job, any decision relating to how one person spends their time will mean a lifestyle change for a couple with a shared living space and shared finances. At times like these, remember your partner’s right to sometimes choose themselves over you.

Replace judgement with support: There will be times when you or your spouse will make a terrible mistake; one that may cost you both money or cause embarrassment, perhaps ruin a plan or force you to defer a shared goal. How you respond reveals how you view them; it will likely affect how they view themselves. Remember that it is your job to be their champion. Be kind.

When calling out each other’s BS, be tactful: Watching out for one another also means saying, “Hey, this is new. Are you sure you want this to be part of your personality?” Are they guilty of having double standards? Are they starting to sound pretentious? Was that a too-cruel joke? Being able to gesture towards flaws tactfully keeps a relationship healthy and authentic.

Communicate, communicate, communicate: All five couples I spoke to make it a point to set aside all screens and focus on conversation at the end of their day. This is done daily and consciously. Phones are silenced too.

Frame a fight-resolution strategy: In my experience, many couples have worked out a system to resolve a fight. Some don’t end the day without making up; others “take turns” to win. Over time this strategy will evolve, as it should. A couple who is still into each other will fight / argue / disagree. These five couples still do.

Respect boundaries: I truly believe that boundaries are the guard rails that keep a relationship on course. State your boundaries clearly, as early as is logical. Update your partner as your priorities and preferences change. It makes life easier, and leads to the next item on my list.

Be the best friend: Luck may bring two people together, as happy couples point out, but the trick is to end up being each other’s best friend. This happens with time, respect, support, boundaries. The tips above are a guide to a healthy path, and on a healthy path, two people in love will likely become each other’s best friends, without too much concerted effort.

Choose love, every day: From simple gestures such as holding hands to thoughtful ones where you surprise a partner with something they’ve been wanting to do or have, the little things can help keep the romance alive. If you don’t know where to start, go back to doing what you were doing when you first fell in love.

If some of these tips sound familiar, well, you’re on the right track. For those who are currently struggling, it might help to remember that there is nothing exceptional about couples that last. They just keep to a simple recipe that works; the ingredients for which you likely already have: love, empathy, kindness, communication.

On that note, happy new beginnings, and happy new year.

(Simran Mangharam is a dating and relationship coach and can be reached on [email protected])

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