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27th Aug 2020

What is the secret to the success of a relationship? Is time a measure of love? Amanda Cassidy gets some insider tips from couples together decades.


Thank you for helping me grow the front of the anniversary card says with a flourish of leafy writing. I think he got this one in the flower shop along with my bouquet of peonies that I look forward to each year on this date. This year it is a little more special, though. We have been married 10 years, a decade since we eloped to London. And a lot has happened since.

We sit down to a celebration lockdown meal with our excited children — no fancy restaurants to escape to. And actually it gives us a lovely opportunity to speak to them about the lead-up to our union and the day itself. We look at our wedding photos and drink Margaritas while the kids shriek at our wedding dance video. “You both look SO weird.”

We do look different. Our baby faces back then reflect the naivety of what entering into such a huge commitment really means. Ten years worth of wrinkles, shared experiences, pregnancies, and house moves have shown the depth of what it means to merge your life with one other person.

Respect

Luckily, we haven’t experienced some of the dips I believe this rollercoaster holds, but what I have learned is that knowing someone this long means I understand the buttons to push or not push. He agrees. The reaction you get from pushing those buttons also becomes more predictable. When it comes to emotions, that is more useful than you might imagine.

By intertwining our lives, we have signed up to adapting, evolving, and yes, growing together. And as cheesy as my 10-year anniversary card may be (don’t tell him I said that), that is what this is all about — growing together, growing children, growing our lives and the things that make us tick as individuals. Respecting each other’s choices about those things is pretty essential too.

A decade seems like a lot to me, but then I speak to Alan and Martin, together over 22 years this November. “We give each other space,” explains Alan, a vet from Co Meath. “But while we lead very full lives separately, we also know that we are there for each other.”

Martin’s mum passed away in early March during the coronavirus crisis. Alan says that the difficult times bring them just as close as the joyful times. “Because we are together so long, I’ve seen in great detail, over the 22 years we are together, his relationship with his mother and so seeing his grief breaks my heart because I understand what he is feeling.

“We also haven’t had an easy path as gay men living in a small community. But trials and tribulations can bond. When you share a life, you have to be empathetic to your partner in everything each of you does. I didn’t really understand that when we first got together.”

The golden duo

Psychotherapist David Kavanagh has worked with over 12,000 couples in his career. A pioneer in using neuroscience research to improve the lives of his clients, he also helped married couples on the BBC TV show You’re Not the Man I Married regain their spark.

He says there are two important things that are essential to keeping a marriage healthy. “Respect and excitement. If you have plenty of both, most couples can get through just about anything.

“I once chased him around the house with a wooden spoon when the kids were little”

“Losing respect for someone means you are also taking them for granted. Resentment builds and this destroys romance and intimacy. Excitement means we can take a break from the mundane routine of domestic life. Without novelty, we become bored and then disinterested in the other person which can mean a physical disinterest which again can cause problems in the root of a relationship.”

Amy, a former teacher, is coming up on 30 years together with her partner Darran. She agrees that avoiding resentment is key. “We are all inclined to hold grudges but that just can’t work when you are with someone for this length of time. You can’t bring up old stuff. It is an unspoken rule.”

Amy says that there is also an element of reliance. “It sounds funny but I actually really like Darran as a person. I’m no longer preoccupied with that aspect of our relationship the way I was at the start because we know each other inside out. He likes me too. Knowing that really frees us up to appreciate and trust one another.

We’ve also raised four children together. We’ve seen sides of each other that bring a deep intimacy. I once chased him around the house with a wooden spoon when the kids were little. We laugh about those things now.”

It is give and take, and you have to be reasonable too.

Grow

He knows I will always take care of him.

Trust is essential in every relationship. And after 42 years together, Rose says that for her and her husband Tom trust has been proven over and over again. That, she says, is the secret to the longevity of their relationship. “It is give and take, and you have to be reasonable too. I presumed Tom was a kind and generous man when we married, but then I saw it over the years being proven time and time again.

He still drives me crazy sometimes, but that is the funny thing about love, it is what makes you patient, it helps you hold your tongue, it is the reason you kill each other but still come back together.

Now Tom, who has an autoimmune disease that limits his movement, is more reliant on Rose than ever. “That trust we built is there for moments like this. He knows I will always take care of him. I know that if I was in the same boat, he’d never leave my side.  We made a pact early on in our relationship. To never go to sleep without sorting out an argument. And do you know, even to this date, we never have…

Feature image via Unsplash.com 

Read more: The secret to a happy marriage according to therapists

Read more: What can ancient philosophers teach us about love today?

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