A Healthy Relationship Takes Effort
My partner and I are celebrating ten years of togetherness this summer, and I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on our journey. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that we went on our first date, and other times it seems we’ve been together a lifetime. Like most relationships, it’s been both wonderful and challenging. We’ve had our best moments together. We’ve also faced our fair share of obstacles.
If I’ve learned anything in the last decade, it’s that loving someone well requires more listening than talking. Staying true and loving someone is saying ‘yes’ to showing up on the hardest days. It’s not always easy—commitment is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it is also the most rewarding.
So as a nod to ten years with my partner, here are a few of my favorite resources for cultivating a healthy longterm relationship. Sometimes these resources have been for survival, and other times they’ve been a bit more light-hearted, helping us to keep the fire alive during the mundane seasons. Whether you’re struggling to connect, longing to deepen your relationship, or you’re simply looking to spice things up, I hope these tips can benefit your relationship in some way.
1. Engage in Thoughtful Media Together
My partner and I love books, documentaries, and podcasts. We especially love engaging in this content together. Most times, we’ll listen to podcasts or read books separately and then we will discuss our thoughts over dinner or on the weekend. At least once a month, we try to come together to listen to an audiobook or podcast, often in lieu of watching tv (we watch plenty of Netflix, too). Consuming the same content has become a meaningful way to invest in our relationship. While we still have our separate lists of books and podcasts (he prefers fiction while I love memoir), consuming the same content encourages us to grow together. It also promotes thoughtful conversation in-between the talks about chores, budgets, and daily schedules.
While we don’t only engage in relationship-centered content, I have to recommend everyone listen to this episode from the On Being podcast. In it, Alain de Botton discusses the ‘‘true hard work of love and relationships.'' It’s one of the most transformative relationship podcasts episodes of all time. Check it out with your partner.
2. Discover and Honor Your Enneagram Numbers
My partner and I introduced the Enneagram into our relationship three years ago. It’s gifted us a common language and helped us to understand one another, especially in the most trying seasons. More than anything, the Enneagram has helped us to remain soft in our relationship and see the world through the other person’s lens. Our communication skills have improved exponentially, and we have learned to empathize with and embrace each other’s unique wiring.
If you and your partner are already familiar with the Enneagram, I wrote an essay specific to using the tool to improve your relationship. If you haven’t heard about it before, I recommend reading about the Enneagram on your own (avoid ‘typing’ your partner), and listening for the number that speaks most to you. Online tests can be helpful, but most Enneagram teachers recommend reading about the sacred tool and engaging in some soul searching to hone in on your number. Here are a few of my favorite resources for getting started.
Moreover, the five love languages are also an excellent tool for deepening your relationship. Courtney, The Good Trade Associate Editor, wrote an excellent essay about love languages and how they can benefit your sexual relationship. You can read the essay here.
3. Prioritize Play & Embodied Experiences
A few years ago, my partner and I went on a vacation. The place we were staying had a community pool. One afternoon, the pool was empty except for the two of us. We played pool games and raced laps to see who was a faster swimmer. It was fun. It was effortless. And it was also really different for our relationship.
You see, my partner and I are both quite serious people. Even when we were dating as teenagers, my preferred date night looked like going to a cozy restaurant and having a long, intimate conversation. I’ve always preferred vulnerable talks and sharing emotions over experiences and activities. That day in the pool shifted things, though. It was the first time in a while we’d been silly and had childlike fun together. We discovered it was something we were missing in our relationship. The more we began to seek our embodied and playful experiences, the healthier our relationship became.
It’s easy to forget to play, especially as adults, but it’s necessary for cultivating a healthy relationship. Whether you play a game together, go on a hike, race laps in the pool, or just dance around the living room, having fun with your partner is so important. It also makes life way more enjoyable.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few of our favorite embodied and playful activities: at-home dance parties, indoor rock climbing, trampoline parks, hiking with our dog, and exploring new cities on bicycles.
4. Invest in Couples Retreats
Whether we’re going through a rough patch or simply need an intentional getaway, my partner and I have found that couples retreats are an excellent way to reconnect. We love escaping to nature and forgetting about our busy schedules for a few days. It is during these weekends away that we are also able to have meaningful conversations and check in on our relationship. Sometimes these weekends are self-led retreats, other times we attend an organized event with workshops and other couples. Either way, we’ve found that something truly magical happens when we invest time and money in our relationship. It’s become one of my favorite ways to honor our commitment and reignite intimacy.
Here are a few of my favorite couples retreats in the USA. I do want to acknowledge that couples retreats are an investment, and it’s a privilege to have the means to attend. So that it’s not a huge hit to our bank account, my partner and I save a small percentage from each paycheck in a ‘couples retreat fund.’ Some retreat centers also have scholarship options, and we’ve found our friends and family love to donate to these types of trips in place of Christmas and birthday gifts. When a weekend away just isn’t an option though, we try and create our own couples retreat at home. You and your partner can do this too by clearing your calendars, turning your phones off, and spending intentional time together.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.