Let’s be honest, the initial phase of falling in love and physical attraction is not enough to maintain and sustain a relationship in the long run. There are lots of other practical aspects involved that contribute to building a healthy relationship.
The “honeymoon phase” phase for many relationships can only last for so long. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how we function. The initial blinding love where we overlook our partner’s faults and flaws and feel almost addicted to them is essential to get things going between the two.
But hey, life is not always a bed of roses, and we are bound to face the practicalities of life.
We’ve got to make sure that when that initial “relationship high” fades off, our choice of spending the rest of our lives with that person doesn’t change with it and that we are with someone whom we deeply respect and still like to be around even after the honeymoon phase fades off.
To be able to do that, we’ve got to lay the right foundation and practically work on building a strong and healthy relationship from the start. If your relationship has a strong foundation, harsh weather of life and strong winds of time won’t bring it down.
(By the way, this is going to be a good ‘ol long beefy guide like my other guide on toxic relationships. So get a cup of coffee [or tea if you’re a tea person], and let’s dive deep into this.)
It’s common for people who have just begun their relationship to think that they don’t need to work on their relationship because everything is going so great right now.
Don’t let those overwhelming emotions of love and attraction fool you into thinking that everything will be perfect down the road since there’s great love and passion between the two of you.
It’s great to enjoy the springs and summers but it’s also important to think wisely and prepare for the autumns and winters of life.
1. Have a Realistic Approach Towards Your Relationship
One of the primary reasons why many relationships don’t last long is that people enter a relationship with an unbalanced approach and unrealistic expectations.
Making decisions under the influence of temporary whims and desires when you’re “feeling head over heels” is not a very stable foundation on which to base such major life decisions.
Let’s face the reality, our intimate relationships aren’t the story of Romeo & Juliet (thank God that isn’t the case, did you know that 6 people died because of the love-madness between those teenagers!). Don’t expect to always feel the initial “romantic high” in a life-long relationship. That’s just too unrealistic.
The burden of such expectations weighs our relationship down, and when our unrealistically high expectations are not met, we feel as if there’s something wrong with our relationship.
Our partner is no perfect prince or princess from a novel. They are flawed, imperfect, fallible human beings who won’t always feel the way you do.
Both of you will have your ups and downs in life, and go through not-so-glamourous phases. Your partner won’t always look as perfectly handsome or beautiful, and nor will they always be in a positive state of mind.
Building a healthy, stable, and lasting relationship requires much more patience, maturity, and wisdom than what most people demonstrate in their love lives. It’s strange how 40 y/o adults act like 14 y/o teenagers during an argument or a rough patch in a relationship.
It’s like all of our wisdom, life experiences, and literacy goes out the window when dealing with the person we love so dearly and want to spend our entire lives with.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, somewhere inside we know that part of our love is somewhat conditional.
We love and treat our partners well when they fulfill those subconscious conditions and expectations we have of them. When they don’t, we feel like they don’t love us anymore and in turn, we begin to lose our love for them.
Unconditional Love is based on maturity. Knowing and accepting that things won’t always be so smooth between the two and that there will be some rough patches, yet we choose to love our partners regardless. Unconditional love is not based on mere moods and desires.
It’s knowing that there will be conflicts and disagreements, while also realizing that not all conflicts and disagreements need to be resolved for a relationship to work.
A lot of frustration in relationships comes from having idealistic expectations, thinking that there must be no conflicts in a strong relationship, and trying desperately to resolve everything to attain perfection.
It’s ironic that trying too desperately to make a relationship perfect and conflict-free, ends up in a relationship full of frustration and often toxicity, which eventually leads to breaking up.
2. Falling In and Out of Love, Then Back In
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for people who give thought.”Quran 30:21
“Lasting love” is a choice. Sometimes people get aggravated when I say that. They often link it to their own pain during a breakup and subconsciously get defensive. In doing that, they miss the point.
What I usually mean when I mention long-lasting love being a choice is that your mental and emotional state won’t always be the same. You’ll change, you’ll evolve (we’ll come to that in a bit), and so will your feelings.
It’s common to fall in and out of love constantly during life-long relationships. When you commit to spending a lifetime with someone, you don’t just give up on them only because you “don’t feel the spark anymore”. You stick together and work on reigniting the spark patiently until you two fall back in love once again.
Ask a couple who has been happily married for 30 or 40 years and they’ll tell you the exact same thing. You keep falling in and out of love throughout your life.
Love does not just always “happens” and you don’t always “fall in love” automatically. You have to put in conscious efforts to reignite love through constant care, patience, sacrifice, and acceptance.
Sometimes we’ve got to work dedicatedly on cultivating love in a relationship. It’s not always dramatically romantic like novels or movies. It’s based on sticking with the commitment to be with our partner through the thick and thin, the highs and lows of life.
It’s not based on just the youthful spark, It’s based on seeing both of you growing old together and raising a healthy, functional family.
The crux is, Lasting and Unconditional Love is far more practical and based on very conscious choices and decisions that we realize.
3. Establishing Healthy and Open Communication With Your Partner
Communication is the cliche of almost every relationship advice and “relationship tips for couples” kind of topics, and there is a good reason.
Lack of healthy communication is the root of misassumptions and misinterpretations.
When there is proper communication in a relationship, it not only allows timely resolution to problems and conflicts but also allows you the opportunity to develop a better understanding of your partner.
No matter how close we are to our partners and how well we think we know them, they’re often still a mystery to us. In fact, curiously seeking to understand this ‘mystery’ is often what brings charm and attraction to a relationship.
A couple’s ability to have honest and vulnerable conversations is often what determines how deep and strong that relationship gets over time. Developing a deeper understanding of each other is one of the core elements of building a life-long relationship.
One of the prominent signs of a healthy relationship is to be able to sit and discuss even the most uncomfortable topics in a respectful manner.
A major part of establishing healthy communication that is actually fruitful, is Deep, Active Listening.
Active Listening in relationships is a topic on its own. I’ve written a separate guide on How to develop effective listening skills to drastically improve the quality of your relationships. You can check out the guide below:
4. Neither of You Should be Afraid of Each Other’s Reactions
Walking on eggshells in a relationship is never a good feeling. It’s emotionally tiring and suffocating.
It’s difficult to build a strong relationship when you or your partner are afraid of expressing themselves to each other out of the fear of getting an intense reaction.
If you have anger issues, insecurities or face emotional instability at times, begin working on improving yourself immediately. Don’t let your partner or your relationship suffer because of your own internal issues.
If it’s your partner having such issues, make sure to communicate calmly and gently. Pick an appropriate time and place to talk about it. Don’t expect immediate acceptance, there will be some defensiveness at first.
Seek therapy or life coaching if you must. Don’t delay or it’ll eat up your relationship from the inside.
5. Forgiving Each Other’s Mistakes and Shortcomings
When you commit to a life-long relationship, you must become good at forgiving and moving on. There will be a lot of mistakes and mess-ups along the way. Your partner is not at all perfect. They are fallible human beings full of mistakes and errors, just like yourself.
If you don’t get REALLY good at forgiving, you’ll find yourself getting annoyed, hurt, frustrated, and stuck in your relationship very often, and at the tiniest of things.
My parents were married for 33 years before my father passed on to the next life. I saw ups and downs in their relationship, but one of the things that kept them going was my father’s ability to instantly forgive and move on. Often before or without an apology.
He never expected anyone to apologize to him, and his ability to forgive and move on wasn’t just limited to his marriage, he was like this with everyone he cared about.
He was rarely annoyed or frustrated and was very VERY patient with people, especially in his household.
One life advice he gave to me while on his death-bed was:
Dr. Ghulam Nabi
“Learn to stay patient and silent when the other person is angry. Understand the other person’s nature, and learn to forgive and move on. This is how I kept our marriage intact for so long so that you guys (we, his children) have an intact family.”
6. Having Deep Respect For Your Partner and Never Crossing The Boundaries of Respect
If you want to take away ONE thing from this guide, take this. Respect is the ultimate and most important thing in a healthy and lasting relationship.
Having deep, genuine respect for one another is the only thing that will keep you together when things are rough and it is the only thing that will help you to successfully resolve conflicts in your relationship.
This is something that cannot be faked or put on as a mask or a quick trick to make things a bit better in the relationship. This is something that must come from deep within. It must be genuine.
When you look at your partner or think of them, among other emotions that you might feel, there must always be a strong sense of respect. DEEP respect. If not then there’s a good chance that the boat of your relationship will rock a bit harder during the stormy winds of life.
But What does it mean to have Deep Respect?
Acknowledging, accepting, and even embracing that, in certain areas, your partner might have different preferences, choices, likes, and dislikes. Even your values and priorities might differ at a certain point as you “evolve” down the road. (again, we’ll come to that in a bit)
Having deep respect also means that you respect your partner’s imperfections, flaws, and weaknesses, knowing that you too are imperfect and flawed. Not thinking of yourself as better or smarter.
Acknowledging that everyone has unique strengths as well as weaknesses.
Focus and emphasize your partner’s strengths rather than criticizing and pointing out their weaknesses all the time.
It’s strange that so often we get stingy in respecting our significant other and harsh in passing judgments and making misassumptions.
It’s common to see people giving more respect, and space, and acknowledging differences with an open mind when it comes to other people in their lives such as co-workers, friends, and acquaintances.
But when it comes it their spouse, all of a sudden they turn into narrow-minded, control freaks.
Developing deep respect in a relationship can begin with simply acknowledging that your partner is an individual human being and that you do NOT own them. Of course, there’s a lot more to it, but having this mindset is the very basic root of respect.
In terms of being on the same page, and having similar values, preferences, and priorities, these are the things that are to be responsibly sorted out before getting into a commitment. Once you’ve committed to your partner, embrace what comes as a part of the package (unless there’s some serious or morally questionable stuff involved).
One last thing to always keep in mind regarding respect is to never cross the boundaries of respect even when you’re in an argument or a fight.
We tend to go to the lowest of the low and try to find the meanest, most personal, and most deeply hurting things to say during fights with our significant other. Not realizing that it might be doing permanent damage to the relationship even if later we sort things out with them.
Respect is almost a sacred thing and is very fragile. Make a promise to yourself to never cross this line in a fight or an argument.
7. Embrace the Evolution of You Two
As time goes on, we gain more knowledge and new experiences in life and we can’t help but evolve through that.
Often evolution is a sign of growth. We grow wiser as we age which might lead to drastic changes in the way we operate and deal with things.
Evolution can also mean drastic changes in one’s beliefs, perspectives, personalities, and character traits.
That person you fell in love with might not be the exact same person 10 or 20 years from now. The tiny little things that you might love about your partner might not stay the same as life goes on.
Ever heard of the phrase “You’re not what you used to be”. Yep, that old classic complaint we get to hear from many couples who’ve spent a good share of summers and winters together.
This statement usually comes from a sense of loss, that we miss our partner the way they were before, or in other words, we haven’t yet fully and openly accepted the change and still clinging on to the past.
Honestly, changing and evolving is not all that bad after all (as long as it’s not in a very negative direction). One of the greatest qualities we humans possess is the ability to adapt and transform with the flow of life.
Every one of us goes through significant mental evolution within our lifetime. We are constantly on a journey of discovering life and discovering ourselves, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously.
You both will evolve throughout your lives, and so will your relationship. The way you love and care for each other might change as well.
It’s impractical to expect people and circumstances to always remain the same. You both will probably go through a lot in life and those experiences will shape you both in unique ways.
The best-case scenario in a relationship would be to evolve and grow together. But even if you grow in your own specific journeys different from each other, that is all fine as long as you both respect each other’s growth and evolution.
Also, keep in mind that this journey of evolution and growth might not always be a walk in the park. Things can get a bit rough at times and your feelings towards your partner might fluctuate during those phases of life.
But if you have set a strong foundation for your relationship, things will eventually settle down and get better. After all, being in a committed relationship is about sticking together through thick and thin.
“…And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and God has put much good in it.”Quran 4:19
8. Make Your Relationship Breathable
One of the biggest mistakes people make at the beginning of a relationship is getting too attached, clingy, and emotionally dependent on their partner.
They feel like they have to ALWAYS be in each other’s presence and do EVERYTHING together. Over time, this begins to suffocate both, and this is one of the main reasons many relationships turn toxic (check out this In-Depth 18 Step Guide on How to Fix a Toxic Relationship).
I’ve said it before in the other guide, I’ll say it again here, always remember that you DON’T own anybody. Not your spouse, not even your children. They are separate individual people who deserve their individuality and space to be respected.
Instead of trying to control each other and trying to make our partner another copy of ourselves, we must learn to embrace the uniqueness they bring to the table.
A bit of diversity is what makes a relationship interesting. When both of you bring your own set of interests, traits, hobbies, and perspectives into your relationship. That will not only make the relationship grow and be more dynamic but also allow each of you to learn from the other and explore new territories.
9. Let Go of Insecurities
A big part of giving each other space is to allow your partner to have fun and have a good time without you.
A lot of people have a limiting belief that “once you’re married, you have no life of your own”. Really?! No wonder why so many people have such a negative mental association with the concept of marriage.
It’s extremely important for the health and sustainability of the relationship that both of you DO have a life of your own. Have your own friend circles and gatherings, keep your hobbies and things you are passionate about, and make sure to keep growing as an individual.
If you’re not growing on an individual level, it will be very hard to grow in the relationship.
One of the most common things I’ve experienced in my coaching practice is that people “lose” themselves after marriage. Their sense of identity becomes so attached to the relationship with their spouse (and later on with their kids) that they don’t even know who they are as an individual.
They get so disconnected from themselves that they initially find it hard to indulge in self-care activities and spend time by themselves. Their sense of Love becomes so dependent on their spouse and children that they find it strange at first when I introduce them to the concept of self-love.
Simply put, allow yourself and your partner to go out with friends or other relatives without each other. Give each other space to breathe and have some time for themselves. This will NOT make you less important to them.
Your partner will deeply appreciate you for this and it will only increase your respect and your sense of maturity in their eyes.
10. Develop Bonding Rituals
Bonding rituals are acts and behaviors that deepen your connection with your partner, ignite passion and intimacy, and keep the spark alive.
Things like deep hugs, staring into each other’s eyes (lovingly of course, and Not out of anger, hopefully), romantically holding hands, and lots of pecks and kisses. Things of that sort (I’ll come to the comprehensive list of bonding rituals in a bit).
Many of the bonding rituals are nothing out of the ordinary, and when I suggest someone develop these rituals and habits in their relationship, they sometimes get underwhelmed saying that “most of these are an obvious part of an intimate relationship and we USED to do many of them at the start of our relationship.”
Can you see what’s wrong with this statement? Let me elaborate.
First of all, after spending a couple of years with their spouse, many people get desensitized and underestimate the power of such little, often subtle relationship habits. Considering those habits “obvious” and “ordinary” is where the problem lies.
With this attitude, even if someone does practice bonding rituals, there’s a good chance that they’re doing it half-heartedly and out of formality rather than deeply emphasizing the essence of it.
Secondly, in the last part of the above statement, “we used to do many of them at the start of our relationship”, is a telltale indication of why many people lose spark after a certain period.
Many of us naturally indulge in such bonding behaviors at the start of our relationship which makes the relationship so rich and intoxicating during the honeymoon phase. But since we often do it unconsciously, we rarely notice how such bonding rituals and behaviors play such an immensely important role to keep the spark alive in a relationship.
As life gets busy, we unknowingly drift away from such deep bonding rituals, and after a certain point realize the loss of spark and wonder what actually went wrong.
If you observe couples who have been happily married for several decades, you’ll notice these subtle bonding behaviors and displays of affection toward each other even at older ages. That’s one of their secrets to keeping the spark alive and feeling like lovers even in their 70s and 80s.
This is also one of the key secrets to falling back in love with your partner and feel attracted to them once again after you’ve had a not-so-loving phase in your relationship. Take notes on this.
List of Bonding Behaviors and Rituals
The following bonding rituals not just help cultivate a deeper sense of intimacy on a physical level but also on an emotional and spiritual level as well. Let’s not forget that your spouse is your life partner, your lover, and also your soul mate at the same time.
Here are some activities to enrich your love life in all these areas, and as you do them, forget about the external world, its worries, and its matters. Forget that time exists and just allow yourself to deeply immerse within the moment and be fully present and attentive to your partner.
- Deeply and lovingly gaze into each other’s eyes for several minutes. Eye are the windows to the soul. Allow yourself to dive deep into your partner’s eyes. Holding hands while doing this is a plus.
- Make it a habit to kiss and caress your partner on random occasions throughout the day.
- Verbally express your love often and be generous in complimenting. Keep reminding your partner every now and then how much they mean to you and how grateful you are to have them in your life.
- From now on, in your mind, replace the word spouse or partner with lover. Our choice of words plays a huge role in how we feel about something or someone. Just try saying to yourself that “he/she (your partner’s name) is my LOVER, and I’m his/her LOVER.” Notice how weirdly good it feels to say that. Start thinking of your spouse as your lover consistently and see how it subtly enhances the quality of your relationship.
- Give a relaxing and soothing massage to your “lover” especially after they’ve had a long and tiring day. Head massage, shoulder massage, feet massage whatever they like.
- Speaking of long and tiring days, show special consideration when your lover has had one of those days.
Make them some relaxing hot chocolate or a cup of coffee.
Help out with their extra chores.
Forgive and let go of any grumpiness they might have had due to stress and tiredness.
Give them full attention if they want to talk about their problems or give them space if they want to be left alone and prefer some quiet time with themselves.
- Have deep, long, and spiritually connecting hugs. Hug each other in silence and feel the presence of each other for several minutes.
- Try rhythmic, synchronized breathing. Hug your partner deeply and breathe either with them or follow their rhythm, meaning that you both either inhale and exhale deeply, together. Or you inhale as your lover exhales, and as they exhale you inhale deeply.
Experiment with both these patterns and notice what feels best for both of you (obviously you’ll have to communicate with your partner and explain to them before you do this).
- Place your ear on your lover’s chest, and listen to their heartbeat. You’ll be amazed at how profound and intimate this little thing can be to deepen your connection with your lover on a spiritual level.
- Spoon with your lover often. Spooning is such a deeply intimate position to hold each other and provide a deep sense of comfort and security to the person that you love so dearly.
- Share a meal and eat on the same plate. (don’t do this if you’re really really hungry or your lover won’t be your lover anymore once you’ve gulped the entire meal leaving them with an empty plate).
- Give gifts more often. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on buying expensive stuff. Sometimes little yet considerate gifts can have a lot more value than throwing away money to buy overpriced branded stuff.
The key to giving gifts is to know your partner’s liking and what they value. Giving the right gifts at the right time makes them feel how much you think and care for them and how much they mean to you.
That’s the essence of giving gifts.
- Play Together. Life can get pretty bland and boring when we are too busy in the rut of everyday life. Make things a bit interesting and take some time out for fun. Loosen up a bit and get into playful activities. Let your inner playful child unleash no matter how old you get. Get into hobbies that you both could share that’ll allow you to learn and grow together at something.
- Make sure to go on dates no matter how long you’ve been together. But before you go get ready to go on the same old date in the same old restaurant eating the same old meal, hear me out.
Research has shown that going on the same old pleasant yet bland and boring dates might not be enough to keep the spark alive in your relationship.
You’ve got to make your dates interesting! Change things up a bit and get into activities and places that might be a bit new and thrilling for you both. That could include enrolling in an art class, hiking, going camping with some of your friends, exploring a new place, going to an amusement park, or as simple as trying out a new restaurant.
11. Letter Writing During Conflicts
Conflicts are bound to happen in any relationship. The key to healthy relationships is the ability of the couple to resolve conflicts effectively and respectfully.
When there is a heated argument or a conflict regarding a sensitive topic, talking directly might not be as fruitful in many situations, as whenever the topic comes up, both start to speak simultaneously trying to defend their position without hearing each other out.
In such a scenario, letter writing can work wonders to resolve conflict and deepen understanding between the couple, as each will have some time to reflect and ponder without the urgency to respond immediately.
You don’t have to keep letter writing limited to conflicts. You can write love letters and pour your heart out in expressing your love and affection for your spouse. Just imagine how much quality and richness this little old-fashioned ritual can add to your relationship.
12. Taking Responsibility For Your Share of Actions
Blaming always leads to a Victim-Mindset or victim mentality. A victim mentality is when you perceive things as a helpless, hopeless victim who cannot do anything to make things better.
Usually, as you can tell, it’s not a very empowering way to run your brain and handle the situation.
It often ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, making you feel stuck and feel like you can’t do anything, when in fact there might be something that you could do to make things better but are unable to see due to this mindset.
A simple yet profound way to get out of this mindset is to ask empowering and proactive questions to yourself.
“What can I do on my part to make things better here?”
“What is my share of mistakes that I could improve upon?”
“What is in it for me to learn and grow as a person?”
13. Take Responsibility for Your Happiness
Approaching a relationship with the expectations that getting married will fix your life and get you out of unfulfillment, that your partner is responsible for your happiness, and that all of your life’s problems will magically disappear and you’ll live happily ever after, is like placing a mountain’s weight on your partner and your relationship.
Your partner is not your savior or messiah, and your sense of identity must not be dependent upon your partner. Take responsibility for your happiness and well-being, and aim at becoming a complete and fulfilled person from within first.
When both people in a relationship are responsible enough to carry their own weight and are emotionally healthy, they rid their relationship of the burdens and toxicity that codependency brings.
Blaming and victim mentality, however comforting it might seem at the moment, never brings anything good to the table and is always self-destructive.
When people put blame on others for their own misery, they are essentially avoiding the responsibility for themselves and their well-being. As a result, they give away whatever power and charge they potentially have over their life.
Never forget that you are an individual person with an individual identity regardless of how many years you’ve been married and how many kids you have.
14. Things You Must Never Do – The DON’Ts in a Healthy Relationship
I have written a separate guide on what to never do in a relationship. Things that you must avoid at all costs. Surprisingly and unfortunately we find many of those things very common among a lot of couples. No wonder why so many relationships don’t last long.
Make sure to read the guide, it’s shorter than this one:
12 Worst Relationship Mistakes – Things to Never Do in a Relationship
15. Setting Boundaries In a Relationship
A couple with healthy boundaries looks way different than a couple who doesn’t. The difference is night and day.
You might also be wondering why I didn’t talk much about setting boundaries in a relationship in this guide. Setting boundaries the right way is one of the most important parts of developing a healthy, strong, lifelong relationship and that is an entire topic that needs its own separate guide.
So I invite you to check out this guide on setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in a relationship:
Now, What’s Next?
You might want to bookmark this guide and keep coming back to it every now and then, so it may serve as a guide (hopefully) whenever you need it in your love life.
Apart from the 2 relationship guides mentions above, you might also want to check out the following guides:
How To Fix a Toxic Relationship
If you’ve ever faced toxicity in your relationship, you might want to check out my other in-depth guide on How to Fix a Toxic Relationship.
I consider this guide as one of the cornerstones of this blog, read by thousands of people every month, and probably one of the most in-depth guides on this topic you’ll find on the internet. You can find it here:
Healthy Relationship Habits
Also, check out my other article on healthy relationship habits that every happy and successful couple must have:
15 Healthy Relationship Habits That Most Happy Couples Have (COMING SOON)
I hope this guide served you well and that you’re taking away something good from this for your relationship. I pray and wish you well on your journey into a life-long, fruitful relationship.
Talk to you in the next one!