If you married your high-school or college sweetheart, keep in mind these challenges and strategies.
Young love doesn’t always last, but sometimes sweethearts manage to stay forever. If you’ve been with your sweetie since you were going to proms—or if you’re still going to proms together and hope to make it last long-term—you have a special challenge as a couple.
Keeping your relationship stable and fresh throughout the many changes that come with growing up is difficult. A proactive approach can help. Here are four good tips to keep in mind.
- Let each other grow and change. Making love last from adolescence through adulthood requires a healthy sense of each other as evolving individuals. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that the teenage brain is “still under construction.” Research reveals that “in key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.”
The upshot is that you’ll each be going through a massive transformation as you try to keep your relationship stable. It’s vital that you respect your partner’s evolution and likewise let the relationship grow and change as well.
- Map your love. Couples who make it work long-term have what relationship expert John Gottman calls “a love map.” This means that they’re “intimately familiar with each other’s worlds”—they know what events in their partner’s past have shaped them, and are attuned to how new experiences influence them. They “get” each other in a deep and informed way.
Couples who get together young will share more formative experiences than average couples, so their love maps will be nuanced and provide a rich grounding for their life together. But, on the flip side, the very fact that they’ve known each other so long can make them complacent. Seeking to learn more about each other at every stage of your life together will help your bond stay strong.
- Learn how to make decisions together. Over the course of a long relationship, you’ll be making thousands of decisions jointly, and the conflict that can inspire is a real danger zone for couples. Dr. Josh Klapow advises that couples proactively learn how to make good joint decisions with techniques like setting a goal for the decision to be made, staying on topic, being as specific as possible, and remaining open to compromise.
Klapow emphasizes that it’s also important to celebrate a successfully rendered decision, even with something as small as a hug. After all, deciding things together with positivity is a difficult task, and failing at it drives many couples apart. Especially when you’ve been together since you were young and may have fallen into deep grooves in your communication habits, continuing to improve your joint decision-making skills is a victory worth celebrating.
- Do small, caring things every day. Our teenage fantasies about what a good relationship looks like often involve sweeping romantic gestures and grand passion. And while those are appealing—and probably were a big part of your early days together—expecting that they’ll continue to be central to your relationship over the decades is unrealistic.
The best way to make your love last, according to Dr. Gottman, is by making small but caring demonstrations all the time. Show kindness, display affection, offer respect, do thoughtful things. Every once in a while, undertake the grand gesture. But remember that decades-long relationships run on the smaller, daily communications about how you feel.
Young love can weather the test of time if lovebirds make sure they are supporting each other’s growth, continually learning about each other, working together to build the life they want, and cultivating ongoing affection. With an approach like that, chances are better that you’ll celebrate your golden anniversary someday.