The Secret to Staying in Love
Work That Counts
When Rod Forbes turned 40 last spring, he thought he'd be celebrating by listening to music at a local jazz bar with his buddies. Instead, he was the opening act. "I arranged for Rod's band, which had never played a live audience before, to open up for a local jazz band," says Rod's wife, Marydell. "I secretly mailed out invitations to out-of-town friends and family, who packed the room and shouted 'Surprise!' as Rod and his friends entered the club. Rod had a lot of fun pretending to be a rock star that weekend."
Relationship experts say the key to staying in love is to being willing to work at it, which can make long-term partnerships sound like a rather dreary enterprise. But Susan Piver, author of The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say "I Do" (Tarcher, 2004), says that the "work" of a relationship shouldn't be drudgery. Rather it should be the kind of joyful exertion that Marydell found in plotting her husband's 40th.
"If you love gardening, then the work is a joy, even when there are weeds and crappy weather. But if you hate gardening and even a ripe tomato plant isn't good news to you, then that sucks. I wouldn't want to be in that relationship," says Piver.
The challenge, of course, is finding the time to do that work. "We have very busy, economically demanding lives, and people don't have as much time to give to their relationships, because they're treading water themselves," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington.
But just as weeding and watering is essential to a healthy garden, taking time to communicate and listen to your partner is critical if you want your relationship to thrive. "Couples expect that they'll get to a place where things are predictable and stable. But things will always change, and that's what makes the relationship exciting and alive," says Piver.
So how much quality time do you and your partner need? Piver says it's a tricky question, as almost everyone's needs are different. She's also noticed that almost every couple squabbles over this issue more than any other. "One person always wants more time alone, while the other wants to devote more time to the relationship," say Piver.
But if each partner is willing to give a bit, and agree that you need to have some quiet time with each other each day, you've got a good start. The important thing is making sure you have some relaxed time to connect. "You want to make sure you have that time where you're sitting around with a cup of coffee, remembering why you love each other," says Schwartz.