Valentine’s Day: six things we learned from asking couples how they stay together

From respecting each others independence to seeking professional help if needed, long-lasting couples share their wisdom on love

Australian lifestyle

Everyone knows that couple: the one that endures no matter what life throws at them. So how do they do it? Over the last few months, weve asked 15 couples that question and, as Tolstoy suggested when he wrote all happy families are alike, there were some common themes.

Friendship is key

Almost every couple said they were each others closest friend. Chef David Swain said hed always felt that way about his partner, Sarah: I would be lost without Sarah in so many ways because I speak about everything I have on my mind to Sarah and always have. Thats one of the lovely things I know we can do together, talk about anything we want to without any prejudice from the other.

Some couples start as friends and then become partners; others start with lust and get to an enduring friendship. And they work hard to maintain that friendship. Toby Boon said his time with his husband, Max, is precious. Hes my best friend, I would rather spend [my free time] with Max than anyone else.

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Making love last

Yep, intimacy is important

For Ron McCallum and Mary Crock, physicality is a big part of their connection. It can help when things can get a bit rocky and Im not meaning anything erotic, but it just can help. Its almost like the oil can smooth [things] over. Sarah Munn said the same thing: Intimacy is a real glue. Ive always thought that is an important part of real longevity. Its something that we both have kept a focus on, making sure that we keep our sexual relationship alive, and I feel lucky like that because I know plenty of people [where] that can be the thing that pulls them apart.

Differences are good

Hilary Bell loved the fact her husband, Philip Johnston, sees the world in a very different way. They can open your eyes to things that you would never come across on your own … Not just books or art or whatever, but ways of looking at things, or people that you wouldnt normally think about talking to. He agreed: You dont have to make the other person be just like you.

And actually, if there are differences, theres no point in trying to change the other. James Carpenters advice to his daughter on choosing a partner for an enduring relationship was: You should be looking roughly at about 85% [that works]. Theres going to be 15% there that you mightnt like but can you manage it? Can you live with it? Dont try and change it, its the way that the person is.

Deal with the inevitable conflict

People say you shouldnt fight in a marriage, said Reid Froggatt of his relationship with wife Clare. I think you should fight. I think you should fight every day. Not fighting as in silly [arguments] but negotiating. Have a lot of regular little negotiations … Then you resolve, move on. Resolve, move on. Otherwise, someone feels like theyre walking on someone else. We compromise and negotiate every day That builds that trust and respect.

That doesnt mean sorting things out straight away. Author Lee Tulloch laughed at that old-fashioned advice of not going to sleep on an argument. Forget that, she said. Sometimes poking a nest with a stick is not a good idea. You are individual people, and you really just have to go away from each other. I guess its a little bit of confidence that youll come back. Her husband, Tony Amos, agreed: I was raised with that [idea] if you love something, you have to give it room.

Bring in the specialists

Marriage counselling or life coaching can definitely help but more importantly partnerships have to evolve to survive. Married for 50 years, Chardi and David Christian said a counsellor made a big difference to their relationship. Sometimes marriages, in the way they were when you were young have to really die for another way of being together, where you really do celebrate each others independence, said Chardi, adding: You have to find a way to love that thing you want to change most. This is a little corny, but I think you do. So you find another way of meeting again, with a lot more acceptance.

Keep things in perspective

My favourite bit of advice came from Hope Brett Bowen, who said of her relationship with Gavin Anderson: When things turn bad, it doesnt mean everything has been bad or everything will be bad. I call them shit goggles. Youre starting to view things through what youre perceiving right now. And that doesnt work. Theres good and bad in everything, nothing is hunky-dory 100% of the time. During the worst, the hardest things, [theres good] even if its just a sense of humour.

We want to hear your stories about staying together. Tell us about you, your partner and your relationship by filling in the form here


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