To celebrate our six-year anniversary this year, Chia and I thought that we would share 6 relationship principles that have helped us get this far when it comes to having a happy and healthy long-term relationship.
Principles, in a nutshell, are what you believe in that guide what you do. Good principles lead to happy relationships. Bad principles lead to miserable ones and breakups.
While all of these principles we share can apply to any relationship (gay or straight), they are nonetheless based on our experiences as two lesbian women.
For both Chia and I, our relationship has been the longest and happiest one that either of us has ever been in, but as with all relationships–to quote a Maroon 5 song–“it’s not always rainbows and butterflies, it’s compromise that moves us along”.
And as we continue our life-long partnership, we are continually finding new ways to connect on a deeper level and to fall more in love with each other every day.
With that said, here are our principles for having a happy and healthy long-term relationship.
1. Relationships are an ongoing investment that compounds over time.
Our relationship today is so much deeper and more meaningful than it was when we first started dating six years ago and we imagine that it will become even more so 20 years from now.
That’s because relationships compound over time based on the amount of love and effort you put into it.
Taking an idea from one of our favorite books, Atomic Habits, small efforts can have a huge impact over time. For example, let’s say you’re planning to fly from LA to NYC. If you move the nose of the plane just a measly 3.5 degrees south, you’ll end up in Washington, D.C. instead!
Small efforts aren’t always noticeable but they magnify over time and could put you on a completely different trajectory.
The same is true for relationships.
As adults, you tend to get distracted by a million different things (demanding jobs, bosses, family obligations, etc.) and it’s easy to forget to put in the small effort every day to invest in growing your relationship.
Both Chia and I have oscillated between having very demanding jobs during different points of our relationship. During those times, it was easy for either of us to get lost in our own thoughts about the next work item rather than focus on the other person.
To ensure that we kept our relationship growing on a happy trajectory, we didn’t need to plan elaborate date nights at fancy restaurants, we simply needed to make the small effort of being present whenever we were talking to each other.
This meant building a habit of putting our phones away and scheduling short walks every evening together where we were able to engage in quality conversations.
It didn’t require much time and it cost us nothing to do this, but over the course of a lifetime, having 10,000 quality 15-min conversations and walks with each other every day will deepen our relationship and understanding of one another more than any grand, sporadic, one-time activity.
2. Sometimes doing the dishes is the best way to say “I love you”
There are 6,500 spoken languages in the world and ways to say “I love you” but an infinite number of ways to show someone you love them.
We all have different styles of communication and ways that we want to be loved.
Communicating effectively is about becoming fluent in each other’s languages.
One of the first things Chia and I did together when we first started dating was to take the Love Languages quiz.
Here’s how we both scored:
- Quality Time
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
- Words of Affirmation
When it came to our top and bottom love languages, we were both the same. However, understanding the person’s second most important love language made all the difference.
In the beginning, I didn’t realize how happy small acts of service made Chia because I didn’t care for that as much myself. While I consider myself a generally romantic and thoughtful person, doing chores and being tidy didn’t strike me as a very romantic way of showing your love and affection towards your partner.
But I was wrong.
Chia appreciated more than anything whenever I would put the dirty dishes away, put my clothes in the laundry basket instead of on the floor, and made the bed every morning.
As much as I’d rather be planning romantic getaways and picnics at the beach, I realized that the way to her heart was through these chores.
After making a conscious effort to do these things, not only did it resolve a lot of our initial arguments, Chia in return gave me lots of words of affirmation (my second top love language) to acknowledge my efforts.
It became a win-win for the both of us.
While small gestures of thoughtfulness is one of the best ways to show your partner you love them, that’s not to say that more romantic gestures aren’t also important.
The point is that it depends on the person’s languages.
Often you’ll find that it’s a combination of the mundane day-to-day actions (doing the chores, leaving cute notes, casually flirting with one another) and the elaborately planned date nights and fancy getaways that help maintain a happy and healthy relationship.
Understanding each other’s languages and idiosyncrasies also takes time and patience since it requires learning all of the person’s nuances and pet peeves.
And love languages won’t always teach you how to fight well. Let's be real–when you’re in the heat of the moment, the last thing you might be thinking about is their love languages.
At the end of the day, you won’t be good at resolving your arguments or know that doing the dishes is a way of saying “I love you” until you’ve done them a few times.
As Chia and I began to better understand how the other person processes information and emotions, we began to have more constructive disagreements while avoiding unnecessary ones.
Being fluent in each other’s languages ultimately means letting go of your ego, being radically transparent with one another, and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
3. Take maximum personal responsibility
One of the things that you actually have control over in your relationship is your actions and your level of commitment.
That’s not to say that your partner shouldn’t also be equally committed, but imagine if both parties took maximum personal responsibility over the success of the relationship?
If things are getting dull in your relationship, take it upon yourself to do something about it–don’t just wait for your partner to make the first move and resent them if they don’t.
Similarly, own up and apologize when you’ve messed up. Saying, “I’m sorry. I could’ve been better.” makes all the difference in diffusing any situation. 99% of the time, we really could’ve been better and could have done things differently (no matter how much we think we’re right).
Taking maximum personal responsibility has changed how Chia and I approach our disagreements. For example, when we first started dating, I would want Chia to decide on places to go out to eat, but since Chia is down for anything and doesn’t really crave things as often as I do, I would often end up not being 100% satisfied with the options she chose.
Initially, I would get upset that she didn’t think of better options–I mean, can’t she read my mind? But by defaulting the responsibility to her and not giving her more guidance on what I actually wanted, I was setting both of us up for failure.
Instead, I started to think, “How can I change the outcomes of these types of situations? What can I do better instead of expecting Chia to read my mind?”
By changing the way I thought about the situation and taking ownership of this, I ended up giving better guidelines to Chia whenever I wanted her to pick a place to eat at or I simply would come up with my desired list first and then have her pick the final one.
The way you respond to situations and the things that happen in your relationship is entirely up to you. If you put in 10x the effort, you’ll get 10x the results.
And if you’re in a relationship where you feel like you have no control, think again. You have the power and control to either stay in it and make it better or get out.
4. Nothing should be embarrassing
It’s absolutely normal when the two of you first start dating to want to hide all your “flaws” and not do anything embarrassing in front of the other person. But over time, it’s inevitable that your true self will come out and that’s a good thing! It’s a sign that you’re becoming more comfortable around the other person and in any healthy relationship, that’s a positive trajectory.
I don’t remember exactly when I first did something embarrassing around Chia (it was likely early on and I probably let out a loud garlicky burp), but now I can’t remember a day where I don’t do something silly around Chia.
One of the best things about being so comfortable with someone is that you end up with a lot of inside jokes between you two and laughter is always the key to a happy relationship.
For us, the most embarrassing moments have become our most endearing moments.
Not being embarrassed around your partner also applies to things outside of being silly–whether it’s new intellectual pursuits, ideas, or questions you’re pondering, you should feel completely at ease around your partner when talking about these things.
At the core of it, your partner should be your best friend and in every epic friendship is a feeling of home and security.
For me, home is wherever Chia is.
And this feeling of radical openness, silliness, and transparency is one of the best feelings to have in a happy and healthy relationship.
When you allow yourself to be vulnerable and show all sides of you to your partner, it also becomes easier to be there for one another during the lows and to celebrate together during the highs.
If you truly love and support one another, nothing should be embarrassing between you two and you should feel comfortable being the purest form of yourself around them.
5. Don’t rely on your partner to make you whole
Homemade pie and ice cream are both amazing on their own, but when they come together it’s like magic.
And that’s how you and your partner should be as well.
While your partner can be the greatest source of joy and love in your life, it’s important that long-term happiness comes from within you.
Happiness is ultimately an internal configuration.
Before meeting Chia, I was already out in the real world living on my own and had a decent idea of what I wanted and valued in life. Every day with her was an enhancement to my life, but had things not worked out, I also would’ve been fine (albeit heartbroken for some time).
You don’t have to have your whole life figured out, but it shouldn’t be your partner’s job to piece you together–you need to make an effort to understand and complete yourself first.
Likewise, if you’re both not whole and are codependent on each other, any crack in the foundation will be toxic and catastrophic.
A truly healthy relationship is a lifelong companionship where both parties have shared values and grow together over time but you must first know what your own values and goals in life are.
6. Be the partner you would want to have
You might have heard of the popular saying, “Be the change you want to see in this world.” This applies to relationships too–be the partner you would want to have.
For Chia and me, this means treating and respecting each other as equals, being trustworthy, loyal, and following through on our promises. These were the values that we both wanted our significant other to have and in turn, we consciously tried to embody these values too.
Consequently, we're both constantly striving for self-improvement. When you become better (mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, etc.), your partner also gets a better you. And If you don’t have a partner yet, focusing on yourself first is one of the best things that you can do to help you find a life partner later on.
It doesn’t mean that you’ll get things right all the time (growth isn’t always linear), but having the desire to be the best person and partner you can be is important.
At the end of the day, both parties should always make sure that they’re helping each other grow and become better people.
While we’re not Pat & Terry from A Secret Love and can’t attest to what it’s like to have a happy long-term relationship for 70 years, we do believe that these principles can help anyone no matter where you are in your current relationship.