Therapist-Approved Tips for a Long-Lasting Relationship

Most couples experience some ups and downs. Smooth the bumps with this expert advice.

Medically reviewed in January 2020

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Did you know that being married may actually improve your health?

Researchers from the Aston Medical School in the United Kingdom studied 290,000 adults who had high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes at some point in their lives. The researchers concluded that the adults who were married had a better chance at survival than those who weren’t. And other small studies show that those in strong relationships have fewer mental health problems, reduced pain, lower stress levels and may even live longer.

So, what’s the secret to a strong relationship? And are you and your partner’s habits in line with what’s healthy? Marriage and family therapist Bruce Conn of Coliseum Medical Center in Macon, Georgia, shares some of the things happy couples do and some of the things they don’t. 

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Don’t: just ask “how was your day?”

While you should definitely check in with your partner at the end of a long day, try to avoid generic questions like “how was your day?” and “did you have a good day?” It’s likely that those questions will get answered the same way day after day. Standard answers are usually “it was good,” “so busy and stressful” or “it was fine.” Asking those questions doesn’t mean you don’t care about your spouse—there are just better ways to ask.

Here are some questions that will help you gain insight into how your better half’s day actually went:

  • “What was the best part of your day?”
  • “What was a success you had today?”
  • “What energized you today?”
  • “What was something hard that happened today?”
  • “What did you struggle with today?”
  • “What drained you today?”
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Don’t: point blame

A relationship is about negotiation, compromise and understanding, says Conn. “I often say, if you're right, you're wrong.” So, if you’re pointing blame at your spouse for the issues you’re experiencing, you may want to look for the best in him or her, and think about what you can do to make the situation better. If you partner does something that annoys or frustrates you, remember that they aren’t doing it out of spite. They may not even realize they’re doing it, so blaming them for the imperfection may make them be defensive. Calmly communicate about the issues, rather than immediately assuming they’re doing it on purpose.

And remember that you should hold yourself to the same standards you hold your partner to. If you’re asking him or her to clean up after themselves, make sure you’re doing the same.

Keep your relationship positive—no matter what small disagreements you’re having—by making a note each week of everything your partner does right (they straightened their side of the closet, they cooked an amazing dinner). You may find that you’re both encouraged and proud of one another.  

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Try not to: go to bed mad

Going to bed mad is definitely not preferable, but Conn says it’s going to happen sometimes. Think about it—you and your partner are in the middle of a disagreement, but it’s almost 2 a.m. Neither of you are have the best mindset—or the energy—to discuss important issues. “Sometimes you just need to go to bed, because you've got to get up and go to work the next day,” says Conn. And really, if you’re both exhausted, it’s better to table the talk and go back to it after you’ve slept on it.    

It’s not healthy to completely press pause on important issues that come up between you and your partner, but it’s OK to wait to discuss the problem when you’re both calm. When you do end up talking about the issue, both individuals should be allowed to discuss their feelings on the topic.

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Do: have fun and laugh as much as you can

A sense of humor can take you pretty far in life, but it can take you especially far when it comes to your relationship. And studies show that those couples who play together—think new, exciting activities like biking, sky diving lessons, hiking or weekend getaways—stay together.

“You need to be able to laugh at yourself, and sometimes laugh at the other person,” says Conn. One small study published in the journal of Personal Relationships found that those couples who shared giggles with their significant others reported feeling closer to one another. What’s more, those couples reported that they felt supported by their partners and had successful—and long-lasting—relationships. The easiest way to laugh is to pop in a funny movie. But you can also rehash funny memories together that you know will generate some chuckles.

Trying new activities with your partner can make you happier and prevent boredom, but doing so can also bring you closer. Try a staycation at a hotel that has lots of happenings on the weekend, or a quick trip to the local lake for a picnic and swimming. And if you’re really adventurous, try things like dance lessons or surf lessons. You’re sure to have fun and have some laughs.

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Do: give and receive

“Love is a mystery,” says Conn. “And while no one can really explain why two people fall in love, it’s a mystery that you should enjoy.”

Part of enjoying the mystery of love (and being grateful for it) is learning to give and receive. “We need to take care of the other person, and be able to receive whatever they’re offering,” says Conn. That may be a meal your husband cooks, even when you were thinking of going out. He cooked something for the family, and it’s important to show gratitude—even if it wasn’t the same idea you had.

An article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reports that gratitude can help you feel closer to your significant other, more satisfied with your relationship overall and more open to resolving conflicts. And of course, if you feel appreciated by your partner, you’re more likely to have a healthy relationship.

A simple “thank you” works wonders—and it’s an easy way to let your partner know you appreciate whatever they’ve done for you or your family, big or small. Thank your partner for doing things like laundry, cooking or washing the car. It’s always nice to tell them how thankful you are that they are in your life, too. It can be fun and meaningful if you get creative with your gratitude. A sticky note on their dresser or desk with those two simple words, a spontaneous date night or a mid-day text are all ways to show you’re appreciative. 

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