If relationships were all sunshine and rainbows, the world would never have been blessed with some of the great poems, films, songs and pieces of art throughout history. Love and its complications provide an endless source of creative material. However some portrayals of 'true love' can distort our perception of relationships and how they exist in everyday life.

The harsh truth is that despite best intentions, divorce and relationship breakups are not uncommon. This can cause significant pain, grief, and even mental health issues. And whilst there is no magic recipe for making relationships work, Australian family therapist Sophie Holmes summarises the importance of healthy relationships for our wellbeing:

“The urge for relationships, closeness and intimacy is built into the chemistry of our brains and bodies. Even young children need basic human love and attention to physically thrive. And it’s true to say that healthy long-term relationships can provide us with meaning and a sense of hope and support during times of loss and difficulties.”

People have the ability to love and nurture but we also have some destructive tendencies too. So, part of the challenge for long-term relationships is how we manage these ebbs and flows in our emotions and how they manifest into day-to-day interactions.A couple dances on a stageHere are a few tips that seem to help long-term couples maintain healthy relationships:

  • Understand the rhythm of your relationship. No two relationships are the same. Therefore there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to finding your 'rhythm'. Are you the sort of couple that bottles things up only for emotions to explode all at once? Or perhaps there is an overflow of emotion, contributing to a volatile relationship? Knowing your relationship style can help you moderate how you communicate with each other.
  • Try to stay on the same team when life gets hectic and stressful. Long-term couples learn to monitor each other’s stress levels and try to sooth and support each other in bumpy times. Realising when the other is going through a hard time and cutting them some slack is fundamental to showing you are there for them, through good times and bad.
  • Take the time to listen to your partner’s point of view. Avoid being sarcastic and don't mock each other. If you have said or done something wrong, apologise more than once. Try to focus on the idea that you are both not perfect but trying to act with good intentions.
  • Give each other room to breathe. We all need some timeout from each other, so allow time to do things separately and independently.

The relationships section of the Beyond Blue forums contains a lot of valuable advice and personal stories from other people who are dealing with relationship issues. Relationships Australia is another great resource. If you are having difficulties and wish to speak to someone, many people also see enormous benefits in consulting a family therapist.

You can follow Dr Blashki on Twitter.

Related reading: 10 ways to be there for someone

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