14 months and one week, my longest relationship. I spent my twenties dating men for around two months, in-between online dates and nights out drinking, telling friends I’d be single forever. My boyfriend and I are now in that interesting period of reaching our first-year milestone.
It’s a peculiar place to be. You know the person inside and out. Their quirks, the way they jump out the way when they turn the shower on because they hate the initial blast of cold.
You know their thoughts – sometimes before they have had time to create them. Like when you ask if they wouldn’t mind helping you find a dress for next Saturday. They lovingly say yes but you know they’re a little upset you didn’t find anything online.
A year is enough time to envision your future together, to decide how the next many years will plan out. By the time your first anniversary arrives, you have unearthed the flaws and delicate spots you spend your life shielding. We celebrated our first year in Prague, drinking, sightseeing, eating, and getting lost trying to figure our way to a jazz bar – never quite finding the one we wanted to visit.
We both know we are serious, in love and committed. The whole gig is up – the games, the wondering, the 1:00 am messages where we couldn’t fall asleep because our conversations on how we felt were too exciting to end.
It’s the happiest place to be. You know who you are as a couple, but you still feel young and open. We have done so much already but have many more plans to tick off. And that’s what makes it so interesting, the gap between new and old.
For years I worried about being in a long-term relationship. I worried I’d end up like the couples I used to see, bored and secretly miserable.
This fear of ending up in a passionless relationship stems from growing up and seeing so many unhappy couples. People who initially held hands and cherished alone time together, one day sleeping separately, complaining about their partner constantly, experiencing no sex and only being together for evenings with family and friends.
I’ve seen many divorces, as well as couples who stick together with the same pain in their eyes at being forced to coo at 1,000 photos of a baby. The spark seems to blow out in a painfully slow linger. You can see it edging away until a couple loses track of why they agreed to marry.
Seeing this ill-fate has made me determined to ensure it doesn’t happen to me.
A spark in a relationship supposedly goes after around five years. I, however, want to keep our passion for basically, eternity. From the couples who grew tired of one another, I have learnt how to keep the spark alive.
It starts with accountability
A relationship requires commitment, not only from a non-cheating point of view but a commitment to make a sustained effort. This isn’t about going out and buying some hot lingerie or showing up with flowers occasionally.
Couples can become so wrapped up in each other, they can forget they are two individuals navigating life’s complexities. Because I have such an open and honest relationship, I can unnecessarily offload on my partner and chat with him as though he’s an extension of my brain.
This can be healthy (you build a bond by unpeeling your insecurities), but sometimes I check in with myself and ask whether ringing my partner to complain about a stressful workload while he’s unwinding, is really the best option. I like to analyse how I’m showing up and what type of energy I’m bringing. We all have our down moments, but bad jobs or toxic friends can lead to a constant stream of negativity.
You want your time together to feel fun and energising as opposed to an agony aunt session.
It shows up with interest
I didn’t think I would ever enjoy watching a football game or learning about how to play darts. And I bet my boyfriend never thought he would read blog posts on ‘the signs you’re falling in love’ and how to travel abroad with sex toys.
There is an argument that couples should have their separate interests and not include each other in everything they do. I partly agree – there’s no point in pretending I want to play football, or he cares about bronzer.
It’s the best feeling though when my boyfriend offers to check my articles and sits with me to go through my career plans, glancing over each detail and sharing advice. Or when he agrees to a jazz bar and a boat ride, even though he would prefer sitting on dry land.
He will take countless photos for Instagram and analyse what image works best despite not liking the app. He will drive to random places for walks when he would be content going somewhere local and agree to try different things like tea workshops and almond butter cookies.
We care about each other’s interests; we try to say yes to new things so we can bring our differences together. This to me is key to keeping our spark.
But ultimately, a spark is about staying the same
A friend once told me the best relationship advice she’s ever heard: ‘The secret to being in a long-term relationship is to stay the same.’
In the beginning, there is typically a lot of passion which can be linked to the chemical dopamine and the overall excitement of spending time with someone new. I also believe the early stages have so much desire because of how we show up as individuals.
After the honeymoon stages, we can lose pieces of ourselves. We can stop going on dates, give up on dressing up, let go of reading, yoga, pursuing a dream and trying different sexual positions. We can replace time spent learning new things with regular Netflix and chill.
If we focus on keeping the qualities that initially made us attractive, surely, we can reduce the chances of losing a spark. Our partners can continue to find us interesting because we have committed to ensuring our lives are still interesting. If we continue to look for unique dates and fun ways to spend time together, we can stay connected.
The great advice my friend heard came from the wife of a famous director. She said something along the lines of, ‘You could never get bored of him. He was always attending parties and coming home with stories from all these interesting people.’
How do you keep the spark alive in your relationship? Read next: How do I Know if My Expectations are Too High?