Sustaining A Long-Term Relationship
Belinda Lau is the founder of The Lighthouse Counselling, a private practice that offers therapy for issues including anxiety, depression, burnout, anger management, family distress and couples therapy. Based on her experience counselling couples at all stages of their relationships, with some even on the edge of divorce, she shares tips on how to make a long-term relationship last.
1. Have personal space and lead a balanced life
I ask Belinda to identify some common problems faced by Singaporean couples.
“Personal space would be one of them; not having as much of a balanced life in general,” she replies. Belinda cautions against letting your relationship take up your whole life:
“A lot of people start off being too intense in the beginning [of their relationship]. When they start to need their own space again, they just fall apart, [and] think that things have changed.”
“Singaporeans tend to work hard and focus a lot on family. They forget about the importance of having a balanced life.”
Various aspects of a well-balanced life
A balanced life can remove the stress caused by relationship conflict. Having supportive friends or family members can also allow for more level-headedness when handling relationship issues.
2. Make plans and stick to your routines outside of your relationship
Riding on the first point, Belinda continues, “In the beginning, remember not to change too much of your life structure. [With] someone new in your life, there [will] obviously [be] a lot of adjustments. But there are certain routines and habits you have to uphold. Give yourself space and draw healthy boundaries.”
She further expounds on the importance of keeping a structure so that your relationship does not overwhelm and consume you.
“For example, if you are into exercising, identify [an] exercise you want to do each week. Identify connections that are important to you, for example, certain friends and family. Always keep in touch with your close circles.”
In other words, don’t be so caught up with your partner that you lose touch with everything else that gives you meaning in life.
3. Support each others’ dreams
“Support each other and hear about each others’ dreams and goals. Remember, it’s not just always about the relationship,” Belinda explains. “Your personal aspirations, ambitions, goals, lifestyles, hobbies… set priorities in each of these aspects and don’t lose them.”
While both of you become a unit in a relationship, it is important to respect each others’ differing aspirations and be supportive of each other.
“I notice healthy couples out there—they give healthy space for each other to do their own things,” she says.
4. Don’t forget to admire each other
Sometimes, familiarity builds contempt, especially when you start to notice each others’ different values. Belinda reminds us all to keep the admiration for each other:
“Try to admire each other, even though you don’t know what the other pesrson is doing. There must be something that each of you is good at. Admire them in a way [where] you feel, ‘This is something they can do that I can’t do.’”
Belinda shares another simple point that we too often forget: “People over time focus too much of the weakness in the relationship. Instead, find strengths in the relationship.”
5. Don’t be too goal-oriented in order to enjoy your relationship
Belinda understands that many problems Singaporeans face are due to the fast pace of our city.
“In such a fast-paced and business-driven city, all of us are very much goal-driven. But we quickly forget how to enjoy the process. We miss out so much. [Enjoying the process] would create a sense of satisfaction and achievement [in the relationship],” she says.
She also elaborates on utilising mindfulness to enjoy our relationships. “Mindfulness is focusing on the present, not getting carried away by past or future events. That brings quality to your life too. If you focus too much on the past or future, you never [get to] focus on anything.”
Let’s not forget to celebrate the sparks of romance in your long-term relationship and remember why you’re together in the first place.
Practicing mindfulness in a relationship
6. Be aware of the pressure to ‘succeed’ in personal relationships
Belinda highlights the pressure that social media or the need to keep up with appearances can create in a relationship.
‘[People tend to] blame themselves a lot when they fail at personal relationships. That shame and guilt don’t help, especially [for] people who are married,” she explains. Social media can worsen things as people can “feel an obligation to portray a happy family to the outside world. They put so much stress and pressure on their shoulders.”
“It’s becoming a lot easier to talk about stress and burnout at work,” Belinda says. But opening up about romance can feel more difficult. “A lot of people are lost in personal relationships because it’s such a sensitive topic.”
In addition, having children can complicate matters.
“All kinds of issues become more tedious to talk about when kids come into the picture,” she says. “The communication part has become difficult because [these issues] happen in a family setting.”
7. If issues arise, begin again with friendship
Part of Belinda’s job is to help couples who are on the brink of breaking up find their way back together. She sums up how she helps couples who are at already each others’ necks:
“It always helps people to get an outsider’s perspective without any judgment because I don’t even know them. I can easily step aside, and help people see the bigger picture without being personally and emotionally involved.”
She asserts that her core principle is to help the couple befriend each other again. This can take place through exercises like asking them what attracted them to each other in the first place.
She shares, “The fundamental cornerstone of [any] relationship is actually friendship. Start from there, re-establish your friendship. Essentially, create shared values, shared goals and a shared culture.”
Therapist Drops Tips On How To Sustain A Long-Term Relationship
Belinda shares that therapy is particularly helpful if you find it difficult to communicate with your partner, whether or not it is a long-term relationship.
“People coming to me are already stepping out of their comfort zone; to help, improve and develop themselves. They are usually very willing to hear about other perspectives. They usually are extra open-minded compared to their [usual] self,” she says about her clients.
I hope this story was useful in helping you have a better understanding on sustaining a LTR. And remember that there is no shame in making an appointment with Belinda or other therapists just to have a chat about your relationship, work stress or other matters.
The Lighthouse Counselling
Address: 9 Raffles Place, 58/F Republic Plaza Tower 1, Singapore 048619