How to Maintain a Happy Relationship: The Desired Things of Love


“Once you have learned to love, you will have learned to live.” ~Unknown.

Desiderata is Latin for “desired things.” The original and famous Desiderata poem, penned in the 1920s by Max Ehrmann, gives general advice on living well.

It begins, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence,” and ends, “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

The overwhelming message of Desiderata is to be kind and honest, and to keep faith in all our business and personal affairs. When it comes to love, it counsels us not to grow cynical, “For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it (love) is as perennial as the grass.”

Some years ago, a relationship I was in ended after an exhaustingly rocky year. The break-up left my partner cynical and me arid and disenchanted. Exactly what Ehrmann cautioned against.

But our cynicism and disenchantment were understandable because on the surface, our relationship was perfect. We had hobbies and friends in common, two incomes, two cars, a lovely house. But while the bones of our relationship were there, the flesh was missing, eaten away by neglect.

Part of the reason, I believe, is that we had stopped eating meals together. I was vegan and he was not, so we ate different foods. I arrived home from work earlier than him, so I ate earlier, too hungry on my faddy diets to wait.

When we did sit at the table together at the end of a demanding workday, browsing Facebook seemed easier than the effort of conversation. When not at the table, I was upstairs writing while he was downstairs catching up on work email.

Nothing was overtly wrong with this; we got on well and were both happy living in our own little parallel worlds. And we did find time to do some things together—but when we did, our business mindsets rattled along beside us.

When we hiked together, we’d aim to reach the top of the mountain as quickly as we could, without stopping to enjoy the view. When we ran together, we raced so fast that we could not hold meaningful conversation.

I was doing a full-time job, a part-time job, and a part-time degree—all to better my career, my bank account, and my mind. When I wasn’t trying to be academically and economically successful, I was in the gym trying to better my body.

We filled our lives with worthy, rewarding, interesting projects—but the one project we forgot to include was us.

When success did come out of our efforts—him winning new contracts, me acing exams—we never celebrated.

We always planned to share a bottle of champagne or a meal out, but when it came to it we were too exhausted by the long hours behind the success. Besides, he didn’t want to drink and I didn’t want to eat.

Our personal hang-ups and foibles had wormed their way into our relationship and eaten its heart out.

I’m sure our relationship could have been salvaged, but by year-end we were so exhausted by all our late night discussions about it that we couldn’t even think straight.

We went to a relationship counselor who asked us about intimacy, vulnerability, and what love meant to each of us. While many of her resulting suggestions were valid, I think we just needed to share more meals—together, without the computers.

Six months after it had ended, on a reflective evening when I was meant to be editing my novel but was not, I revisited our relationship and the simple things I would have changed.

I knew that I had a choice about how I could respond to its loss: I could close my heart down or open it up even more. The result was my Desiderata of Love, the desired things of love, my way of salvaging fertile ash from the flames.

Sprinkle it all over your life if you think it will help.

Choose one or two points that resonate with you; probably the ones that make you feel a little uncomfortable. Trust your instincts on this. These are the areas you intuitively know need attention in your relationship.

The Desiderata of Love

One day I will write a book about love and it will not be about flowers, chocolates, and romance but about iPods, laptops, careers, and diets—everything that love is not.

Recall how happy you were when you and your partner first met and remember this.

When possible, eat together.

Share the delights of hunger and then share what you eat. Share your chocolate, you favorite foods. It’s in meeting our simplest needs together that we bond. Avoid eating separately too often; food should bind, not divide us.

In this age of equality, value difference.

Some people feel loved when given space, others when showered with attention. If you’re not sure what makes your partner feel loved, ask. 

Don’t be too independent minded.

Let your partner help; it makes them feel needed.

Celebrate together, even the littlest milestones, but not always with alcohol.

Do invest in that weekend away together.

Those two coffees, those cinema tickets—sometimes it is a waste of money not to spend it.

Schedule together time.

Sometimes you have to plan the times in which you can be spontaneous.

If you have children, remember that in their innocence they will devour all the love, time, and attention you can give them. Keep some back for you and your partner.

Get a babysitter. What’s good for your relationship is priceless for your kids. Showing them a happy relationship is as valuable than sending them to the best schools.

Stop Googling answers to every question you come up with during the course of conversation.

Conversation is a journey made of wondering and imagination, not solely facts.

Switch off your computer and phone when you are together.

There is no intimacy in sitting at either end of a table with electronics between you. Make television a shared pleasure, not separate, watching different programs in different rooms. Comedy is good.

If one partner thinks you have a problem, and the other does not, there lies your problem.

Retain personal space; be mysterious, but avoid secrecy.

Take time apart, if necessary, to let your hearts grow fonder. Get counseling if you need, you have nothing to lose and everything—love—to gain.

Being vulnerable is not only about sharing your innermost fears and secrets, but sharing simple, silly joys.

Do not expect your partner to fill all your gaps.

They will fill some, friends will fill others, and other gaps will always be empty. Let that be as it is. The atoms from which we are built are, after all, 99% empty.

Love the fact you do not love everything about your partner.

Be forgiving. Learn to want who you have.

Your relationship is like a child, and no less than any child it needs your love, time, and attention; without these things, it won’t survive.

Don’t assume your partner will always be here. One day they won’t. When you see old couples still holding hands, notice what they have: not hair extensions, fake nails, fake tans, or perfect bodies; they have friendship, companionship, and time for each other. That is what counts.

Treasure what you have, with who you have, while you have it. Look after it as only you can.

Photo by derrickcollins

About Josephine Hughes

JR Hughes (Josephine) is an Irish writer who has recently moved to Ibiza, Spain for the warmth. She is working on three novels and hopes to secure a publishing deal soon. You can follow her progress and some of her random thoughts and photos at http://www.facebook.com/JRHughesWriter.

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