Conservation efforts

15 Relationship Tips From People Who’ve Been Together for 20-Plus Years

Never criticize your partner’s body and be “yay” for each other. 
15 Pieces of Relationship Advice From People Whove Been Together for 20 Years
Getty Images/Amanda K Bailey

This article is part of SELF’s Keep It Hot package, a collection of content that celebrates love and lust. Throughout February, we’ll be dishing out advice and inspiration for feeling hot, getting horny, and nurturing romantic relationships.

We’ve all seen them—the couples who can’t keep their hands off each other. Whether they’re making out on a subway train or getting all goggly-eyed at a bar, it’s usually a telltale sign that the pairing is brand new, a fresh infatuation being compulsively explored. But sometimes you see a different kind of couple. One that clearly has a number of years under their belt. Two people who have grown into and with each other. It might be the septuagenarians locking arms at the grocery store, or the middle-aged couple at dinner who still have stars in their eyes. They’ve seen the good, bad, and the custom-fit night guard, but, somehow, are still very much in love.

For those of us who have yet to experience a relationship beyond the 10-year mark (or maybe even the 10-month mark), spying long-term lovers in the wild is like spotting a yeti holding hands with bigfoot. How do they do it? What do they know that we don’t?! 

Most of us are well-versed in the romantic rush of something new. But what happens when the new gets old? And then older? Of course, that kind of commitment might be anathema for some folks. And some people shouldn’t stay together. But if you’d give up your beloved single-serve coffee maker or even your side of the bed to learn how to make a two-plus-decade-long relationship thrive, we’ve got some insight for you from those who have actually lived it. 

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, SELF spoke with folks in happy, sexy, fulfilling, fun long-term relationships (spanning 20 to 64 years in duration!) about what it takes to keep the fires stoked. If you’re happily coupled up or want some inspiration for the future, here’s their relationship advice for making the love—and lust—last.

1. Stay open-minded about your sex life.

 “What I’ve learned over 22 years is to always be honest, but never hurtful, and to keep experimenting sexually. We live by the rule of GGG, which is short for good, giving, game: You should strive to be good in bed, give each other equal time and pleasure, and be game for anything—within reason. What I thought was hot at 25 when we were first married isn’t necessarily what I think is hot now, so you never know what you might like if you don’t try it. My husband has also done a ton of investigation into different sexual techniques, which has led to the most powerful orgasms I’ve ever had—in my 40s! 

The other crucial element is that we never, ever criticize each other’s bodies. In our 22 years, not once has my partner made me feel ashamed of my body. Instead, he’s made me feel celebrated. In turn, I’m comfortable enough with him to do anything—I know all he sees is a dope lady who is his mate for life.” —Toby, 22 years together

2. Carve out time for just the two of you.

“My husband and I have twin teenage boys. Their lives are pretty jam-packed, which means ours are, too, so my husband and I make it a point to spend time together—just us. It doesn’t have to be an over-the-top fancy date night. Most times, it’s a Sunday morning walk, a trip to the farmers market—we’ll even treat running errands together like it’s a date. Making time to connect to show each other that you matter in the craziness of everyday life is so important.” —Jill, 20 years together

3. Learn each other’s values.

“We have learned about and accepted each other’s ‘love language.’ We talk about what is important to us and what makes us feel loved. Huge, grand gestures can be wonderful, but after a number of years, they simply turn into gestures. Sometimes the littlest acts of love can feel the most intimate. Touch is important to me, so we hold hands while watching TV, a tiny gesture that never goes unnoticed. Verbal expressions are important to my partner, so I make sure to say ‘I love you’ to him every day. Often it’s the smallest efforts that have the biggest payoff.” —Christopher, 22 years together 

4. Try not to let arguments turn into screaming matches.

“A dear friend, who is in the initial phase of a divorce, recently mentioned that her spouse was unwilling to work on their anger issues and told her that ‘yelling is normal.’ Her eyes nearly fell out of her head when I told her that my wife and I have never yelled at each other—not once, in nearly 24 years. We argue, we have disagreements, but we’ve never raised our voices or said unkind things to the other. It’s a bedrock of our strength and our connection. Passion, sex, date nights, good times, happiness—all those things wax and wane as the years stack up. But maintaining that foundation of trust and respect is what keeps us strong, connected, and in love.” —Dawn, 24 years together

5. Put regular sex dates on the calendar.

“My husband and I recommend a regularly scheduled sex/intimacy date. If the time rolls around and one or the other of you isn’t into it, that’s okay. Use the time to enjoy each other’s company in other ways. Maybe talking turns into snuggling. Maybe snuggling is all you need. Maybe snuggling turns into something else. 

Also, speaking as a woman in my 60s who hit menopause in my late 50s, lube rules! As does a small dose of estradiol [a form of hormone replacement therapy]. If sex becomes uncomfortable—at any age!—don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor.” —Lynn, 31 years together

6. Nurture your friendship and delegate household tasks.

“My partner and I were friends first, and we continually invest in our friendship. We still go to punk shows and do things together that we’ve loved doing since we were 20 years old. We haven’t lost sight of activities and interests that are a big part of who we are, independent of our family and our other responsibilities, as we’ve gotten older. 

And speaking of responsibilities: Delegate! Be honest about what you want to do in a relationship (and what you don’t want to do), then outsource the rest if you’re privileged enough to do so. My husband loves to cook, and I love to do finances. Neither of us are good at home repair, and we’re thrilled that TaskRabbit came along. You have to know your strengths and your weaknesses and build a system around that so you’re not arguing about who should clean the toilet every Sunday morning.” —Laurin, 24 years together

7. Find ways to make each other feel appreciated.

“We have been married almost 50 years. During all that time, it’s been important that we each continually communicate that the other is loved. My husband tells me he loves me constantly; he tells me I am the most beautiful person. For me, I’m most comfortable giving hugs each night when we climb into bed. These moments of embrace, I think, tell it all—that we are still in love and that, to me, this person is the most special.” —Mona, 50 years together

8. Realize that choosing love is like exercising a muscle that only gets stronger over time.

“Continuously decide to choose your partner, with all of their virtues and faults. It can sometimes feel like work. But making that decision, especially when you’re frustrated or upset, allows you to see all the great parts of your relationship and can help ensure that you don’t take each other for granted. At first this was a daily, conscious choice for me and my wife. But now it’s just how we live—in an awesome groove that makes the choice easy. Because we have both decided to choose us, we are mindful of the little gestures of love, the small moments that make a life together special. Maximizing the little bright spots naturally limits frustration, anger, and resentment. A joyful, positive outlook simply becomes the routine.” —Andrew, 20 years together

9. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing—and let your partner do theirs.

“My husband and I have always respected each other as individuals. We have interests and friends that don’t always commingle. But we come back together and share those experiences with each other. It allows us to learn, and it keeps our relationship interesting. Because I don’t spend all my time with him, I want to spend time with him. 

Also, when it comes to handling the day-to-day responsibilities of running a household, I recognize that whatever I ask him to do, he will likely do it differently than I would—and that is okay. Micromanaging is not sexy!” —Kelly, 30 years together

10. Learn to be flexible, and know when to step up.

“When you’re married to a jazz musician, the first thing you learn to do is improvise. It’s a good way to live your life, really. Relationships have a lot of ups and downs. When we emigrated from South Africa to America, my husband shouldered a great deal in the lead-up to our family’s move—so much planning and figuring things out. The moment all six of us set foot on American soil, he hit his head with his hand and said, ‘What have I done?!’ That’s when I took over. In a partnership, you have to know when to reverse roles. You have to have the sensitivity to know when your partner needs you. Everyone has weak moments—it’s part of being human. Sometimes you have to see the other person’s pain and step in.” —Sybil, 64 years together

11. Make sure you align on the big stuff, and the little differences won’t matter as much.

“When I met my husband, he listened to classical music. I, on the other hand, listened to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Janis Joplin. He was into literature; I was into art. He was born on the East Coast; I was a native California girl. But he was kind, smart, and enjoyed being with my family. The more we hung out, the more we realized that we shared the same core values, which are very different from tastes and preferences. Core values are the character traits that matter and the beliefs that guide your behaviors, actions, and decisions. We both valued honesty, spirituality, hard work, devotion to family, and—the big one—integrity. I believe that sharing these core values is what has kept our marriage intact through the ups and downs. He is my best friend, my love, my soulmate. And I would do it all over again.” —Linda, 47 years together

12. Be each other’s #1 supporter.

“We were friends first—I think that’s one of the main ingredients. We’ve been together since 1995, so we’ve had the chance to grow up with each other, and we aim to always encourage each other’s personal pursuits. We call it being ‘yay’ for each other.” —Maitejosune, 27 years together 

13. Realize that sometimes it’s okay to go to bed angry.

“Music is our connector. It forever sparks the memories of falling in love, being young and carefree, friendship, gratitude, joy and sadness, and all the feelings that we’ve shared over the years. What we feel for each other runs deep, and when our own words fail us, the words of the songs become our voice. 

People say, ‘Don’t go to bed angry,’ but that doesn’t work for us. Sometimes we just need time to sort things out, and that means honoring the space we may require. I remember one time when we had a couple of days when we couldn’t seem to get over an argument. I could hardly breathe. And then I got in my car and turned on my music only to hear our favorite song by Jefferson Airplane that my husband had set to play when the motor started: ‘Ah, you’re my best friend. / And I love you so well. / I follow you wherever time will take me to. / Forever I’ll be one with you. / One with you.’ And our love story began again.” —Roleen, 50 years together

14. Know that, yes, communication really is key. 

“Weekly date nights, holding hands, romantic getaways, nice dinners, a kiss before bed every night—these are all components we’ve heard throughout our lives that we need to keep love alive. I’m not saying these can’t be important parts of maintaining closeness. It’s just that they really don’t mean much unless they mean much. And the only way to know what means the most to you or your partner is through communication. We’ve been successful at growing our love through a 21-year marriage because we talk things out. I pretty much learned right away that my husband is not a mind reader. Respectful communication is what works for us. It’s the root of all of it. We mutually use encouraging words and listen to each other, and try to be both honest and understanding. It’s created a safe place where we can share what we need from each other to continue to grow.” —Sarah, 24 years together

15. Consider couples therapy.

“It’s not sexy, but couples therapy is our secret. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t given the tools to communicate well, and without those we can end up feeling unappreciated, unloved, or full of resentment—all of which are major turnoffs. Love and attraction can’t thrive under those circumstances. Communicating our needs clearly to our partners is what makes love last, and therapy can certainly help with that.” —Kim, 20 years together this April