7 ways my boyfriend and I keep our long-term relationship fresh

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Five minutes into my first date with my boyfriend, I stared at the frozen scoop of cookie dough ice cream in my lap, a new (accidental) accessory to my carefully-planned outfit. Somehow, Anthony must’ve found it endearing, because he invited me on a second date. And the rest is history.

Of course, after a while, spilling things becomes less of a “cute” quality and more of an expected “don’t wear your new shirt in case you order spaghetti” type of scenario. However, no matter how much we learn about each other, we make it a point to always keep our long-term relationship fresh, whether via a quick getaway or a new experience.

While I’d attribute most of our success to his patience (thanks for sticking around even when I’m hangry), I’d like to think it also involves a few additional elements:

We humor each other’s hobbies

One of the best parts about a long-term relationship is the built-in best friend.

Did Anthony ever picture himself tangled in silk ribbons at an aerial fitness class? Not likely. But he took it like a champ, because our relationship reflects balance. Similarly, I’ve learned the key to looking interested at car shows while strolling through rows of vehicles in the hot sun. Fun fact: if you behave and don’t complain, you get donuts.

Balance isn’t about forcing him to like my hobbies or vice versa, but instead taking the time to experience something the other enjoys. I wouldn’t select a hockey game as my go-to Saturday evening, but he loves the sport, and I’ve come to enjoy the Charlotte Checkers games. If nothing else, I get to take selfies with Chubby, so that’s a win in itself.

Similarly, I don’t know that he loves reading at Starbucks while I furiously type at what will one day turn into a bestselling novel (one can hope, okay?), but he patiently answers questions and humors my constant plot changes.

We make time for a weekly date night

No matter how busy we find ourselves with work and plans, we always make time one night of the week for a date night. Whether it’s sampling cuisine at a new restaurant or engaging in experiments at Discovery Place’s Science on the Rocks, we look forward to spending time together outside the house.

That said, some of my favorite date nights actually take place in the kitchen (ironic, because I actually despise cooking) preparing a new recipe on the weekend. One of our favorites involves homemade pasta prepared from scratch, because we always end up covered in flour with at least one incidence of me forgetting to stir the sauce (apparently it burns, who knew?).

[Related: A pasta addict ranks the best 9 places for pasta in Charlotte]

Date nights don’t always require a huge production and a hefty restaurant bill. Try preparing a new recipe together or make ice cream sundaes and binge watch 20 episodes of a Netflix show.

[Related: 9 couples share how they spice things up on their routine date nights]

We embark on small getaways

While we both love Charlotte, sometimes we find it easier to reconnect when we hop in the car and head out of town for the weekend. We’ve spent Saturdays reading with our toes in the sand (key: find another nerd who will deal with you browsing bookstores for hours for the ideal beach novel) per my request, and I’ve spent weekends hiking 14 miles round trip because he thought it would be fun to climb up and down one of the Smoky Mountain trails all in one trip.

Since it’s not always possible to plan a week-long vacation, we schedule time to take small breaks. Not only does it refresh our perspectives and prepare us for the week ahead, but we make memories navigating new areas together.

[Related: Nearby weekend getaways for every travel personality]

Smoky Mountain view

We try new experiences

While we love our go-to dates, we learn so much about one another when we try a new experience together. As active individuals, we often find ourselves hiking a nearby mountain or trying a new fitness class. Anthony’s brave spirit – and knack for patiently answering anxious questions — helps me to tap into my adventurous side (“No, we aren’t going to get eaten by a bear on the mountain. No, the belay will not break at the indoor rock climbing center.”) and strengthens our relationship.

This rung true during our recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, where both of us realized about halfway through that the peak was much farther than anticipated. Nevertheless, we persisted, and the exhilarating view proved worth the trek. We spent hours chatting and climbing in the serene woods, and I also learned something new about him – he possesses a great eye for photography. Therefore, all creds to him for the pic above.

Whether it’s a workout class, a wine and paint night, or an archery lesson, try something that pulls you both outside of your comfort zone. I never thought I’d be brave enough to climb a rock wall, and I know he didn’t see himself artfully painting trees, but new experiences make for laughs. And laughs make memories.

We plan a big annual trip together

Once a year, we splurge on a big vacation to spend a week away in a fun destination. However, given our different interests, we rely on compromise. For instance, Anthony recently agreed to spend 12 hours in Magic Kingdom (with his tiny, Minnie-Mouse-eared girlfriend prancing around full of Mickey-shaped sugar in the heat) in exchange for a day at Universal Studios and poolside cocktails at the hotel. Instead of eliminating destinations altogether that may not interest us both, we find elements that each of us would enjoy, because at the end of it all, we’re still enjoying it together.

The long-term aspect of our relationship actually makes traveling easier as each year passes. We’re already used to each other’s quirks and habits, so he knows how often to stop for food (for fear of his girlfriend becoming a small hangry monster), and I know how long he can survive in the heat with throngs of screaming children before needing an air-conditioned break.

We converse in fresh spaces

Yes, we talk to each other a lot. But that’s to be expected, as we live together. However, we make time to really talk outside of the normal post-work drive home or quick cooking session. While it’s fine to chat on the couch after an episode of “Jessica Jones” on Netflix (compromise: he likes superheroes and I like strong female leads), we make time on balmy evenings to walk around the block or at a nearby greenway.

Instead of just discussing work and mundane topics, we chat about future aspirations, potential vacations, and fun plans for the upcoming weekend. It’s a refreshing perspective and being outdoors helps us focus on each other’s thoughts vs. how long before we flip the chicken on the stove.

We spend time apart

While I’m sure Anthony would love to deal with my drama all the time, we take time to do the things we enjoy outside of each other’s company. I’ll endure sports if rewarded with dessert, but it’s likely enjoyable for him to converse with a friend who’s actually invested in what’s happening with the balls on the TV screen. Along the same lines, I enjoy going to AIR aerial fitness and hot yoga at the Charlotte YMCA, which he gave the ol’ college try, but would prefer to forgo the invite.

How does the saying go? Absence makes the heart grow fonder? We don’t spend every moment together, and taking time to do our own thing gives us something to chat about over dinner.

No matter how long you’re in a relationship with someone or how often you spend time together, there’s always something new to learn and exciting to experience together. Take time to transcend the normal routine and schedule time for a date or a nearby getaway – you may just be surprised how much you learn about your best friend!

Photos: Jessica Swannie

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