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Nick Ang

How to keep things interesting in a relationship

How to keep things interesting in a relationship

At a company party recently a friend (hello Emma!) asked me how I keep things interesting with my wife after marriage. “How do you not get bored of each other?” Presumably, she wasn’t just asking about stuff in the bedroom.

It’s a question that I never really asked myself but it’s certainly an interesting question. So I thought carefully before answering. Here’s me recalling what I said and adding a few things after some more careful thinking.

Same level of ambition (or zest for life)

The first thing I mentioned that has kept our marriage strong was ensuring that we have roughly the same level of ambition. For us, because we’ve been together for so long, we knew that we did before marriage, which is a fluke of time. But to me, having the same level of ambition is one of the vital links of a happy marriage.

Having the same level of ambition means being motivated by the same kinds of things in life.

Using extremes as an analogy, a woman with an ambition to be the CEO of a publicly traded company will not be able to last long as the partner of a man who prefers to have a mediocre day job that is just enough to pay the bills and get by.

Why? Because they would want to do different things in their free time. One would prefer to read business books, enrol in a course, consult businesses on the side, while the other would be motivated to watch TV, play games… you get the picture.

Gone on long enough, this misalignment in ambition would rupture a relationship as the couple wouldn’t understand why the other person would want to do this rather than that.

I personally think that this is one of the most important reasons why I’m happily married to my wife.

She is very competitive and has always strived for excellence in everything from studying (first class honours) to her work as a makeup artist and recently as a bridal veil designer.

On the other hand, I’m less competitive but I’ve been motivated to start my own company after university, attend a programming bootcamp to make up for a missing skill in running that company, and in general, always trying new things.

Perhaps ambition isn’t the best word for it, as it encompasses more than just careers. A better description, I think, is zest for life. I think a married couple needs to have the same level of zest for life to be together happily for the long haul.

Mutual admiration

The second part of my answer to Emma was having mutual admiration. This is a little trickier to say out loud, because I may just be imagining things to be this way in the reverse.

On my part, I strongly admire my wife for many things. Her ability to focus and become good at what she’s doing in a short amount of time, her grace in front of others in general, and her mental fortitude in the face of difficulty.

I can’t speak for what my wife admires about me, but she alluded to some qualities before that I shall not say here in the interest of modesty (there’s a line I draw around self-praise).

Mutual admiration keeps a couple going strong for a simple reason: it is the antidote to loathing, both of the other and of the self.

Own a dog together

One thing I’d add if I could turn back time to answer the question again is to own a dog together. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog, any living creature that can melt both your hearts will do.

We have a dog, Brownie, whom we both love more than we thought we could love. He has a great personality, but that’s not the reason why I think owning a dog together has kept our marriage interesting. It’s about caring for another living thing together.

Having Brownie means that we would have to take turns and sometimes compartmentalise what is otherwise a shared responsibility. This, I’ve noticed, has continually forced us to communicate our plans ahead of time so that Brownie wouldn’t be neglected of his food, water, and walks.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that compassion spreads. Whenever we catch ourselves watching Brownie enjoying a doggie treat at the same time, we’d exchange glances that say a lot without uttering a word. Look at our boy, how happy he is. We’re not so bad as a team!

Disclaimer: Not love experts

These are just three broad things that I thought of as representative of what’s keeping my marriage strong. They are by no means exhaustive, though they’re certainly not misrepresented (my wife came up with the same list of points).

We are not love experts, and you shouldn’t trust online advice. We’ve just been together for a while and have been quite happy so far (half our lives), and I thought it’d be valuable to write this down for my own reference in the future. It could be a useful reminder when we find our marriage having any ruptures in the future.

Disagree with anything? Let me know in the comments.

Photo by Alain Wong.

Nick Ang profile picture
Senior software engineer, dad, writer-thinker type. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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