I think long-term relationships are like a garden. In the beginning, we decide what we’re going to grow, we till the soil and we plant the seeds.  We pay close attention as the seedlings begin to sprout, giving them the proper amount of sun, water, and food.  Sometimes we have to thin out the plants, sometimes we have to get rid of the weeds, and sometimes we have to build a bigger fence around our garden to keep out the rabbits.  And sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, the plants simply die.

Over the past six months, I’ve worked with more than a few couples who’ve called it quits after decades together.  And I personally know many couples whose relationships are thriving, also after decades together.  What makes some relationships evolve while others do not?

Well, I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer.  My observation is that some couples evolve together and some grow apart.  Relationship experts and marriage counselors have many “tried and true” tips for successful relationships.  So, according to this self-proclaimed expert, here are my top four suggestions on how to fertilize your own relationship:

Tip #1:  Be each other’s cheerleader.  Say nice things about your partner, especially in front of other people.  A sincere compliment delivered in public can be significant in the nurturing of your relationship.

Tip #2:  Express your boundaries and your expectations as to time spent with your partner.  If you’d like a date night on Fridays, say so and then do so.  This also applies to time spent with others.  If you think your wife spends too much time with her mother, have a conversation about it and set a boundary.  Same goes for your husband and his friends.  The important part here is presenting the perceived problem to each other and then agreeing on a solution (even if only for a trial period).

Tip #3:  Remember the little things.  Put a sweet and loving sticky note on the dashboard of your partner’s car.  Send a text during the work day just to say hello.  Watch a chick flick or a sci-fi show or a game together, even if that’s not your first choice.  Do something just because.

Tip #4:  Pay attention to each other.  Remember in the beginning of your relationship how you couldn’t keep your hands off each other?  Try touching, holding hands, giving a little smooch or a giant hug.  Humans crave touch, and it doesn’t take a huge effort to make this a priority.  Another equally important way to pay attention to each other is to ASK and to LISTEN.  Seems so simple, doesn’t it?  Yet our day-to-day hectic life often interferes and we forget to ask questions about our partner’s world.

Any one of my four tips will certainly fertilize your relationship.  However, if you’re only willing to commit to one for now, please skip directly to Tip #4.  If you ignore your garden, it might thrive anyway, but wouldn’t it be much better if you tended to it?