-Original post published May of 2015-
Sometimes writing about characters in a long term relationship can be difficult. There’s no new spark, they have settled into companion love, and healthy relationships often don’t have much conflict. I realized this issue in the middle of my second book in the Deathless Trilogy.
So how did I overcome these issues? And how do we as authors write these relationships in interesting and engaging ways?
5 Tips for Writing Long-Term Relationships
1. Establish goals for your characters that can be accomplished outside of the relationship.
Real people who have been together for years have moved past that initial oh-my-goodness-my-life-revolves-around-my-significant-other phase, and have returned to join regular society. They have aspirations outside of “I want this person to love me,” and the all too familiar “I only want you to be safe/I only want to protect you.” They know the other person loves them, why else would they still be hanging around? (Unless that’s the conflict! That there is no other reason to hang around! Oooh.) And if you’re with someone and not living in mortal danger, you can ease up on the safety talk.
Real people in relationships have their own things going on, and can feel comfortable doing them without the other person objecting. Besides, giving your characters unique goals that are personalized to their character helps to deepen their characterization.
2. Give them inside jokes and memories.
There is nothing cuter than a couple who has been together for years, and who still has so much fun together. Because what people say is true: Your significant other really does become your best friend over time. After awhile, the passionate love comes and goes, but the companion love is always there. And think about it: People living together or spending that much time together are going to develop jokes and fun memories together.
What is the phrase your characters repeat? What is the “that one time” they often remember? Including these stories via flashbacks are also a great way to incorporate some of those butterfly feelings other stories about new loves often give readers.
What is important is that you show these characters as friends first. Kissing is awesome, but friendship and laughter with the person you love… man, that’s sweeter than anything.
3. Let them argue.
Real people argue. Especially when they are around each other for so long. What I was concerned about with this one was the line between healthy arguments and hurtful ones. In my books, I often portray arguments, but whether or not the characters say something they don’t mean during their fury, I made sure to always include an apology. (At least at some point. In The Blast one of the characters doesn’t receive an apology from another character until about 6 years after the argument. But hey–at least it happened.)
This was important to me, because I certainly don’t want to write situations that can be seen as unhealthy to one or both of the characters, unless that’s the point. Unless I’m writing to show the dangers of domestic abuse, I don’t want my characters mistreating each other. Especially as a YA author this is important. We have to model what relationships should be all about: Balance.
After my parents got a divorce, I held onto the juvenile belief that if a couple fought, they should break up. This idea ruined a lot of my relationships with friends andboyfriends. It wasn’t until I started dating my husband (who is by far the more level headed person in the relationship), and he explained to me that we could argue and still love each other that I realized he was right. As long as we apologized, and really meant it, and made conscious choices not to upset each other again, we forgave each other.
I still argue with my husband every now and then (usually about stupid stuff, but they are arguments nonetheless), but the majority of our arguments are behind us. Why? Because we apologized, and we worked to make sure we will live harmoniously in the future. We work to balance our own needs with the needs of the other person. Love isn’t about being perfect. Love is about forgiving each other for your misunderstandings.
4. Give them a new adventure.
Put them in a new situation or on a new adventure. They will be forced to make new memories and learn new things about each other, which can always lead to drama or more butterflies. Besides, your plot needs movement. This helps with that.
5. Give them friends.
Real couples have friends, they don’t just hang out with each other all the time. Or, at least, hopefully they have other people in their lives… unless they’re homebodies… in which case, I guess, staying home might be the best thing ever.
However, giving your characters friends helps to switch up the dynamic. Now it’s not just the two of them providing all the action and drama. Now they can work together with someone else, or become jealous of someone, or gossip about someone.
Friends can also function as foils for the characters, especially if one of your characters feels they need to act a certain way around a new friend, or if an old friend comes to illuminate characteristics your character used to possess.
So those are my 5 tips for writing a long-term relationship. Any other tips you would add to this list, or that you have tried? Leave your thoughts in the comments!