When you graduated from college, did you say to yourself, “Well, that’s it! I now know everything I need to know. My days of learning are over!” Probably not. In fact, you’ve probably continued to learn about new topics, acquire new skills, and seek out random tidbits of information, even if your days of formal education are over. It’s not only fun and fulfilling, but also keeps your mind open and your heart young, among other tangible and intangible benefits.
Interestingly, in long-term relationships, we often get to a certain point and feel as if we know “everything” about our partner. But whether you’ve been together for 3 years or 30+, there’s a good chance that there are still new things to learn about each other—it just might require more digging than it did when you were first getting to know each other.
In the beginning, everything was a new discovery: favorite foods, pet peeves, embarrassing childhood memories, irrational fears. We’d converse for hours about everything and nothing, soaking up information about this new person in your life.
Time passes, and we become familiar with each other’s quirks and see new facets of each other across different situations. Somewhere along the way, the curiosity-driven questions start to wane. We begin to make predictions and assumptions about each other, without even realizing it. It is comforting to know each other so well, knowing exactly how the other likes their coffee or whether they’ll feel like being social or staying in on a Friday night after long week. We no longer need to wonder, worry, or stress about each other’s preferences—we’re comfortable
But over time, we also change as individuals, which makes knowing everything about each other somewhat of a moving target. And that’s why we should strive to be lifelong learners about each other!
Here are some tips on how you can be a lifelong learner in your relationship.
- Don’t put your partner in a box: Let’s say you go out to eat at your favorite Italian restaurant. When the server takes your order of seafood ravioli, your partner exclaims, “Really? But you always have the chicken marsala!” Feels a little weird, right? A bit like a shirt that’s too tight across the shoulders—constrictive. There is probably no ill intent behind the comment, but if this keeps recurring, you might be a bit hesitant to venture out of your comfort zone in the future. You could start to feel a subconscious obligation to be the person they’ve always known. But you both need space and positive reinforcement to grow. Let your partner surprise you now and then, and respond in a way that says, “That’s not what I expected from you, but I love you for it.”
- Be curious: So maybe they still listen to that same album on repeat just like they did 20 years ago—it really is their all-time favorite. Have you asked them why? Maybe you did – 20 years ago. Have you asked them lately? The reasons could be the same, but maybe they aren’t. Since you know the album hasn’t changed in 20 years, it could mean something in your partner has. By asking questions and staying curious about your partner, you gain insight and learn more about them—as they currently are, instead of whom you’ve always assumed them to be.
- Teach each other: It’s relatively common knowledge that experiencing new things together brings you closer as a couple—it’s the essence of dating, after all! But let’s be honest, we don’t always have the time or money for “novelty experience” dates. Plus, they don’t always offer the opportunity for great conversation. What if you took turns teaching each other a skill or hobby of your own instead? Whether it’s getting a lesson in gardening or learning to change a tire, you might be surprised by how much your partner knows about a certain topic. Ask questions. Be an enthusiastic student. You might see sides of each other you don’t usually get to see.
Lifelong educational learning benefits your mind and well-being in a myriad of ways. Lifelong learning about your partner does the same for your relationship in the form of increased connection and positive growth as individuals and as a couple. It acts as a foil to complacency as it requires continuous communication. After all, lifelong really is lifelong. The catch to lifelong learning is that the more you already know (whether it’s about auto repair, gardening, or your partner), the more effort you’ll need to put in to learn something new. But in the end, it’ll only enhance your journey together, and we think you’ll find it’s worth it.