Advice from 7 Lesbian Couples Who Have Been Together for More Than 30 Years

Lez be honest: Keeping your long-term relationship intact can sometimes feel like more work than you have the energy for. You love your partner unconditionally, but there are moments along the way that might have you frustrated, overwhelmed or even heartbroken. 

As someone who has been in a relationship for 10 years, I can tell you that I have had some of the most magical and breathtaking times of my life over the last decade. I can also tell you there have been some absolutely devastating times as well, and it’s been in those dark times that finding strength in each other as individuals and as a team is where putting in the work is most important, as well as the most fulfilling.

We talked to seven lesbian couples who have been together for 30 years or more in hopes of getting some advice about making a relationship last a lifetime. Some of these couples have faced incredible odds together; some of them endured tragedy, separation and illnesses. While great advancements have been made for the LGBTQ community, these couples suffered through decades of intense shame from the world, some hiding who they were and who they loved. If anyone knows about how to make a relationship last, it is these women, who have participated in fighting not only for equality but for their relationships to go the distance. 

I encourage all of you, whether you are in a relationship or not, to read through each of these couples stories and pieces of advice they are passing on to us. Take to heart their words and their intentions behind them, because it is not every day you will get relationship advice from a generation of lesbians who know what it is like to have loved the same woman for years and years and years.

via Getty

Janette (65) and Rachel (63), together for 34 years

Do not take your relationship for granted. Long-term relationships are supposed to feel safe and secure, but there should be a degree of uncertainty that will make you continue to improve and/or work on it. If you do not have the assumption you will be together forever, then it keeps you both on your toes.”

“Be ready and able to change. Be ready to talk about and accept (usually) your partner’s changes. You should not expect to be the same couple you were 30 years ago—you go through a lot of stuff together.”

“Hash out issues. Never let a problem build. Be prepared to go over the same issues many, many times. People do not learn or change quickly—it takes a long time to learn how to have a good relationship.”

“Be prepared to both love and hate your partner, because at times you will hate them for something. There must obviously be more love, though, than hate.”

“Don’t take yourselves too seriously. Be humble and prepared to laugh at how ridiculous you sometimes will be. Accept that everyone is imperfect.”

“Don’t make the classic lesbian move of moving in quickly. Give yourself enough time to see how things are going. If it’s going to be a long-term relationship, you will have lots of time.”

“There needs to be continual sexual desire for one another, but there may be times you do not act on it as frequently as when you first got together. Your passion will wax and wane, but you need a steady delight in being with each other.”

“Relish your shared interests, but allow for differences of interests and, in some cases, irreconcilable views on certain topics. It is good, though, if your political views are closely aligned.”

“Really listen to each other and know what the other wants so you can act on it.”

“Practice continued acts of kindness and generosity towards one another.”

Marcia (62) and Sharon (60), together for 32 years

“It’s been said that you are always hardest on the ones you love the most. We always try to do the opposite of that. I make sure I treat Sharon better than anyone else. I do my best to be kinder, gentler, and more considerate of her than I have ever been to any other person I’ve met. Treating someone with love and respect often comes down to the small things you do or don’t do every day. Little things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way towards building a lifetime of love and mutual trust.”

“That love and trust has meant a great deal to both of us over the last two years during which Sharon has been recovering from a series of three strokes. While the circumstances might have been a test for some couples, our relationship became stronger. Almost a year after Sharon’s first stroke, we were both very grateful when the Supreme Court’s decision was announced on June 26, 2015. We were married that very afternoon. A month later Sharon had her second stroke with her third stroke occurring 30 days later. We are now looking forward to my retirement in June of 2016. We plan to make the most of our newfound freedom and enjoy our time together.”

Elena (57) and Vicki (54), together for 36 years

“We often reflect on our relationship and have what we call the ‘three C’s’ as advice: commitment, communication, and compromise. All three might not be equal at all times, but they must all be present to make a relationship work. We are committed to being a couple and always being there for each other. We both might not want the same things at the same time, but communication and compromise are key to a relationship, no matter how hard it is. That’s what keeps us together. A day doesn’t go by that we aren’t thankful for each other and express our love through simple acts of kindness and gratitude. I think we are very lucky to have found each other when we were young and have a beautiful life together.” 

Beth (63) and Patricia (76), together for 40 years

“At first glance, my wife and I might seem like polar opposites. She’s the charismatic extrovert with her Southern charm; I am the watchful introvert, always stewing about something. Where she adores adventure, I enjoy serenity! My working class upbringing, at first, seemed no match for her country club, upper-middle-class style of life. But what has made our relationship work throughout the past 40 years, carrying us through the dips and valleys of life, has been our passionate need to be together. It is something that we treasure; therefore, we dedicate ourselves to protecting and preserving that relationship.”

“Although I am a baby boomer, and she is a member of the ‘silent majority’ generation, we are aligned in our belief system of right and wrong, and we share a set of core values. We are first and foremost best friends, a bond that surprisingly grows even stronger over the years. When the passionate, daily (and hourly!) love-making of those first years begins to slowly fade, you have to be able to look at your partner, or spouse and realize that you truly love and accept every part of her; that she is your life and breath.”

Paulette (72) and Ginny (70) together for 33 years

“Making a relationship work is a challenge but so worth it. To be honest, the biggest reason we are still together is because we got clean and sober and I have been in Al-Anon for the past 22 years. Al-Anon and AA saved our lives. It was a big challenge in our day because most of our socializing centered around the bar. That was one of the very few places to meet. I came from an alcoholic home and very large family. Ginny was an only child of deaf parents. We did not learn a lot about the intricacies of building relationships and what that takes—honesty, compassion, tolerance, setting boundaries and not building walls.

“Over the years, we have learned to give each other room without taking the other’s need for that space personally. We do lots of things separately—it gives us much to talk about and share. However, we do lots together—camping, golf, lawn bowling, and most recently pickleball. We have been blessed to have lots of family and friends in our lives, and we make plenty of room for spending time with both groups.”

“We did separate about 12 years into our relationship, and we are both grateful to each other that we did not give up. I would have to say do not give up too easy and get help when things start to get difficult. I actually just bought a great book by Nancy Dreyfus called Talk to Me Like I am Someone You Love. I asked Gin to work through the book with me. There will always be tension from time to time in any relationship and no matter how old we are, it is always important to look at ways to communicate with each other that open the doors to possibilities.”

D’Rae (62) and Lyn (57), together for 32 years

“We are writing this together, and the first thing that comes up is we are best friends. That relationship sustains everything else. It is the foundation of our love for each other. Be a good friend to one another.”

“Beyond that, being compatible and having a fire for the entity you are together is critical. Exactly what the fire is changes as life goes by, but it is always there. It is often passion but may be protectiveness, then change to cheerleader or caregiver or comedian at any given time.”

“Learn how to agree to disagree, never raise your voice in anger. You both need to accept that sometimes, your needs will not be #1.

Kim(50) and Darla (49), together for 31 years

“There are a lot of important factors for making our long-term relationship work. Respect is a priority in our relationship. We treat each other with respect when we are home alone and also in a social setting. We don’t make each other the punchline of a joke and we don’t embarrass each other in public. We treat each other the way that we would want to be treated.”

“Another very important ingredient to our long-term relationship is that we really like each other. We are each other’s biggest fan. We want each other to succeed in whatever we are doing.”

“A sense of humor is another factor in keeping our relationship strong. We love to laugh together.”

“We are complete opposites. Darla is laid back, and I am more high-strung. When we first got together, the difference in our personalities was sometimes antagonizing. We battled to be the winner in an argument. Through the years as we have grown together, the difference in our personalities has transferred to each other. I have relaxed in my convictions and realize that everything is not a crisis, and Darla has become more pro-active in making our daily lives run more smoothly.”

“The physical attraction and touch are also very important. We make sure that we are attentive to each other’s physical needs and communicate our desires with one another.”

“Communication is key in a relationship. You have to express your concerns, desires, questions and thoughts with your partner. We need to listen to what our partner is saying and allow them to complete their sentences before formulating an answer/solution.”

“Honesty and loyalty are paramount. We believe that being honest with each other is a huge factor in our relationship, even when it’s painful to share.

“Love, of course, is the main factor. We really do love each other and couldn’t see ourselves with anyone else.”