How To Make A Relationship Last

It is NOT “communication”

Kris Gage
Kris Gage
Oct 12, 2018 · 11 min read
Seb Toussaint

If you ask people what “the key to making a relationship last” is, one of the most common answers you’ll get is:

(That, as well as “trust,” or “respect,” or whatever…)

But the thing is…

“Communication” is not the secret

And whoever thinks it is needs to do a real gut-check on this one.

Folks who think this do so because they struggle with it. They struggle with emotional boundaries — what’s theirs, what’s their partner’s, what they should own, what their partner is to blame for. They think “sharing” is the same as “solving,” as though “talking about it” means things are going to be “fixed.” They also struggle with anxiety and passive-aggressiveness — especially when, shocker, “communication” alone doesn’t work.

And, yeah, a point of personal growth for them is definitely “communication.”

But that doesn’t make “communication” the key to a lasting relationship.

“Communication” gets you statements like:

Which may seem like an exaggeration. But it’s not far from:

If you’re thinking: “what’s wrong with the second set?” The same thing that’s wrong with the first set: it’s poor emotional boundaries.

I know “experts” everywhere say that “communication” is the solution, but it’s not. And sure, if you struggle to share, or get passive aggressive, then yeah, work on that — but as a “you” thing. Not as “the secret” to making a relationship work. Because sharing is great, but relationships are about much more than handing off our feelings, wants and needs to our partners.

If you’re thinking: “uh… I would definitely want to know the first set!” Sweetie. no you would not. All of it is super common, and saying it out loud causes more problems than it solves. It’s not our partner’s problem. It’s not even really ours. It’s just a reality for us to handle and move through.

So. Beyond “communication”…

Depending on what you want out of a relationship, you have two options:

OPTION 1: A GOOD RELATIONSHIP, WHILE IT LASTS

— however long that is.

This is you if: you’re not necessarily hellbent on staying together “til death do you part.” You understand that people change, and needs and wants and values change, so relationships change and, either upfront or deep down inside, you’re okay with that. You just want it to be good in the meantime.

Okay. Fine. Respect.

But. This is also you if: you think staying together “forever” means “you’ll always feel exactly the same.”

If you’re the sort of person who insists on defining “love” as a “feeling” rather than a “choice,” then you are, in fact, also exactly the sort of person who intends to stay together only for as long as that lasts.

(And that’s what this post is about.)

But either way, here’s how to do “Option 1” and make it good while it lasts:

Develop (Your Own) Emotional Maturity

This includes other words people use to describe a good partner: kind, respectful, trustworthy, honest. (As one person put it: “reasonable and rational and not selfish or petty.”)

Uh, yeah… “emotionally mature.” Y’all mean “emotionally mature.”

But it’s not just about finding someone who is — because we don’t control other people.

It’s also about being someone who is.

Kindness

I wrote about this recently. But effectively,

Honesty

I mean, duh.

Respect

Emotional Boundaries

I write about this A LOT. It’s the number one thing you need to understand to make a relationship work, and if you’re not getting it, you are going to fail (or suffer so hard, which frankly is still “failing,” breakup/divorce or not.)

Take responsibility for your own emotions, wants, and needs. Take ownership of your own happiness (or unhappiness), and don’t hang it on your partner.

Compromise

Neither person is the “alpha” in a healthy relationship. Neither “wins” (or “loses”) a “fight,” because “fights” aren’t what they have. Mature couples have discussions, or disagreements. Not verbal boxing matches or duels of the wit.

Conflict resolution

a.) Healthy couples don’t “fight” — not because they “avoid” conflict, but because they discuss, or disagree. They both seek to understand before being understood, listen, show compassion, etc. They both hear their partner’s side as much as sharing their own. They both know the difference between a mature, adult “discussion,” and an immature “fight” with a winner and loser.

b.) Understand how to apologize. (Note: “I’m sorry that you — ” and “I’m sorry, but — ” are not apologies. Those are bullshit, emotionally immature statements.)

And all of that? That will get you “a good thing” — for as long as it lasts.

OPTION 2: A “FOREVER” LOVE

A love that truly lasts a lifetime.

This is what most of us say we want, but most of us don’t actually know how to make it happen.

Because:

If you define “love” as a “feeling” rather than a “choice,” then you are also directly putting love at risk of not lasting “forever.”

Here’s what “forever” actually requires:

Step 1. Develop (Your Own) Emotional Maturity

(See above)

Step 2. Reset Your Expectations (Of Love & Feelings)

I am continually amazed at the number of people who end their marriages or longterm relationships because they “fell out of love” or “developed feelings for someone else.”

Because, like… duh…!

People are messy, imperfect human beings.

And, over the course of years:

Feelings change.

Hard Reality #1: Our feelings for our partners will ebb and flow

And/but: they usually come back again.

You have to be patient. And compassionate. And mature. Real love is not the eyeball-bursting, heart-struck romance we see in rom-coms and experienced in the beginning.

Love changes. And good love grows.

If you’re relying primarily on “staying in love” to stay together, you’re banking your “forever” on something inherently fluid. Many people think their feelings now will go on lasting forever (or just get better, wee!), but they’re wrong.

If your gameplan is to always feel the same, then you are in denial of how humans work.

When I was 18, I went to a 50th wedding anniversary party. After dinner, the couple stood up and said:

They chuckled to themselves, then said:

And that’s it. All of it — including the very real, unpleasant implications, which are: sometimes, one of you will fall out of love.

Sometimes it will be you. Sometimes it will be them. And sometimes it can last for months, or a year — not days.

There will be tough times and sour notes and shit years in your relationship. There just will be. If you want it all at the end, you have to stick through it.

“Feelings” come and go, and we have to decide whether we’re going to chase the highs and temptations and relinquish our relationship, or relinquish the chokehold that “feelings” have on us and hold our relationship together.

Hard Reality #2: We will feel attracted to others

Human beings are messy! And as Winton from Five Year Engagement put it:

One woman (and seriously, respect, sister ❤) was faithful for decades. She resisted temptation and stood by her vows,

But then she felt something. From the moment she met the guy:

And look… guys, at its core, that is beautiful. It really is.

In a vacuum, all by itself, that is some real beautiful emotion right there. So many people go through life never having that, and if you thought you did but then experienced a whole new level of “happiness,” I feel you. I get it. It sounds a lot like the “love” we’re all taught to revere.

And that is my damn point.

If your plan for staying together forever — your insurance against a divorce/breakup — is to never develop feelings or attraction for anyone else, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Because, statistically speaking, you almost certainly will.

So the real thing is: you have to choose. You have to reset expectations. You have to redefine what it is you want.

From a guy who’s been married for over 20 years:

If you build a relationship based entirely off of “feelings” and expect to stay together, you are mistaken. The couples who stay together for decades know this. They last not because they were never tempted, or never fell out of love, but because they valued their commitment more…

Step 3. Commit (Yourself, To Your Partner)

Because: see above.

If you want to be together forever, YOU HAVE TO DELIBERATELY CHOOSE. Every day.

Even when you’re not “feelin’ it,” or are feeling somethin’ for someone else.

Love is a choice, an investment, something of which we are the active agent — not something we “feel” or “fall into.”

Because if you define your love and your relationship by how you feel, you’re gonna “fall” out of it at some point. If you want to stay together, you have to commit even when you don’t “feel” it at times.

There will be times when your “feelings” directly challenge your commitment.

If you ask people the secret to a happy, longterm relationship, younger couples, divorced couples, and unhappy couples will all say “communication.”

But older couples and long-haul couples all say:

“Commitment.”

This is a huge wake-up call to a lot of people. But successful couples know…

Put In The Work

If anything, a long-term relationship means you put in more energy, not less.

But really, the ratio always changes. So the real secret is: just put in work.

Do the work.

Not resentfully. Not passive aggressively. Not on auto-pilot, or to check a box, or just to “safeguard.” That’s not the point. The point is love, remember?

And just… damn, guys — love so hard.

Love so damn hard

But I don’t mean “hot,” which offers an excuse to go “cool.”

Don’t love “hot and cold.” Love warm. Love consistent. Love everyday. Make the choice.

Love is a choice and an action — not a “feeling.”

Make that choice every single day.

Keep Choosing and “Dating” Your Partner — Every Day

I’d give specific examples here, but frankly I don’t have any, because it differs by person — and couple. But one thing is true: keep on doing it.

Very often, marriage and longterm relationships creates what I call:

The “Gremlin Effect” is that phenomenon where people just kind of change once they’ve been together a while. They change their effort, or their expectations. Sometimes they change both. They stop trying.

If you’re not actively growing and building your relationship and your love, then you’re actively letting it die.

Keep dating the person they grow into, not the person from x years ago, whom you wish they’d stay. This goes back to the previous point on realistic and healthy expectations.

People change.

And love means changing, too — hopefully in the same direction.


Kris Gage

Written by

Kris Gage

Writer — www.krisgage.com