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:
“I truly and deeply loathe you sometimes” “There are moments I regret marrying you” “I have sexual fantasies about your best friend” “I sometimes I think about cheating on you” …etc.
Which may seem like an exaggeration. But it’s not far from:
“I need ___” “I want ___” “I feel __ ” “You make me feel___”
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.
I wrote about this recently. But effectively,
Love is acceptance — just as much as ourselves as others. Loving and caring for ourselves first means that we develop the self-respect and strength necessary that we don’t bury our self-worth in others, either in subjugating them or “winning” their affections.
I mean, duh.
“When divorced couples are asked what would have made it work. They say communication. Married couples (over 10 years) when asked what makes it work. Say respect.” — the_obstinate_maw
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
“Sometimes people ask us how we stayed together for so long…”
They chuckled to themselves, then said:
“The real secret is: we never fell out of love at the same time.”
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:
“Underneath all that polite bullshit we’re all running on caveman software”
One woman (and seriously, respect, sister ❤) was faithful for decades. She resisted temptation and stood by her vows,
“Married 20+ years… happy normal ups and downs like any marriage. Children are in college… I love my husband and have never ever considered cheating. I have had many offers over the years but have always refused. I have never even been tempted… I am still happy in my marriage; I am not angry or upset with my husband... I have NEVER planned this, I didn’t look for this, I did not seek this out I never had any intention of ever cheating.”
But then she felt something. From the moment she met the guy:
“I was flooded with a feeling I had not had before… This man completely took my breath away. I felt like a teenager again. My stomach was in knots and my mouth was dry I was blushing constantly and could barely form a coherent sentence. Oh I wanted him so bad but I refused. I… told him I was married and just could not do this…
Eventually… he kissed me. I said I couldn’t but then just went with it. Needless to say we never left the house. We talked and played for hours, the best part was just being in his arms and talking, I wanted to stay there forever.
I have not been able to stop thinking about him. He pops into my head out of the blue and I catch my breath and get butterflies. I can’t explain it and I figure in time this will stop and these feelings will go away, but they never do, it has been a year.
I started seeing a therapist because I felt so guilty… I am happy and comfortable… why can’t I stop thinking about this man?
Why would I be so stupid as to ruin a perfectly good and until now happy marriage, risk everything, and in the end hurt my family and possibly wind up alone?… On the other hand we only have one life to lead so why shouldn’t I take this chance and possibly end up with someone who makes me so happy and who I want to make happy in return?”
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:
“Be on guard with our hearts, and eyes, so as to not have an affair of the heart or physical affair.” — Oldschool52
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:
This is a huge wake-up call to a lot of people. But successful couples know…
“Contrary to popular belief, being married isn’t ‘happily ever after.’ It takes a great deal of work.” — thehumanscott
“Marriage is rarely two strong people, it’s about taking turns being strong for each other.” — sdub99
“You must contribute more than a paycheck and not cheating. You have to proactively work to better your marriage by doing things around the house without being asked and conceiving of kindnesses on your own intentionally and spontaneously. In first marriage I traded my mom for another mom, my wife didn’t want to be my mom and resented having to act like one.” — TocchetRocket
“Marriage done well is hard work.” — OldSchool52
Put In The Work
If anything, a long-term relationship means you put in more energy, not less.
“We have to unpack the baggage of our youth… We have to allow our spouse the space to grow as a person and this many times takes patience and understanding.” — oldschool54
“Over the years, I have dated my spouse regularly, gone on trips with just her… and marriage retreats together to be better people and spouses. Marriage is like a see saw, it is either going up or down.” — oldschool54
“The work of keeping a marriage solid should be split 80/20 with both sides doing 80%. Super cheesy right? Totally works.” — squizzix
But really, the ratio always changes. So the real secret is: just put in work.
“Marriage isn’t always a 50/50 partnership. Sometimes, it’s 70/30. Sometimes it’s 80/20. Sometimes it’s 100/0.”
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”
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.
And love means changing, too — hopefully in the same direction.
“As your partner changes, you need to learn to appreciate and fall in love with the new person they become. Most simply become resentful and hurt. “You used to….” Avoid any thought that begins with those words. They are poison. Focus on love, appreciation and getting to know your partner over and over.” — kuzushi_