If you ask people what “the key to making a relationship last” is, some of the most common answers you’ll get are:
“communication” “trust” “respect”
But the thing is…
Those are not the secret
Many people struggle with emotional boundaries — what’s theirs, what’s their partner’s — and think “sharing” is the same as “solving,” as though “talking about it” means it’ll be “fixed.” They then struggle with anxiety and passive-aggressiveness — especially when, shocker, “communication” alone doesn’t work. So, I know many say that “communication” is the solution, but it’s not.
“Communication” gets you statements like:
“I loathe you sometimes” “I sometimes regret marrying you” “I sometimes think about cheating on you”
And while these are an exaggeration, the point is: saying something isn’t a solution to any problem. It’s just lobbing it out into the space between two people, and if you don’t follow it up with something, it does nothing.
If you struggle to communicate (or get passive aggressive), then yes, work on that — but as a “you” thing. Not as “the secret” to a relationship. Sharing is great, but relationships are much more.
When asked how to make relationships work… failed (or failing) couples say “communication.” Successful couples know it takes a lot more.
The secrets: PERSPECTIVE, EXPECTATIONS, & COMMITMENT
Of yourself, your feelings, your responsibilities, and your partner.
How that pans out:
Relationship Option 1: stay together “as long as it lasts”
This is you if: you’re not set on forever. People change, couples change, and (either upfront or deep down) you’re okay with that.
But this is also you if: you define “love” as a “feeling” — and bank your relationship on always feeling exactly the same.
If you define “love” as a “feeling” rather than a “choice,” and believe a relationship hinges on that feeling, then you also deep down are setting yourself up to stay together (or happy) only for as long as that lasts.
Relationship Option 2: stay together “forever”
This is what most of us say we want, but most of us don’t actually know how to make it happen.
Because if we tether “forever” to something that fundamentally isn’t — i.e., “feelings” — and define “love” as a “feeling” rather than a “choice,” then we are also directly putting “love” (and our relationship) at risk of not lasting.
Want forever? Change your perspective.
Step 1. Develop (Your Own) Emotional Maturity
Being kind, respectful, trustworthy, honest, “reasonable and rational and not selfish or petty”… all of these mean: “emotionally mature.”
- Respect (and self respect, without subjugation) — Loving others means first loving ourselves, which necessitates self-respect. Don’t bury your self-worth in others, or “love” through subjugation
- Responsibility —for our own emotions, wants, needs
- Emotional Boundaries — take ownership of our own happiness (or unhappiness), and don’t hang it on our partner
- Compromise — neither person “wins” a “fight,” because mature couples have discussions, not verbal boxing matches.
- Conflict resolution — both seek to understand before being understood, hear their partner’s side, know how to have a mature discussion, and how to apologize. (“I’m sorry that you — ” and “I’m sorry, but — ” are not apologies. Those are bullshit, emotionally immature statements.)
And it’s not just our partner. It’s also about having it ourselves.
Step 2. Reset Expectations Of “Love” & “Feelings”
I am continually amazed at the number of people who end things because of their “feelings” — for their partner, or others. Because, look:
People are messy, imperfect human beings.
Hard Reality #1: Our feelings for our partners will ebb and flow
When I was 18, I attended 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 laughed, then said:
“The secret is: we never fell out of love at the same time.”
And that’s it; all of it — including the very real implication: 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. There will be tough times and sour notes in your relationship. There just will be. If you want it to last, you have to stick it out.
“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.
Real love is not the eyeball-bursting, heart-struck romance we see in rom-coms and experienced in the beginning. If your game plan is to always feel the same, then you are in denial of how humans work. 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, but they’re wrong.
Feelings change. Love grows.
Hard Reality #2: We will feel attracted to others
As Winton from Five Year Engagement put it:
“Underneath all that polite bullshit we’re all running on caveman software”
One woman was faithful for decades:
“Married 20+ years… I love my husband… I am still happy… I did not seek this out I never had any intention of ever cheating.”
But then she felt something — for someone else:
“I was flooded with a feeling… 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.”
And look… in a vacuum, that’s beautiful emotion. Many people go through life never experiencing that, and if you thought you did but then felt a whole new level of “happiness,” I get it.
Because it sounds a lot like the “love” we’re all taught to revere.
But these “feelings” are not “love.” And if your “insurance” against a divorce/breakup is to never develop attraction to anyone else, you’re gonna have a bad time. Because you almost certainly will.
As one therapist wrote,
“Even Jesus was tempted.”
From a guy who’s been married for over 20 years, we must always:
“Be on guard with our hearts, and eyes.” — oldschool52
The couples who stay together 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)
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… taking turns being strong for each other.” — sdub99
“Marriage is like a see saw, it is either going up or down.” — oldschool54
“You must contribute more than a paycheck and not cheating. You have to proactively work to better your marriage.” — TocchetRocket
“Marriage done well is hard work.” — oldschool52
“We have to allow our spouse the space to grow as a person.” — oldschool54
“Marriage isn’t always a 50/50 partnership. Sometimes, it’s 70/30. Sometimes it’s 80/20. Sometimes it’s 100/0.”
“The work of keeping a marriage solid should be split 80/20 with both sides doing 80%. Super cheesy right? Totally works.” — squizzix
Do the work.
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?
Love so damn hard
Not hot and cold, though. Love warm. Love consistent. Love everyday. Love is a choice and an action. Make that decision every day.
Keep choosing (and dating) your partner
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. This goes back to the point on realistic and healthy expectations. People change.
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_