Everyone’s always trying to sell you advice on how to make relationships work, but this guy finally had the great idea of simply asking couples who are in solid, long-term relationships. He crowdsourced a study of over 1500 couples online and found they all had the following things in common.
They’re together for the right reasons. People in the study looked back on unsuccessful relationships in their past and realized they’d chosen their previous partners for the wrong reasons. They cited things like wanting to please family or friends, choosing someone who “looked good on paper” or just falling in love and thinking that was enough to gloss over all the glaring red flags and problems. Others went into relationships because they were feeling lonely or were afraid of being the loser who ends up alone. Some even said they were trying to fix themselves and thought a relationship was the answer to their prayers. Sounds familiar? Well, sadly none of these make for a healthy long-term relationship.
They have realistic expectations. There is no such thing as happily ever after. People in long-term relationships don’t experience puppy love every single day of their lives. Expecting a relationship to be like that is what makes people ditch perfectly good relationships when reality hits. The sort of love that sustains a long-term relationship is not the exciting romantic love movies tell us to expect, but a deeper, less glamorous, yet unconditional love. Responders described it as a commitment to be together in spite of the daily ebb and flow of emotions.
They actually respect each other. You can’t love someone you don’t respect. Responders who have been together for over 20 years pointed out that while communication will undoubtedly break down occasionally, what sustains the relationship when feelings are hurt is a deep mutual respect for one another. Many listed means of maintaining respect, such as not saying negative things about your partner to your friends and family, respecting the differences between partners and keeping no secrets.
They know how to talk about things, especially the ugly stuff. Communication is the second most important thing, according to the study. Having those difficult conversations about each other and the relationship is what helps the relationship keep going. If you can’t talk to the other person about this, then the problems will never be solved. On the other hand, openly discussing topics that are difficult for you to discuss is what helps build and maintain intimacy.
They’re healthy individuals outside of the relationship. So it turns out all those harsh self-help books were right! Couples in successful relationships apparently know how to make themselves happy and don’t rely on their partner to make up for their shortcomings in that department. If you rely on another person for your happiness to the point where you lose your own identity, interests, and perspective, turns out the relationship is less likely to last. On the other hand, if you are an individual who’s independent and self-aware, you’ve probably got it made.
They know how to give space and take some for themselves. Individuals need space. You can’t maintain your own individuality of your relationship is entirely symbiotic. Give your partner space to be his or her own person and claim your own space for the same reasons. Couples who respect each other’s me time seem to be the ones that last.
They’re constantly growing and evolving as people and as a couple. Part of being an individual is also changing throughout life. Responders to the study reported going through everything from a change of religion to moving countries, losing children and other major life changes. What they had in common was that their love for each other was such that it allowed each person to change and grow, even in unexpected ways. Their relationships changed to encompass these changes because their love was not dependent on external circumstances.
They fight, but they know how to do it. Keeping things respectful, not dragging past arguments into the current one, learning to compromise, learning to let things go and not insist on always solving everything – these are the qualities that sustain long, solid relationships. Some couples cited needing to understand each other, rather than compromise, to help turn fights into conversations.
They forgive each other. Learning to move away from arguments, no matter who “won” and just getting on with your life together is a lesson most successful couples seem to have learned. It all comes down to make a life together more civil and pleasant, which helps makes relationships last in the long run. And yes, apparently that does mean not saying “I told you so”. Damn.
They know that the little things matter. Romantic gestures, taking the time to have lunch together or go for a walk, remembering to honor the connection even when life happens – the little things add up to the big picture of a great relationship. It may seem silly to work at such stuff when work, school or kids come along, but apparently pretty much all responders in this study listed these as a majorly important part of their relationships. So ignore these at your own peril.
They make sex a priority. OK, so we don’t really need 1500 couples to tell us that, do we? But validation is important. Couples noted that when things go bad, the first indication is the sex. Some went as far as saying they schedule “sexy time” in order to keep their relationship healthy, or even fix it when things are going bad. Either way, all these extremely long-term relationships seem to involve regular sex, so if you’ve always been saying that sex is important, here’s your proof.
They appreciate the value in relationship rules. Couples reported having their own logical divisions of labor (cooking, cleaning, taking care of children) that matched their own lifestyle, rather than expectations, traditional gender roles, etc. Some even said they reviewed theirs regularly, as you would in a business. There are some jobs one of you will hate, whereas others might be harmless. Learning to work with your own preferences and dividing things along those lines is apparently a winning tactic for making your home life not suck.
They know how to ride out the ebbs and flows. Long-term couples reported that their feelings go through phases. Sometimes they feel deep love for each other, other times they wake up next to each other thinking “what are we doing here?”. The key for these couples was learning how to ride out the bad or indifferent bits and just accept them as part of the relationship. Someone described these as “waves” that you need to learn to ride. It may not be as glamorous as “happily ever after”, but it does have the advantage of actually being real.
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