Every romantic comedy you’ll ever see will try to convince you that love is all that matters. It’s a nice concept, but there’s a reason those movies don’t show the happily ever after part. In truth, relationships are hard work and love is a pretty incidental factor. In reality, it’s all about effort.
Sexual attraction isn’t sustainable 100% of the time. You could be married to Ryan Gosling himself and still find yourself a little less obsessed with having sex with him on some days rather than others. Lust comes and goes in any relationship, and the only thing holding you together is your commitment, which requires work. No relationship is going to be sunshine and butterflies all the time.
Love is dependent on more than just the two people involved. No matter how much you love someone, there will always be logistical problems. You might live in different cities or have different political views or conflicting thoughts on wanting children. Whatever it is, there will always be something that threatens the love that you share. In these moments, the deciding factor of whether or not you choose to stick it out is how hard you’re willing to work at it.
Falling in love is easy; relationships aren’t. If I had a penny for every guy I fell in love with, I’d have been a millionaire by 14. But if I got a hundred dollars for every relationship I’ve had that could be considered a success, I’d have a hard time affording groceries. In other words, love is cheap but good relationships are rare—and they’re based a lot more on the effort put in by people involved than on chemistry.
Every partner comes with baggage. If you’re in a relationship with someone, you’re in a relationship with their family and their friends and their family’s friends and everyone in between. There are so many potential sticky situations and feelings in this scenario that it’s impossible to keep track. It doesn’t matter how much you love your partner, there will always be tension somewhere, and it takes enormous amounts of patience and self-discipline to handle it all with grace.
You have to be willing to work through things. Every couple fights. In fact, couples who fight with each other are actually healthier than couples who don’t. But sometimes when you’re angry or going through a rough patch, it’s hard to remember why you loved your partner in the first place. Sticking it out through the hard times is what truly determines a relationship, not how you are when you’re blissfully in love. Working out the difficult stuff takes grit more than anything else.
Trust is based on the knowledge that the other person will put in as much effort as you. Most people fear that their love won’t be reciprocated or that their partner isn’t as committed to the relationship as they should be. In order to really feel comfortable enough to go all-in on a relationship, you don’t just need to know that the other person loves you, you need to know that they’ll make it their mission every single day to make sure the relationship is as strong and healthy as it can be.
“I love you” is nice to hear, but what about “I’ll make every effort for you”? The next time a guy proposes to you, make sure he gets a sentence in there about how much he’s willing to sacrifice and work for you along with all the love and adoration stuff. It’s easy to be starry-eyed about a relationship when it’s just beginning, but anyone who’s experienced a long-term commitment will know that hearing your partner sincerely say “I’m sorry” or “We’ll work through this” is more romantic than a thousand “I love you“s.
Compromise is hard. Even in the most compatible of relationships, there will always be disagreements, and you’ll probably reach a point where no one is being convinced of the other person’s point of view. In these moments, one of you will have to compromise, which is one of the most excruciating things a person can do. Love has nothing to do with it. Compromise takes a level of maturity and selflessness that has to be cultivated and willed into existence.
People change. If you’re lucky enough to be in a long-term relationship, you and your partner will change, and sometimes that means growing apart. In order to stay together and happy, couples have to be willing to evolve together, and that takes sacrifices and a lot of investment on both sides. At the end of the day, you might find yourself in a relationship with an entirely different person to the one you started out with, and in order to make that transition, you’ll both need to be flexible and willing to make it work.
Anyone in a decades-long relationship will tell you it isn’t easy. Successful relationships aren’t just about being wildly in love for 60 years. In fact, one of the most frequently given pieces of advice from couples who have been together the longest is about maintaining personal space and even seeking professional help when the relationship seems to be failing. In short, even the couples who seem to have lived blissfully together for decades are only still together because they were willing to work hard, not because they loved each other more than most couples do.
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