Here’s the secret to a long lasting relationship.
I know there are many articles about what makes a long-lasting or a more intimate relationship. I could go into the ‘need’ for intimacy building, communication, having things in common, being on the same page with external aspects such as disciplining and raising your children, money matters, or sex etc, but I’m not. I could also go into the attachment theory and write how attachment styles (secure, avoidant, anxious, disorganized) contributes to relationship dynamics and how one partner can do XYZ to calm her partner or support his partner. But I’m not going to, because they don’t matter. That’s right, they don’t matter. Blasphemy in the therapy world. Instead, I’m taking a very bare bones realistic view at what it ‘takes’ to make a relationship long-lasting, and by long-lasting I’m talking about ’til death do us part. I am sharing with you from my own experience in working with couples directly and indirectly as well as personally observing others that are still together after decades.
First, let’s look at a couple of fundamental truths:
Everybody has a deep unexplained fear of being abandoned, rejected or left by someone they love or by someone they’ve invested in emotionally. And I do mean Errbody. It’s a very human element to want to be accepted, loved and adored by others, especially someone you’re interested in. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you didn’t say how you really felt or what you really thought because you wanted to be accepted.
Many, most, all of us have a pervasive thought or belief that we picked from some experience(s) that say a) I don’t matter or b) I’m not lovable as I am, which leads to all sorts of interesting behavior. I know some may say that confident people don’t have a belief like this, I beg to differ. Some people are more adept in masking and marketing themselves than others.
These two fundamental truths will lead you in attempting to cover up and put on a certain face, but that face begins to exhibit cracks around the 3-6 month mark in relationship and the face all but gets dismantled by the 1 1/2 year mark when you REALLY see each other in all of your wonderful, beautiful, ugly and chaotic glory. Everyone does this too. Errbody.
We can study and do clinical trials of techniques to help relationships, but do they really work? Yes, of course, when both partners are invested in the relationship, couples counseling is great for helping during tough periods in your relationship. But, behavior doesn’t change overnight, and most likely, you and your partner will revert back to the same or similar behavior (i.e. communication, intimacy patterns) at some point in your relationship. In my realistic view, here are the qualities to a long-lasting relationship.
- LOVE. Love is such a wonderful feeling that when you fall in love you’re literally high off feel good chemicals that flood your brain (Central Nervous System). You feel good all the time, excited and walking on clouds. This high begins to calm down around the 6th month mark, where you’re still excited but less likely to leave work early to see your partner. Love is like Elmer’s Glue, but unlike Captain and Tenille’s song, Love doesn’t keep you together. Love can bind people, make you want to pair up, but love is also so fragile that it can dissipate as quickly as it was created.
- Co-DEPENDENCY. You might be thinking WTF??? Yep. I said it. First, let me say that I’ve worked in the field of addiction, and at most if not all treatment centers you’re basically taught as a counselor and patient that co-dependency is bad. No Exceptions. Co-dependency isn’t all bad. Co-dependency is like Cement Glue. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “why does she/he stay?” or “Why do I stay with him/her?’ or ‘Why do I keep going back?” what you’re witnessing or experiencing is probably more co-dependency than love. We may call it love but co-dependency binds together and it’s tough or damn near impossible to take apart. You may stay in the relationship out of love, fear (of being alone), want, need (for the kids, financial reasons), belief, cultural and family obligation, maybe you don’t want to be seen as the ‘bad guy’ or you may stay out of a sense of duty. This is co-dependency. There are many reasons for it and it’s different for everyone. Co-Dependency is also about taking care of your partner, tending to their needs and well-being before yours if needed. This is the make it or break it part of the relationship. Here is when you decide whether to stay through your partners Sh!t, or he stays with you. This is also where you decide if you can live with her Sh!t for the rest of your life and stay or put the pedal to the metal and leave. Co-dependency becomes troublesome when you lose your sense of self, stop taking care of you to the detriment of your (and your children’s) emotional, mental and physical well-being. Abusive relationships, being with a partner who is an active addict, refusing to take medication for her mental illness, having multiple affairs etc can pummel anyone’s spirit over time. I do not advocate staying in these relationships unless the partner receives help and stops the behavior, but it’s not my decision to make.
- ACCEPTANCE. This is another no-brainer, but how often do you think or want to change something about your partner? How often do you criticize or suggest to your partner a certain way of doing things? How often do you wish your partner communicated more with you on an intimate level and not just about schedules with the kids? What if she was never really big on intimate communication? What if he’s big on keeping the house super organized to almost OCD levels? Working with couples, usually one partner wants the other partner to change without changing themselves. What I’ve noticed with couples in long-term relationships is that they (at some point) accepted their partner as is, the good and the bad without trying to change them. It could be after decades together, arguing with so many years of trying to change their partner with no success, they just surrender. He may realize that she may not be the best communicator but she’s committed and they take care of each other. She may realize his need for a super organized household is his expression of his anxiety and his way to feel calm. Do you see what happens with acceptance? It becomes about not taking your partners behavior as a personal affront. Her lack of communication isn’t about him, just as his behavior isn’t about her. When you accept your partner as they are, behaviors that bothered you or you argued about stop being so irritating.
This is why communication, having things in common etc are icing on the cake. They may make the relationship ‘better’ at times, but they don’t have to make or break the relationship. In any relationship, you have to decide what you can and will accept in relationship, what behaviors and qualities are important to you, and what are your absolute deal breakers. Absolute deal breakers = behaviors that will cause you to walk away from the relationship. My personal deal breakers are active addiction, substance abuse, physical, verbal or emotional abuse, or an affair(s). An affair may be negotiable, but the issue would be my willingness or ability to trust again. One last example albeit an extreme one, but I see this often. Let’s say you fall in love, and you fall in love with someone who is a narcissist or has narcissistic characteristics but you still want to be in the relationship (this would be co-dependency). To remain in the relationship, you have to accept certain behaviors from your partner such as not having your voice and emotional needs heard or possibly met, abuse, criticisms, affairs, substance use/abuse, inability to see your side, lack of empathy or emotional support. BTW, I’m not making these behaviors up, they come with a narcissist. You will have to accept that these behaviors from your partner won’t change despite what you do. So, if you can accept these behaviors without getting your spirit pummeled and you’re ok with your decision, then I say go for it. If you can’t accept it, or the price of you changing yourself to please your partner has become too much, then you might decide to leave. Otherwise, you will have the same argument year after year. Your partner may or may not change because of the relationship, but you, yourself can’t change your partner.
Try to go into a relationship without thinking and hoping your partner will change, instead ask yourself, “Can I live with this (behavior) for the rest of my life?”
Here are the Cliff Notes: You Love. If you decide to Stay. You accept.