In times when ever-afters fade faster than you can spell l-o-v-e, relationship therapist Esther Perel reveals how you can make your relationship last, and play for keeps...
Forever used to mean ‘till death do us part’. These days, though, it seems many people interpret it as ‘until love dies’. But despite the fact that so many marriages end in divorce, staying together for many, many years is possible. It just takes work, self-awareness, and communication. Here’s what long-haul couples know:
THEY’RE PRACTICAL ABOUT WHAT MATTERS
Truth: You can love someone who you’ve had a beautiful three-month fling...or someone you watch movies with, and talk about music. There are many kinds of love—and some types aren’t meant to last; they’re developmental life experiences meant to help you grow and decide what you need and want in a long-term relationship. When you find that partner, your future can’t be built on just passion—you also need shared values and a vision of the kind of life you’d like to lead. In other words, forever couples have similar answers to questions like, ‘Do I want children?’ Not just, ‘Where should we go for dinner tonight?’
THEY CHECK-IN WITH EACH OTHER...OFTEN
Nearly everyone gets an annual evaluation at work, but couples rarely stop and give themselves a moment to reflect. They don’t ask each other, ‘How are we doing? What would you want to be different?’ But, by doing this every year, you take ownership of your bond. It also gives you a sense of what you can do better and if your goals are still aligned. For example, if you are in a one-year-old relationship and are at a place in life where you want to get married, you can say, ‘I don’t want to push you and I’m afraid this might feel invasive, but I am curious about where you see this going’. This is a normal question to have. Of course, these conversations can be uncomfortable, and may still be even after 10 years together. But you want to have them as best you can. If you talk through the discomfort, your connection will be strengthened.
THEY TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
In her book, Loving Bravely, US-based author Alexandra H Solomon writes about ‘relational self-awareness’, or recognising how you act within your relationship. You know your vulnerabilities, strengths, and fears. If you want a long-term bond with the person you’re with, you’ll want to see evidence that they have self-awareness, too. See how they act. Do they show up for you? Are they reliable? Forever couples can tell each other, ‘I messed up’. They identify their wrongdoings, and try not to let them happen again. So, if you’ve been dating someone for six months and they’ve never been able to say ‘I made a mistake’, that could be a red flag.
THEY’RE DIRECT COMMUNICATORS
To get their needs met, lasting duos ask for what they want. They make requests instead of complaints. If they want to spend time with their partner, they ask, ‘Do you want to come over tomorrow?’, instead of saying, ‘You never spend time with me, but you always make time for your brother’. Such complaints protect you from the vulnerability of stating your needs and not getting them met, but that’s part of adult intimacy.
THEY TRY NOT TO FEEL ENTITLED
Relationships are not always easy, and if you think yours will be, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed and resentful of your partner. Yes, you have the right to expect certain things—love, security, communication—but your partner doesn’t always owe you. In today’s world, so many young people are made to feel special all the time, and you do deserve to feel special in your relationship...but not all the time. You also need to deal with your insecurities, and find ways to feel good.
THEY REINVENT THEIR RELATIONSHIPS
Instead of thinking of forever as being rooted in the same partnership until death, think of it as having two or three relationships with the same person throughout your lives. It doesn’t mean that you’re literally breaking up and getting back together. It just means that you change the structure of your roles as you go. For example, if you are with someone for 30 years, the first decade might have been spent chasing your partner’s dreams in a different country, then you may have moved, or you might have completed your PhD. It’s the twosomes who view their journey together in this way that really withstand the test of time.
ARE YOU READY FOR FOREVER?
You know yourself well and are honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
You do not fear losing yourself or your identity in a relationship.
If you answered mostly false, you may still be exploring who you are and what’s important to you. Take the time you need to feel comfortable with yourself before jumping into a long-haul commitment.
You get your needs met by many people, places, and ideas... not just by your partner.
If you answered mostly true, you are self-aware enough to know your own desires, which means you can identify qualities in a long-term partner that are complimentary to your own.
“Lasting duos ask for what they want.
They make requests instead of complaints.”