As a coach and soon-to-be therapist, I spend a great deal of time and energy studying relationships: what helps them to succeed, what leads to their expiration, and what impedes their growth.
The more I learn about these issues, the more challenging it gets. To be honest, the project of studying relationships while being in one is kind of like Googling a symptom and diagnosing yourself with every known disease. It ain’t easy.
In fact, learning about what it takes to be in a successful relationship while being in a committed partnership is, at best, laced with frustration and growth; and at its worst, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Most of us know that the beginnings of most relationships tend to be filled with romance, passion, and cheese plates, and that this “honeymoon phase” inevitably ends. Yet “successful” couples last for a reason. Over time, they work together as a team to create a loving and comfortable companionship. While everyone is different, I think the recipe for lasting love is fostered by certain qualities ….
Based on my studies, here are the five characteristics of couples that last:
A skilled clinician can tell within 10 minutes of meeting a couple whether their relationship stands a chance. How? By asking a simple question, “How committed are you to making this work?” Each partner’s commitment to the relationship not only informs whether they will last, but the overall level of satisfaction for both partners.
Let’s face it: relationships take work! Both partners need to be ready to work together, not against each other. That said, it’s important to note that high conflict doesn’t make for a bad relationship necessarily. It’s about whether the conflict gets resolved or shoved to the side (and results in a Pompeii-esque eruption). As long as both parties are willing to work for it, there’s a good chance they can make it work.
Couples who stay together happily don’t just love each other, but they actively appreciate each other. I don’t care what Disney says: love is not enough. Successful couples admire and genuinely respect each other’s point of view, values, and goals. It’s a practice, and it requires a sustained effort.
Empathy, as opposed to sympathy, is understanding how others feel from their perspective, rather than projecting our own emotions onto another’s situation. Happy couples actively work to understand and validate one another’s emotional states. This, in turn, increases prosocial behaviors (such as helping, volunteering, and expressing concern). Stepping outside of yourself, on occasion, is essential for making your significant other feel, well, significant!
4. Sexual Attraction
We’ve been conditioned to believe that attraction inevitably fades in time. As men approach middle age, testosterone declines and it may take more time and work to create excitement. Women, on the other hand have proportionately more estrogen and enter what I like to call their dirty thirties (or filthy forties).
This increase in desire coupled with the male’s decline can impact one’s self-esteem and the relationship itself. At that point, attraction becomes even more important. The good news is that chemistry increases when both people share why they are attracted to the other person, whether that be physically or emotionally.
Happy couples enjoy spending time together. No, I’m not just talking about sitting next to each other while watching reruns of Family Guy and eating takeout. I mean actually spending quality time together and making it a priority.
Of course, sometimes we get tired and want to laze around with our partner. And that’s OK. But the same way communication in relationships takes work, so does making time for intentional quality time.
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many couples only hang out while running errands, discussing daycare, or fighting about who left the cap off the toothpaste.