What are the key ingredients for a successful long-term relationship? Are you wondering how to make your relationships last longer than they currently are? What separates a healthy relationship in which partners mutually benefit from one that is toxic and serves no greater good? How can you make your relationships last?
This article will answer those questions with expert advice and insight from professional psychologists and relationship therapists.
We’ll outline the key factors that determine whether or not a relationship will last and advise you on how to not only maintain your relationships but how to drastically improve them. First, let’s explore the importance and benefits of having lasting, healthy relationships.
Why is it important to work on your relationships?
Even the strongest of relationships require work and maintenance to stay that way. Relationships are not only romantic – they can be platonic, familial, or professional. In all cases, knowing how to keep your relationships functional and beyond that mutually beneficial offers significant benefits.
As humans, we’re designed to be social. That doesn’t mean we have to go out to bars and clubs every night or have a large circle of friends to hang out with all the time. What it does mean is that relationships really matter to our well-being, even if we have just a few. These are fundamental to good mental health, hope, and trust in the world around us.
Relationships and health
A 2011 study published in Health Psychology reported that positive and healthy social relationships have a profound effect against the immediate impact of stress on the mind and body.
The researchers reminded participants of particular relationships (some positive and negative) in their lives and examined the effects of thinking about those in relationships following an experience of psychological stressors.
Those who were reminded of positive relationships in their lives had a shorter stress response than those whose attention was brought to negative relationships.
Relationships and personal growth
“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.” – John Joseph Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love.
While all relationships matter and offer a broad range of health benefits, the most complicated and often the most rewarding are our romantic relationships.
Romantic relationships can be tricky to navigate at the best of times, but in this union of two individuals, there is significant growth and self-understanding to be achieved.
The yoga of relationships
Yoga master Amrit Desai, Ram Dass, and many others speak and write about the ‘yoga of relationships.’ There is tension and release, balance, breath, space, and personal exploration in physical yogic practice.
The same applies to our relationships. They are a place of significant vulnerability – we’re rarely as vulnerable as we are in intimate relationships – which creates an opportunity to explore oneself with honesty and, most importantly, compassion.
“We cannot be fully in a relationship with another until we know ourselves. To experience self-actualization, we must drop all identification, perceptions, expectations, prejudices, and demands. We must be in touch with what we are actually experiencing in the present moment.” – Amrit Desai.
While, of course, we focus and offer love and affection to our partner, we also get the chance to look within at our projection, our fears, and our most authentic selves.
Thus, relationships can offer profound insight into the self. When two people in a relationship commit to consciously exploring the relationship as well as each other, the results can be ecstatic.
“Relationships and emotions can reinforce our separateness, or they can be grist for the mill of awakening.” – Ram Dass.
Tips for a healthy, lasting relationship
Below you will find our expert-led tips and advice for having healthy, lasting relationships throughout your life. If you’re worried about a current relationship or you’re conscious of the health of your future relationships, pay close attention to the advice below.
Some people choose to consult a dating coach or a life coach to maintain their relationships, but this isn’t always necessary. As long as you look at your relationship with consciousness and compassion and consider the tips and advice below, you may well be able to have a relationship for a long time.
It can take some time to viscerally understand the importance of this advice, so consider bookmarking this page or taking notes for later reflection. You might agree with this advice on a surface level, but there is a difference between surface agreement and deep understanding.
Often, it’s only through trial and error that we really learn life’s important lessons. Still, keeping the following advice will help you make wise choices moment to moment and, when applied well, will help you not only maintain but boost the quality of your relationships.
On nurturing a relationship
Before we jump in, understand that love is like a flower. Many of us assume or idealize a loving relationship as one that happens naturally and doesn’t require any forceful effort to take place. Indeed, love can’t be forced, but that doesn’t mean there’s no effort at all involved in maintaining a relationship.
Just like a flower or any other life-affirming, beautiful, and naturally occurring phenomenon, it needs nourishment to blossom. Our relationships require compassionate, conscious effort to stay healthy. Otherwise, they’ll wilt and die. See your relationships as flowers in the garden of your life and take responsibility for that garden’s upkeep.
It’s all about communication
Healthy and effective communication is the foundation of any strong relationship. Likewise, a lack thereof is usually its downfall. So, how does communication work in relationships, and what can you do to make sure it works for you?
Communication is a multi-faceted phenomenon. It is not only about expressing our wants, needs, and opinions but being receptive to those of our partners in whatever way they choose to communicate. We don’t always say directly what we think or feel and often convey messages and emotions through other forms of communication such as body language and behavior.
The importance of non-verbal communication
Learning to recognize how your partner feels through non-verbal self-expression is a skill that can help you maintain your relationship. Sure, it’s their responsibility to let you know if something in the relationship is bothering them. But most of us aren’t going to be completely outright about such things. We might need time to think about what we want to say, or we might doubt how we feel because we recognize deeper insecurities at play.
If you can get to know your partner in a way that helps you get a sense of their feelings without the need to speak, you’ll be better prepared when an eventual conversion happens. It also helps them feel noticed and appreciated.
You might read your partner’s body language as closed, worried, or generally negative and pick up on an issue. You could approach them compassionately and curiously, and even though they may not want to share everything, they’ll likely appreciate that you took the time to notice how they feel.
Communication and maintenance
This is why communication helps you make a relationship last. What often happens in relationships, particularly long-term relationships, is that the novelty and excitement of the relationship’s early days eventually wear off, and one or both partners don’t feel as loved or cared for and may even feel taken for granted.
Communication helps both partners maintain the connection they had from day one and assures each person that their partner still cares about them enough to pay attention and investigate potential issues in the relationship or in the partner’s life in general, rather than ignoring or avoiding communication altogether out of resentful familiarity.
With all of the above in mind, it’s also important not to assume that your partner can read your mind. We need to be open and honest with our partners if we genuinely want the relationship to last. We shouldn’t expect a partner to ‘just know’ when something is bothering us, but we can be grateful on those occasions where they do, in fact, pick up on what’s happening without a word.
The importance of intimate connection
Intimacy in a relationship is the state of closeness and vulnerability with your partner, knowing that you’re safe with them and vice versa, and you feel loved and as though you inherently belong. Physical intimacy is important but must be enriched with emotional intimacy to really make an impact and keep the relationship strong.
Understand that intimacy does not mean you need to have sex all the time or always hold hands, kiss, and cuddle. Physical connections like these are important and do, in fact, keep a relationship afloat, but they are not prerequisites for a lasting relationship.
Some are more or less comfortable with physical touch and sexual activity than others, so that’s not to say that those who are less comfortable cannot be intimate with their partner.
“Intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them when you stand in front of them, and their response is ‘you’re safe with me,’ that’s intimacy.” — Taylor Jenkins Reid
On achieving intimacy
You can achieve intimacy with your partner simply by spending quality time with them. You don’t need to be physically intimate to get to a level of emotional closeness that reassures your partner that they are safe and loved. Spending time together doing things you both enjoy, learning, and growing together as human beings is a beautiful way to be intimate with someone.
In terms of physical intimacy, safety is paramount. Some people begin to take their partner for granted when they get past the early stage of the relationship and may even come to expect sex. Nothing is more likely to ruin your sex life with your partner than having expectations in the bedroom.
We shift and change with our preferences and with what we’re comfortable doing all the time, so be wise and pay attention to your partner. Check-in with and communicate as often as possible and never hold them to any promises or implications when it comes to sexual activity.
Change is the only constant
It is important to understand that the person you’re with will change over time, and so will you. We are shaped and molded by our experiences, so naturally, over the course of a long-term relationship, both partners, at different times, will experience shifts in perspective, preferences, viewpoints, and behavior.
Add to that the natural change of companionship with a close partner and the person you first met might seem quite different to the person you’re with now.
That’s not a bad thing and can, in fact, be quite liberating. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to remain the same year in year out, and it can be stress-ridden to always stay the same yourself. You might not change an awful lot, but you’ll at least change some, and to deny your inner shift for the sake of consistency in a relationship is inauthentic. (You can also add ‘inauthenticity’ to the list of things that stand in the way of a lasting relationship).
If you want your relationship to last, then offer space for your partner to grow and change. Encourage their self-exploration and discovery and be actively curious about their experience.
The healthiest relationships are those in which partners shift and grow together. Partners don’t expect each other to constantly acquiesce to some conceptual dynamics but instead approach the relationship with flexibility and adaptability while supporting and encouraging each other’s growth. Understand that you’re always going to change, grow, and become a better person, so treat your partner the same way.
Throughout any relationship, both partners are likely to make a few mistakes. Mistakes are human and do not reflect your worth or validity as a person. Still, it can be hard to forgive people when they have hurt us, and it’s hard to stop feeling like the ‘bad guy’ when we were the wrongdoer.
Even more challenging is the fact that there is a line between forgiving someone for a mistake and tolerating unacceptable behavior. That line is not always clear, especially in long-term relationships when partners are tied in several ways, such as with a house or children, a shared investment, or simply familiarity.
You should never put up with behavior that is toxic to your physical or mental health, but it is essential to learn how to forgive others (and yourself!).
Research published in the Journal of Family Psychology reports that couples who practice forgiveness of one another enjoy healthier, more satisfying, and longer-lasting relationships than those who are less forgiving.
Managed expectations help you forgive
Hand in hand with the importance of forgiveness is the importance of accepting the reality that nobody is perfect, even though many of us tend to fantasize within our relationships and put our partner on an unrealistically high pedestal. The truth is that sooner or later, they are going to do or say something that challenges your fantastical perception of them.
Often the higher the pedestal, the greater the fall, which means more significant disappointment for you. You don’t have to lower your standards, but do consider the expectation you place on your partner and assess whether or not it is healthy and realistic.
The right to privacy
When partners have been together for a while, they might finally take the next step and move in together (for some couples, this step happens early on). You move in with your partner, whom you love and care about, but after some time, you might think nostalgically about all the space you had to yourself before sharing this part of your life with them.
Relationships are a significant source of intimacy and affection, but it can’t be denied that sometimes we feel like we no longer have a private life, not just physically in terms of space but also emotionally.
In a healthy and lasting relationship, partners respect each other’s need for space and the right to privacy. When needed, they’ll create physical distance, even if that means one person going out of their way for the other person and can expect the same respect and kindness from their partner when they need space themselves.
To have a lasting relationship, physical space, when needed, certainly matters, but you also need to respect your partner’s right to emotional space. That doesn’t mean that you don’t care or show concern for their emotional well-being.
What it means is that if they don’t want to talk about something in a given amount of money or don’t want to share and discuss a particular emotion right now, that’s okay.
You don’t probe them for answers or demand that they tell you everything all the time. You give them space to breathe and go through their own emotional processes and trust that they’ll share things with you if they’re relevant and if the time is right.
Choose your partner wisely
Understand that some relationships aren’t meant to last. We can stress ourselves out and put our mental and emotional health at risk when we chase a relationship or a partner that simply is not meant for us, We might think they’re perfect, but there are likely signs and red flags that show up repeatedly – signs that it’s time to move on.
Find someone who helps you grow
If you want your relationships to last, it’s wise to choose a partner who is good for you. That doesn’t mean a partner who does everything you want or inflates your ego all the time, but someone who challenges you to grow and become a better person and who respects your physical and emotional well-being.
To sum up, our tips and advice for healthy, lasting relationships are:
- Be open to honest communication
- Focus on intimacy
- Embrace change and growth
- Learn to forgive
- Respect each other
- Know when it’s time to move on
No relationship is perfect. By embracing imperfection and working on yourself to stay conscious in your relationship, you can make your relationships a significant source of joy, belonging, and meaning in your life.
Relationships can be tricky, and when they go awry, they can leave us feeling lost, confused, and utterly heartbroken, but there are preventative measures we can take to prevent the deterioration of the important relationships in our lives.