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Making Intimate Relationships Last

Why is it that some relationships last decades while others barely make it to two years? Some couples thrive and grow together while others crash and burn. Marriage and other forms of committed relationships bring great joy but they can also be challenging to navigate. The duration of how long the relationship lasts often depends on how well couples manage the challenges.  The ability to preserve the relationship requires willingness and commitment from both parties to hold the partnership together, and this takes effort. The ingredients to making intimate relationships last can be broken down into four elements, as described below.

1. Forging A Solid Friendship

More than the marriage or relationship itself, couples require a solid foundational friendship for any long-term commitment to thrive. As individuals, we enter relationships with the sum total of our experiences, unique quirks and behaviour. The more you understand how each other “works”,  the better you can align your values and have certitude in each other’s intentions to find support in one another. Becoming each others’ most trusted friend will provide your relationship with the resiliency to get through conflicts.

A practical way to improve friendship in committed relationships is to take a genuine interest in each other’s pursuits. Discuss salient details about work, like team members you get along with and those you find annoying.  Seek out the family dynamics to determine who your partner is closest to. This happens enthusiastically during the dating and early romance phases, where individuals are naturally inclined to show a healthy curiosity about the other. However, couples in long-term relationships often lose connection with each other, especially after children arrive and life no longer remains about just the two of you.

You can make your intimate relationship last by staying connected to your partner’s inner and outer worlds, along with their dreams and aspirations, by carving out time for each other daily. Take a morning walk together or share a cup of tea before bedtime. This investment will go a long way to fill the “emotional bank account” in your relationship, especially if you are able to inject laughter and joy into the mix. This will forge a resilient bond to help you ride out storms that all couples inevitably encounter along the way.   

2. Recognizing Each Others’ Needs

Intimate relationships and marriages thrive when each partner makes the other’s needs a priority. This does not mean that your partner’s desires should always trump your own. Rather, you must balance your partner’s happiness while also keeping your own in check. In order to do this, both of you must first have a good understanding of yourselves and what you need out of your relationship.  And then, you must share this with your partner. Many individuals make the assumption that their partner innately understands their needs and this often leads to misunderstandings and arguments. Much of this can be resolved with clear and direct communication. 

For some, this might include addressing your ‘love language’ or what you need to feel loved. Many couples find words of affirmation to be important. For others, it might represent acts of service, like having your partner fill gas in your car, partake in household chores or cook your favourite meal. Problems arise when an imbalance occurs in this arrangement where only one individual meets their partner’s needs to keep them happy, while the other is left running on empty. That is why this step involves compromise and lots of communication. Once you have an understanding of what it takes for each of you to feel equally loved and cherished in your partnership,  you will acquire the ingredients for making your intimate relationship last.  

3. Good Communication

Communication is to a marriage what gasoline is to an automobile. Without it, you will not get far. As noted above, you need to communicate to understand each other’s needs. Consequently, the better you are at it, the more mileage you will get out of the “motor” of your partnership. It is not uncommon for couples to get caught in circular arguments that leave both parties feeling frustrated. The more you try to explain your side, the more your partner does so, too. And this fuels both of you to reiterate your points over and over again in a never-ending cycle. It only ends when one of you shuts down, leaves, or ends the conversation with no resolution and a sense of hopelessness in the air. When this becomes a game of who will win, both of you lose. Romantic relationships require equal footing to thrive and the bonds weaken when one person feels undermined.

In this respect, the words you choose become incredibly important. Right words generate feelings of love, safety and security, while the wrong ones lead to anger and resentment. Also how you say something is just as important as what you say. For example, when you ask your partner about a weekend trip, do they respond with “Yes that sounds like a great plan” or ” Sure, whatever?” Both are affirmative, but only the first sentence is positive and respectful. Your question represents what psychologists refer to as a “bid for connection.” Research indicates that couples who engage in attentive and enthusiastic responses to bids for connection enjoy more successful partnerships.

Consequently, becoming a good listener is an important part of the communication equation. Caring and remaining interested in what your partner has to say will allow you to look for bids of connection so you can craft healthy responses. When your partner speaks, do not let your mind drift. Simply listen with your full attention and give non-verbal signals, like a nod, to validate that you are listening. Asking well-timed questions can also do wonders to ensure your partner feels heard. During couples’ therapy sessions, we find tangible improvement in relationships when partners truly start listening and then communicating with one another.

4. Addressing The Finances

Everyone has their own unique association with money. Are you a saver or a spender? Intimate relationships require both parties to be on the same page about the finances. You require transparency in what each of you earns as well as your individual spending styles. Two savers joined eternally is a good thing, however, a relationship between two spenders will be challenging. But some of the biggest tensions will occur when a saver and a spender tie the knot.

The state of a person’s finances can be a difficult topic to discuss especially if you are in debt. Regardless, this discussion must be had to ensure you do not keep anything from your partner. It is not okay for your partner to find out about your $20,000 school loan three years into your relationship. Secrecy undermines committed relationships and has a way of coming out eventually. It leads to arguments and broken trust which can put a deep wedge into your intimacy. 

When couples argue over finances, you need to find common ground. A few sessions with a financial counsellor can help. Creating a budget with factual, cold hard numbers can take the wind out of arguments to resolve misunderstandings and assumptions.

Getting Help For Making Your Intimate Relationship Last

Unhappy couples often lean on advice from family and friends who may be least equipped to understand relationships from a psychological perspective. Consequently, many end up in repetitive and exhausting conflict cycles that rarely lead to a resolution. Couples’ therapists receive extensive training drawn from decades of proven research into what makes relationships work. This specialized knowledge allows them to understand relationship dynamics with far more insight than laypersons.  A well-trained couples therapist can help identify the root cause of your challenges and the skills you gain from therapy sessions will allow you to conduct yourself better going forward with improved self-awareness and communication.

However, the effectiveness of therapy sessions is directly related to how willing and motivated each of you are to put in the effort towards your healing. Unfortunately, many couples wait far too long before taking this step. Timing is everything in this matter, and therapy sessions should occur early in the process and not as the last-ditch attempt to save your relationship. Resentment and contempt become deeply ingrained over time and sometimes your therapist may not be able to offer you a miracle cure.

Separation & Divorce

Regardless, therapy sessions can provide you with impartial guidelines for setting boundaries in a trial separation if you are not yet ready to cut the ties. And if you are ready to move on, your therapist can help you navigate your decoupling, particularly if custody and childcare arrangements are involved.  Conscious uncoupling is a contemporary method of managing the end of committed relationships. In low conflict separations, a therapist can help couples part ways amicably, while maintaining mutual respect, for the sake of the children.  The end of a relationship is never pleasant but mediation from a therapist can help everyone move on with the minimal drama.

Contact us to discover how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.

Research assistance for this blog was provided by Yasaman Haghighat, Counselling Psychology Intern. Beaches Therapy Group is proud to support our industry with internship opportunities that offer the next generation of therapists exposure to practical real-world experience. Learn more about therapy sessions at reduced rates with our interns.