PHOTO: Vila Everton
Text: Anna Nagygyörgy, Viktória Farkas y Alejandra Misiolek
How can a relationship last long?
Many people ask this question, especially young couples who hope to achieve a long and healthy relationship. Being in a committed, long-term partnership with someone requires a lot from a person – both as an individual and from the couple as a unit as well.
Most of us have experienced or have heard others about what can go wrong in a relationship. It is also a popular topic among researchers and couple therapists who are trying to predict marriage satisfaction and relationship longevity. The key factors or “secrets” of how to be together with your partner for a long time are usually less discussed. In the following, we gathered some information about this topic.
The key ingredients to a long-lasting romantic relationship
A recent study tried to answer this question by asking couples who had been together for 40+ years. The participants were asked: “What is your secret of staying together?”. The following list of their answers is in order according to the factor’s importance – so the first is what was considered the most crucial in a long-term relationship and so on. The top seven answers were the following:
- Commitment: among the couples, this was considered the “glue” or “the number one thing” in the relationship.
- Altruism: consisting of unselfishness, putting their partners before themselves, and sacrifice, altruism was the second key ingredient.
- Shared values: religious values, political values, and parenting values were considered the other key factors in long-term relationships. Furthermore, we have a long list here: volunteering (a form of altruism), personal “morals,” honesty, hard work, commitment, family, friends, art and culture, sport, and climate change also play a significant role when it comes to shared values.
- Good communication: for partners, growth in listening skills, honesty, and authenticity in communication were really important. Also, growing to become less critical and more patient with your significant other was considered crucial.
- Compromise: in a long-term relationship, being able to compromise can be used as a tool to handle relationship conflicts. Generally, couples learn it over the years.
- Love: in this context, this was defined as mutual physical attraction, the quality of their love, and the constancy of their love.
- Never give up: this term was also associated with “stick with it,” “persevere,” and “don’t walk away” from the relationship. For couples, never giving up meant getting through tough times – such as moving forward after an affair or rearing a child with a disability.
Improvement strategies: how to maintain a healthy long-term relationship?
When we see that our relationship is not as ideal as described above, and we discover discrepancies between our ideal and current partner, we become motivated to do something about it. We have different methods to make it better, some of them work pretty well and others seem to cause even more harm to the relationship. Now let’s have a look at these attempts and see how efficient they are.
“I do this for us”
The two main forms to improve our relationship are self-regulation and partner regulation. Self-regulation refers to taking responsibility and actively changing our own behavior, rather than blaming our partner for the problems we face as a couple. A recent meta-analysis confirmed that if we are willing to change, both of us will be more satisfied with the relationship. What’s more, we will be even more delighted with it than our partner!
But how can we regulate ourselves? First, we should assess how our own behavior negatively affects our relationship. Then achievable goals should be set and finally, we need a strategy and effort to carry out the plan. Results show that effort is more important than strategy in having a good quality relationship, so don’t think about it too much. The key is to be persistent, even if you face challenges.
“You should do this for us”
Partner regulation means the attempt to change some aspects of our partner to improve the relationship. You may think that this is something that only desperate people do, but imagine, in a study 95% of the participants admitted having tried to modify their partner’s characteristics in the last half a year. It is not so surprising that greater partner regulation is linked to lower relationship quality, but let’s have a closer look at it.
The four ways to achieve change in your partner are the following, with everyday examples:
- positive direct: “I know you can make a delicious dinner.”
- positive indirect: “Look, how romantic! He prepared dinner for her.”
- negative direct: “You are so lazy, you should really prepare dinner at least once a week.”
- negative indirect: “Oh I see, so I cook dinner again?!”
To some extent, we can improve our relationship with positive partners by regulating ways, but we worsen the relationship with negative strategies. It is important to note that indirect negative methods like manipulation or guilt induction are just as problematic as direct ones like open criticism, communicating demand, and contempt.
Take-home message: the secret to a long-lasting romantic relationship
What we learned from the studies is that it is difficult to change our partner, therefore we should definitely start with ourselves. Self-regulation is a skill that we can develop, and it is an effective and controllable way to have a better romantic relationship that contributes to our overall well-being, without making our partner feel bad.
Heim, C., & Heim, C. (2023). “How did you stay together so long?” Relationship longevity, a cross-generational qualitative study. Journal of marital and family therapy. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12656
Ferguson, E. K., Karantzas, G. C., Marshall, E. M., & Knox, L. (2023). The associations between relationship self-regulation, partner regulation, and relationship outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12508