Most of us want to meet and settle down with the “right” person, and most of us want such a relationship to last. Yet 53% of marriages in the U.S., 48% in Canada, 47% in the U.K., and 43% in Australia end in divorce. What are some of the most important ideas when it comes to making your love last? Below are seven crucial factors, excerpted from my book (click on title): “Seven Keys to Long-Term Relationship Success”.
1. Do You Trust Your Partner?
Trust is the first and perhaps most important predictor of long-term relational success. Without trust, none of the other six keys that follow will have much meaning. Ask yourself the following questions: In general, is your partner reliable and dependable? Can you count on your partner as the “rock” in your life? What about you for your partner?
For some, trust is a complicated matter. Some people trust blindly, while others have trust issues. Evaluate your partner’s trustworthiness based not upon unproven promises or wishful thinking, but on a strong overall record of dependability.
2. Are You and Your Partner Compatible in the Dimensions of Intimacy?
Authors Ronald Adler and Russell Proctor II identified four ways with which we can feel closely connected with our significant other. The four dimensions of intimacy are: Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, and Shared Activities.
Here’s a quick exercise to check you and your partner’s compatibility in intimacy. List the four dimensions as follows:
Partner A Partner B
Next to each dimension, rank whether this is a “Must” have, “Should” have, or “Could” have for you in your romantic relationship.
After answering for yourself, next ask your partner to rank, or on your own put down how you think your partner would prioritize. The more “must-must” and “must-should” combinations between you and your partner, the greater the possibility of an intimate relationship. Since relationships are not static, a couple may evolve in the dimensions of intimacy. Understanding one another’s priorities, and connecting in ways that are important to both partners help ensure long-term relational success.
3. What Type of Person Shows Up Within You in this Relationship?
Consider the friends in your life. Do different friends bring out different sides of you? Maybe you’re more reserved with one and more rambunctious with another. Perhaps you’re patient with some and quarrel with others. A friend may trigger your higher or lower tendencies.
Just as a friend can elicit a particular side of you, so does your partner. Consider the following questions: Does my better self show up when I’m with my partner? Does my worse self show up when I’m with my partner? Perhaps it’s a combination of both? If so, what situations tend to bring out a particular side of me? Fundamentally, do I like myself in this relationship?
Your honest answers to these questions offer important clues to the long-term health and happiness of your relationship.
4. Does Your Partner’s Communication Lift You Up or Bring You Down?
Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington, a foremost expert on couple studies, concluded after over twenty years of research that the single, best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship.
Contempt, the opposite of respect, is often expressed via negative judgment, criticism, or sarcasm regarding the worth of an individual. In communication studies, this is known as being “tough on the person, soft on the issue.” An effective communicator knows how to separate the person from the issue (or behavior), and be soft on the person and firm on the issue. An ineffective communicator will do the opposite – he or she will literally “get personal” by attacking the person, while minimizing or ignoring the issue.
Ask yourself the following: Does your partner’s communication lift you up, or bring you down? Is your partner’s communication with you “soft on the person, firm on the issue,” or the other way around? What about your communication with your partner?
If your relationship suffers from ineffective communication, the good news is that as long as you and your partner are willing, improvements can be learned quickly and put to use immediately. For more resources on this topic, click on titles & download free excerpts of my publications (click on titles): “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People” and “How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People”.
5. How do You and Your Partner Deal with Conflict in the Relationship?
Couples with poor conflict resolution skills typically engage in Fight, Flight, or Freeze behaviors. They fight and stay mad, sometimes holding grudges for years. They flight and avoid important issues by sweeping them under the rug. Or, after endless arguments with no resolution in sight, they freeze emotionally and shut down. Someone who freezes in a relationship typically goes through the motions on the outside, but has stopped caring on the inside.
Successful couples have the ability to solve problems and let it go. They focus on taking care of the issue rather than attacking the person. Even when angry, they find ways to be upset and stay close at the same time. Once the matter is resolved, they forgive and forget. Most importantly, successful couples have the ability to learn and grow through their interpersonal difficulties. Like fine wine, their relationship improves with age and gets better over time.
6. How do You and Your Partner Handle External Adversity and Crisis Together?
One of the traits of highly successful and enduring relationships is the partners’ ability to stand together in the face of external challenges. A true test of a relationship is whether two people have each others’ back when times are tough.
Consider these questions: Do external adversity and crisis bring you and your partner closer together, or pull you farther apart? In difficult life circumstances, do you and your partner act like adults or children? Can you and your partner share the bad times, or only enjoy the good times? As Adler and Proctor II state, “Companions who have endured physical challenges together… form a bond that can last a lifetime.”
7. Do You Have Compatible Financial Values?
Numerous studies have identified disagreements over finances as one of the top reasons couples seek marital
counseling, as well as one of the top reasons for divorce. According to Jeffrey Dew of the National Marriage Project, “Couples who reported disagreeing about finances once a week were over 30 percent more likely to divorce over time than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times per month.”
Differences in financial values often appear early in a relationship. For example, who pays for the first date? What about the second date? And the third? Is your partner happy when you give a thoughtful but non-monetary birthday gift, or will he or she feel disappointed because you didn’t purchase something? Additional questions to consider include: Is your partner generally happy with what he or she owns, or is there a constant, insatiable desire to always acquire more? Are you and your partner able to solve financial difficulties and differences as a team?
Formulating with your partner a viable financial plan, paying attention to patterns of financial discontent, initiating conversations early to resolve differences, and seeking financial or couples counseling when needed are some of the keys to maintaining financial peace.
In closing, whether you’re single, dating, or in a committed relationship, these seven keys to long-term relationship success may serve as a “check-up” of your relational health and well-being. With self-honesty, openness, and a desire to grow, you can significantly increase the possibility of not only having a wonderful partner in life, but making the love last. To grow old with your life mate, knowing that in each other’s warm embrace you have found Home.