“This was love at first sight, love everlasting; a feeling unknown, unhoped for, unexpected—in so far as it could be a matter of conscious awareness; it took entire possession of him, and he understood, with joyous amazement, that this was for life”
Hollywood spins fantastical tales of romance, true love, and love and first sight; of immortal legacies of couples that will go down in history as people and stories will we always idolize and never forget. But is it real? Is it attainable? What should we be searching for after all? While we are familiar with the love stories in our favorite novels and movies, can we attest to what everlasting love looks like in real life? Sadly, many of us are surrounded by love stories that are no longer described as eternal, but as complicated, short-lived, or futile.
So what are the characteristics of real life love stories? The marriages that transcend the many challenges and complications of life and turn into true depictions of everlasting love. We know these marriages are not perfect, that the feelings of love often oscillate over time, that they face the same challenges that often put an end to other relationships. So what makes these relationships last? What should we actually be aspiring to?
The Top 3 Essentials to Making Love Last
Healthy and Effective Communication. Healthy and effective communication is the first essential to making love last and is characterized by the following:
· Validation: making sure that your partner’s feelings are heard and respected. Validation can often look like a reflection of what your partner is saying, “I hear you saying that I disappointed you today.” You can also express validation in a statement of understanding, “I could certainly understand why you would feel that way. I would feel the same way.” An important key to remember about validation is that you do not have to agree or understand why your partner feels a certain way. If you do not agree or understand why, use a reflection statement to let your partner know that you hear them.
· Acknowledgement: letting your partner know that you appreciate their thoughts as well as their actions. In our busy lives it is easy to communicate only with needs or demands. Remember to acknowledge your partner’s good qualities as well as thank them, or show appreciation towards them, for the things they do for you or your family. Show acknowledgement towards their ideas and goals. Let them know that you value their opinion and willingness to share with you.
· Use I-Statements: When communicating during an argument or disagreement, use statements that speak to your own feelings or experiences. Instead of saying, “You are always so rude and hurtful!” try saying, “I am really hurt by what was just said.” You statements often feel like accusations and can elicit defensiveness, while an I statement allows your partner to hear your feelings without feeling the need to protect him/her-self from what you’re saying.
· Be specific. When sharing your feelings with your partner, whether they are positive affirmations, or hurt feelings, be specific with what you need or want. Use your communication as an avenue to grow your partner’s understanding of you and your relationship.
· Know when to take a timeout. It is always better to pause a conversation and revisit it later than to allow hurtful words to be spoken that you can never take back. Take the time to talk to your partner about how to establish a timeout during an argument. Make plans during times of calm communication so that you both know what to expect during an argument. Make sure to revisit important conversations when you are both in a good place to talk.
· Be assertive. Let your needs and feelings be known to your partner. Try to identify any assumptions you might have about what your partner should “just know already,” and instead, help your partner learn about what makes you happy and feel loved.
Make Time for Your Relationship. Making time for your relationship is the second essential to making love last. Through the course of your relationship your role will change from girlfriend/boyfriend, to fiancé, to husband/wife, to mom and dad. Do not let your role changes stop and stick on mom and dad. Maintain a constant balance between Mom/Wife, Husband/Dad. Easier said that done right? Make sure to take time for your relationship:
-Go out on date nights -Plan a couple’s exclusive vacation
-Spend alone time together without the T.V. or other distractions
-Have conversations about your relationship and your feeling for each other
-Write love notes -Send sweet texts -Buy cards and flowers
-Prioritize and communicate about intimacy
-Find what works for you, it does not have to be complicated or consuming.
This is an essential to making love last because without it, couples can lose sight of their connection and lose their identity as partners. Have a conversation about how to connect, reconnect, or rekindle previous relationship stages and keep them alive!
Let Your Partner In. Letting your partner know who you are, and being true to who you are, is the third and final essential to making love last. With movies and novels filled with heroic and romantic Romeos and beautiful and flawless Juliets, it can be hard to measure up what you think your partner might expect of you. Remind yourself that while you know you are no Romeo, your partner also knows they are not a perfect Juliet.
· Establish a friendship with them that is deep and honest. The establishment of a deep friendship takes time and a slow development of trust. Embrace that this process begins with, or before, dating and continues throughout a lifetime. Nurture your friendship with acceptance and respect. Allow your partner to make mistakes and always approach disagreements with the goal of forgiveness.
· Don’t be afraid to laugh and joke as well as cry and need comfort. An honest expression of needs and emotions will allow your partner to feel close to you. Keeping your feelings to yourself leaves your partner in the dark about how to comfort you.
· Remember that disappointments are inevitable. From infertility, to financial crisis, to health scares, or the loss of loved ones, disappointments or devastations are unavoidable across the span of a lifetime. Whether there is a crisis in your family, or a crisis within your couple relationship, allow yourself to be the person your partner can come to. Recognize when a crisis is causing you to turn away from your partner instead of bringing you together and address it. Know when to get help. Seeking counseling or outside advice is not a sign of marital failure, but a sign of strength and commitment to persevere and overcome.
· Allow your partner to know the real you. Don’t hold back the parts of yourself that you are afraid cannot be accepted. Allow your partner to completely accept you for who you are, not just the parts that you allow them to see. Real life true love acknowledges flaws and embraces truth. Remember that your partner is not perfect either.
Make sure that you have made your partner feel comfortable coming to you with good news and bad. Create a place within your relationship for honesty and trust with the above mentioned essentials.
“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning unquenchable”- Bruce Lee
The state of real life everlasting love changes over time, fluctuating between a deep burning and an eternal glow. The flame that prevails and does not falter is not in itself perfect, but is nurtured, tended, and constantly fed.
Kristin O’Connor, M.S., LMFT-A
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate