When you’re still in the stage of your relationship where you have sex every time you see each other and fall asleep spooning every night, a small part of you might wonder (and worry) if this great thing in your life will actually last. The nightly marathon sex probably won’t, but as time goes on and you get to see each other as flawed-but-somehow-even-more-wonderful people, there are definitely some signs that will point to “together for a long-ass time”. I spoke with Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, Chair and Professor of Counseling and Counselor Education at Northern Illinois University about what makes a couple really last:
1. Above all else, you’re really great friends.
“If a couple does not consider themselves to be friends, the relationship is not going to last long term,” says Degges-White. “If it’s all about passion, drama, sex, and excitement, the relationship won’t last past many anniversaries.”
Obviously, everyone feels like they have to declare their S.O. their BFF, but it should come from a place of really feeling like your unfiltered feelings are valued. Real best friends are more than just an exhilarating new person to spend time with – even on the worst days, they always have your back.
2. You each have your own thing going on.
So here’s the catch: while it’s important that your partner is a very close friend, it’s also important that they’re not your ONLY close friend, or that dates together aren’t the one thing you look forward to every week.
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“Self-intimacy is essential in order to build healthy intimacy with a partner,” says Degges-White. “We need to grow our own selves and this can’t be done if we are constantly in the company of another. We not only benefit from some extra-relational friendships, we also need time for solitude and alone time.” Having a partner who not only gets your need for space but also asks for their own means that you’re not codependent (plus, you’ll have so much more to talk about at dinner).
3. You agree on the non-negotiable things.
Erase every rom-com plot that ends with two opposites attracting each other. IRL, dating a sporadic texter who parties on weekdays isn’t going to work if you crave reliable communication and an early bed time.
“Couples that have similar values are a lot more likely to make it long-term just as are couples that share similar goals,” says Dr. Degges-White. “When values clash, it can create financial or personal conflicts.” No amount of current unbridled sexual attraction will keep you together when you have completely different visions for your future.
4. You’re not stuck in a routine.
“While vegging out and catching up with your favorite shows can be way to bond and develop routines as a couple, the relationship might grow a little too predictable and start to feel stale,” says Degges-White. “Every couple should integrate activities that are different than what [they normally do] together.”
There’s a reason every movie about overworked parents involves them scrambling to find a babysitter and non-wrinkled business casual wear for “date night.” It’s necessary, and if all you have to leave behind is another night of Netflix, you have no excuse.
5. You’re not afraid to really talk about sex.
Every long-term relationship experiences sexual ups and downs (unless you’re Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan – I stand convinced that those two have five-hour tantric ballet sex every night). For the rest of us mortals, sex is something that needs to be talked about from time to time.
“Telling your partner what you need greatly improves the odds that you’ll get what you want,” says Degges-White. Whether it’s kindly addressing the lack of sex lately, or the desire to mix it up with some toys, making sure that you’re both satisfied intimately is crucial. “Research continues to show that happy couples enjoy sexual intimacy on a regular basis – and as long as both partners are happy with the frequency, it really doesn’t matter if it’s twice a day or twice a year. Seriously.”
6. Your arguments actually bring you closer.
Arguing in a healthy way can be so hard, especially if you grew up in families who had toxic ways of dealing with conflict and have to actively unlearn all of it). But, in general, a good tell that you’re on the right track is that it never is about proving the other person wrong.
“When fighting is about power, not resolutions, then the fighting has lost any use as a tool,” says Degges-White. “Fighting fair means that neither partner is belittled, disrespected, or disempowered in the discussion. And when an exchange feels more like a ‘fight’ than a ‘disagreement’,” that’s a sign that someone’s gone too far.”
7. You’re not insecure about each other’s successes.
Whether it’s your S.O. having a cooler job than you or making way more money (or both), feeling unequal can lead to a lot of problems down the line. “If one member of a couple resents a partner’s success or dwells on financial inequities either real or perceived, it can doom a relationship unless action is taken to work through these issues,” says Dr. Degges-White.
8. You forgive each others’ bad days.
Being lectured for acting snippy after you’ve had a trash-fire day is a surefire path to feeling so much worse. And being the partner who feels like an emotional dart board all night when you looked forward to dinner together is also no good.
“Although we all have days when we come home from work and the last thing we want to do is have to be ‘on’ for someone, in relationships, we do have to be civil and respectful of our partners,” says Degges-White. “This also means that when your partner comes home snarling and cranky, we should be kind enough not to ask them for more than they’re capable of giving at that moment.”
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9. You’re growing together, not apart.
“Who we are the day we meet a partner is different than who we’ll be in one year, five years, or ten years,” says Degges-White. “If your relationship cannot flex and grow as you and your partner flex and grow, it’s going to crack open and you’ll be left to decide whether you want to pick up the pieces and rebuild or leave them behind and move on.”
A long-lasting relationship has nothing to with discussing your dream wedding or your perfect future life. It’s about accepting that you’re both changing all the time, and making the choice every day to stay in it and adapt to each other.
10. Your life has majorly improved since dating them.
Your most-liked Instagram ever aside, how has being a couple actually made you better? “One good way to get a feel for the resilience of your relationship is to ask yourself where you think you would be now if you and your partner had not met,” says Degges-White. “Would you want it to be different today? How might your partner respond if you decided to explore a career path or educational path different than the one you’ve been on?”
Sacrifices and compromise are important to relationships, but if it feels like you’ve given up a regrettable chunk of yourself for them, that relationship shouldn’t keep going if you ever intend on being happy.
11. You can talk to them even when you doubt the relationship.
Ok, so you read this list and maybe agree with all of it, but one or two points are worrying you. No, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed, because having some doubts is 110 percent more normal and healthy than jumping headfirst into commitment without any at all.
“When you feel something isn’t just right in your relationship, always trust your intuition – and give yourself permission to explore your feelings a little more closely,” says Degges-White. “If you feel it’s warranted, open up a dialogue with your partner about your concerns. Our gut intuition is as reliable an emotional bellwether as we have.” Being able to talk through your doubts without fearing an immediate and explosive breakup is key. If they’re in it for the long-haul, they won’t mind at all.