A long-term relationship is usually described as a relationship between couples lasting 10 years or more.
While that may not have been the same standard by which previous generations measured the success of a lasting partnership, since the 20th century, a 10-year union is a lifetime.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
A lot has changed in recent decades, and it takes a lot of work to keep a long-term relationship together.
Do you have what it takes? Here’s what psychologists have to say on the matter.
According to an article in Psychology Today,
Research conducted by psychologist K. Daniel O’Leary back in 2012 showed that 40 percent of couples who were in satisfying long-term relationships consisting of 10 years or more were still able to rank their feelings for their partner as “very intensely in love” on a rating scale — the highest rating possible for participants to choose from. An additional 15 percent scored their relationships at the next highest level of intensity.
Add it up, and that’s mighty impressive when you consider the roughly 3-4 years many American couples manage to stick it out these days. In the U.K. it’s dropped to 2.9. Forget speed dating. Now we have speed marriages that can take almost as long to get out of as the duration of the marriage itself.
The enlightening study went on to note that partners who remained married for 30 years or more were also able to give their union 4-star ratings with females accounting for 40 percent of the vote and men at 35 percent claiming that they were still very intensely in love. These long-term relationships had weathered many a storm but were still sailing along with strong feelings behind them.
It’s encouraging news, but there are various factors that influence the likelihood or failure of a marriage/partnership. Interestingly, the elements are the very same as those commonly described by couples newly in love.
Here are five of the indicators of intense love the study lists as integral components to relationship longevity:
- Quality Time — Spending time together as a couple is vital regardless of the length of the union. And as it turns out, it doesn’t have to be time spent on a cruise or luxury vacation. Even routine chores can nurture the bond you already share.
- Happy People — The old saying about needing to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else seems to have some merit because individuals who possess a general feeling of happiness in their own lives are also said to possess stronger feelings of love for their significant other.
- Positive Attitude — Couples that think positively about each other, rather than focusing on the negative aspects of their partner, are generally happier with their mates and have significantly more successful long-term relationships.
- Zest for Life — By the same token, a hearty passion for life is also listed among the commonalities that long-term relationships share. Apparently, when you’re full of pep, vim, and vigor your bright approach and sunny disposition bleed over into your romantic life as well.
- Up for the Challenge — Couples who engage in fun, new, exciting, or even challenging activities together have higher satisfaction levels and remain more committed to one another. This can be taking up a new hobby, learning how to do something together, or taking on tasks that present a challenge. Again, it’s about bonding experiences.
Signs of Love
Certain behavioral signs of intense love commonly associated with new couples, which one would not have assumed existed between partners in a long-term relationship, were found to be present among the long-haulers as well.
Prepare yourself, but apparently, there are some things we don’t outgrow when we get comfortable with our other halves.
- Always on My Mind — When the two of you are apart, does your mind periodically drift throughout the day to your husband or wife? It doesn’t have to be on the level of a lovesick teenager, but they should at least cross your mind at some point during your separation.
- Focus — Along the same lines, and just like new love, it turns out 10, 20, even 30+ years of marriage does little to alter people’s inability to focus on anything else when their mate is at the forefront of their thoughts. That’s quite sweet when you think about it.
- Where are You?! — Keeping tabs on the love of your life continues to chug along from beginning to end, especially for men. It’s seemingly part of their genetic makeup, so you could always look at it as flattering because he’s either paranoid or he really does care.
- Obsession — At first glance, the concept is kind of creepy, but just like the other signs and symptoms we’ve covered in this article so far, obsessing about your partner to some degree is another not-so-unusual sign of intense love.
Intimate Long-Term Relationships
As hard as it may be for some to fathom, a heady sex life is not limited solely to new alliances.
The same study revealed that research participants had these things in common with couples in more recent pairings:
- Express Yourself — The ability to physically express affection is another point lasting unions share. It’s not just the words, but demonstrative expressions of love that help keep love alive. It can be something as simple as holding hands, a kiss on the forehead, or an affectionate squeeze to qualify.
- Magic Touch — The ability of your partner to still trip your trigger after all these years is a surefire sign the magic’s still alive, especially when all it takes to become aroused is their presence or perhaps a gentle, fleeting touch. Consider yourself blessed.
- Sexual Longevity — Don’t mistake this sign of intense love with sexual stamina, because it’s about the continued expression of love through intercourse and other forms of intimate gratification that count over time. In other words, couples that score the highest on the happiness rating scale are those who engage in sex regularly.
All 12 of the points we’ve covered are essential ingredients to happy, healthy long-term relationships.
End of an Era
Alas, not all long-term relationships live to see a happily ever after.
Any number of factors can derail a life together, but more often than not it’s a gradual breakdown that occurs where lack of communication, too much time apart, a dead or dying sex life, allowing thoughtfulness and other niceties to fall by the wayside, infidelity, and a whole host of other actions/non-actions can play a role.
Sometimes it’s a tragedy that drives former lovers apart. But statistically, 40-50 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their demise.
Often times, couples have been together nearly two decades or more when they decide to get hitched, and two or three years later they part ways.
While the first 1-2 years is the initial hurdle you’ll need to jump, if you’re going to make a go of it, studies suggest Americans still suffer from the “seven-year itch” when it comes to separation and divorce.
It’s been reported Millennials are changing all of that, though, with University of Maryland professor Philip Cohen finding that from 2008 to 2016, the U.S. divorce rate actually dropped by 18 percent.
Depending on which side of the pond you’re on, however, because in the U.K. divorce rates have apparently sky-rocketed with an average marriage lasting 15 years up until 2008, to the surprising (even by today’s standards) 2.9 years sited now, as we mentioned earlier in the conversation.
That’s quite a jump. But it happens, and the only thing you can do about it is to pick up the pieces and move forward as best you can.
Red Flags You’re Checking Out of a Relationship
Just as there are signs of a healthy marriage, there are signs of a relationship falling apart. Whether you’re currently in a troubled union or it’s weeks, months, or years behind you, there are signs you should be aware of so history doesn’t repeat itself in future relationships.
Here is a list of some of the sub-conscious red flags to look for:
- Eye Rolling — Believe it or not, experts say something as simple as the exasperated gesture of rolling your eyes at your partner when you don’t agree on something, or you’re feeling fed up with their shenanigans is considered a sign you’re already checking out of the relationship emotionally.
- Becoming Defensive — If you notice a trend of one or the other of you becoming easily defensive, it’s another subtle signal that something is amiss between you as a couple.
- Unwillingness to Compromise — If it’s turned into a game of “it’s my way or the highway,” that’s an issue, too. Being inflexible or rigid doesn’t work well in any partnership, especially one that is supposed to be based on love. A constant battle of wills is a bad sign.
- Misplaced Priorities — When your partner is mentally no longer the number one priority in your life, you’ve already begun to bail on them.
- Lack of Interest — A lack of curiosity or concern for the whereabouts of your spouse, what they’re doing, or whether they’re all right, is not normal in a healthy relationship, so it may be time to access why you’re feeling this way.
- Absence Does Not Make the Heart Grow Fonder — When you’d rather be apart than spend time together, your time as a couple is likely coming to an end.
- Giving Up — Another symptom of a relationship time bomb is when one or the both of you simply stops trying. Making an effort is crucial for sticking it out in any situation, particularly a marriage.
- A Cease Fire — If you’ve been having difficulties for some time and fighting has been a regular component of your fractious interactions, for them to suddenly cease without some form of truce having been called is an ominous sign your relationship is doomed.
Of course, any of these subtle signs taken alone don’t necessarily mean anything, but as a whole, or even in part, the bell that is tolling is not the same one that rang out on your wedding day.
The fact is, it’s more apt to be the precursor to a funeral dirge.
Ending a Long-Term Relationship
Whether it’s heart-rending or a long-overdue reprieve, ending a long-term relationship is a complicated process—unless you did it by text after draining your joint banking account, dropping signed divorce papers off in the mail, and jetting off to Fiji.
In that case, you may have dodged a bullet, both figuratively and literally, but it’s still draining, nonetheless. The best thing you can do for yourself after a break up is to take care of yourself.
How to Get Over a Long-Term Relationship
At this point, we’re going to take a look at some of the most productive ways to get over the dissolution of your relationship so that you can get back on your feet emotionally as soon as possible.
We’re not going to lie; it takes work. Anytime you’ve shared decades or even the better part of a lifetime with a man or woman you’ve been passionately in love with (assuming you were at some point), it’s a shock when it ends.
There will be an adjustment period that will take some getting used to, but bearing these tips in mind can help, to some extent, to ease the pain of ending a long-term relationship.
- Be Kind to Yourself — First off, cut yourself some slack after a breakup, regardless of whose fault it’s perceived to be. All too often, people beat themselves up when their relationship fails. Assigning blame won’t help or change anything, so don’t mess with your mind by mulling over the “what ifs?” of it.
- Have Patience — Be patient with yourself and don’t measure your progress by others’. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, at their own pace. It’s perfectly all right to grieve longer than your best friend or sibling did when they went through the same thing. You’re not them. You’re you.
- Seek Counseling — Depending on the circumstances, speaking with a mental health professional specializing in grief or couples counseling might be in order. If you’ve been badly shaken by events, don’t let the stigmatism of seeing someone to get your mind right stop you from seeking help. Better to do that then let your mind go wrong, so reach out if you need to.
- Stay Busy and Connected — Yes, the desire to bury yourself in pity curled up in the fetal position on dirty sheets littered with empty pizza boxes and beer bottles is strong, but getting out there and staying busy is one of the best things for you right now. The less time you have to dwell on how miserable you feel, the better off you’ll be. Staying connected and allowing yourself to laugh can do wonders.
Besides, there’s plenty of time to feel miserable late at night before drifting off to sleep, or first thing in the morning after your eyes finally adjust to the light. These are arguably the most difficult times for those experiencing a significant loss. Just hang in there it will get better—if you let it.
- Denial — Having said that, don’t make the mistake of pretending nothing happened. Burying your sadness and not dealing with it appropriately almost always leads to baggage—baggage you’ll undoubtedly drag into your next relationship. Confront it, but don’t let it consume you.
- Ditch the Pity Party — Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to wallow in grief. If you don’t eventually get out of bed and change those sheets and clear the trash, you’re just prolonging the recovery process. It’s counterproductive to your mental and physical health, and at some point, you have to accept the circumstances and move forward. Feeling sorry for yourself is not the way out.
- Let Go of the Anger — Stop seething and let it go. What’s done is done, and it’s too late for regrets. If you’re unable to let go of the anger, it will take you longer to move on. Get help.
- Do Something Healthy — Minor life changes with health in mind or resuming a former activity (running, tennis, walking, golf, etc.) can help. It’s good for body, mind, and spirit.
- Treat Yourself — Treat yourself to something new. New experiences, like taking an art or cooking class, can be therapeutic. They can help you go a long way toward making you feel better. Experiment. Get a new haircut or change your clothing style. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic, but mixing it up a bit can get you out of that rut you’ve been in.
All of these suggestions can lead you out of the dark and into the light after the end of a long-term relationship. No one can force you to make them.
Just remember, it’s not the end of the world, it’s a new beginning. Make the most of it.