Psychologist Logan Hutchins shares his expertise on how to stay happy in a long-term relationship, along with sound advice on how to strengthen the connection with your partner.
I met my girlfriend while I was in college studying psychology. We quickly fell for one another, but neither of us had a clue we would still be together in three years. Like everyone, we’ve had our ups and downs, but for the most part, we are both happy together.
We weren’t always happy, and there is still the possibility that we won’t be happy in the future. Long term relationships place heavy demands on you and your partner. However, by applying psychological research to your relationship, you can recognize the weak spots in your relationship.
Being happy in a long-term relationship is possible. It takes patience, time, passion, and of course, dedication.
Assessing Your Relationship
It’s impossible to always be happy in a relationship. At times you may feel like commitment is the only thing holding you together. Take a minute and think about your relationship and score yourself, from 1 to 7, on the following questions.
- When was the last time you surprised your partner?
- Do you reassure your partner of your dedication to the relationship?
- Do you listen when your significant other talks about their day?
- If you were on the Newlywed gameshow would your knowledge of one another get you the win?
- Do you and your partner make plans for things a year or more from now?
- Do you have an active sex life?
- Is it common for you to kiss and hug in public?
- Do you and your partner share your private thoughts and desires?
- Do you make sacrifices to be with your partner?
If you don’t know the weak spots in your relationship, you can’t improve! Let your partner take the quiz too and compare results. People have different expectations in relationships, and if you communicate those expectations, you have a better chance at happiness together.
Another excellent assessment is found here. This one helps quantify your satisfaction in your relationship.
How to score:
Passion Score: Add your score for 1, 5, and 6
Commitment Score: Add your score for 2, 4, and 8
Intimacy Score: Add your score for 3, 7, and 9
What Makes a Relationship Stable?
In 1988 Sternberg developed the triangular theory of love. He believes love has three parts, intimacy, passion, and, commitment. If a three-legged table is missing a leg, it will fall over, and the same is true for relationships.
If one of the three components is missing the relationship becomes unstable. It is possible for a relationship to survive on two of the components. Nonetheless, you won’t be happy in those relationships for long. You want your relationship to thrive, not just survive.
The first component is intimacy. Intimacy has both a physical and mental dimension. Your cumulative knowledge of your partner’s likes, dislikes, ambitions, needs, all contributes to your mental intimacy.
Passion comes next. It’s what initially brings people together. It is a surface level infatuation with how someone looks. Sex, as a primary biological drive, plays a massive role in passionate relationships.
Commitment comes after passion and intimacy. It is when you have decided to make your friendship a relationship. You are building something together and trust that your partner is going to be around for a while.
When a relationship contains all three legs, it is called consummate love.
Advice for Staying Passionate in a Long-term Relationship
How do you reignite that spark you felt upon meeting your lover? Well, to be honest, you will never feel the same way you did when you first met your partner. That wasn’t love at first sight. It was what Sternberg calls fatuous love, which is love without intimacy or commitment.
Let me give you an example:
Two years into my current relationship I began to feel like something was missing. My girlfriend and I were living together while finishing our degrees, and the butterflies that were present at the start of our relationship had fled the meadow.
We started officially living together after eight months of dating, at the end of our lease we decided to stop living together. Our friends and families thought that was the end of our relationship, yet they were wrong, it was a new beginning! Living separately made the time we spent together special.
Instead of sitting in our apartment watching Netflix on separate computers we made plans. We went to museums, movies, historic sites, and many other adventures. The time away from one another sparked a new appreciation for what we had made together.
It wasn’t the same feeling I had when we first met. It was even better! I’m not saying you need to live separately. I am just telling you to set aside quality time for your relationship. Here are a few tips for restarting that flame:
- Plan spontaneous date nights.
- Spend time asking each other questions – use our list of questions.
- Get close to your partner when you sit on the couch and hold their hand in public.
- Passion and sex are intertwined, so come up with ideas together to spice up your sex life.
- Do something nice for your partner. Cook dinner or take care of a few chores they hate.
- Spend some time apart. The adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is actually true!
Tips for Staying Intimate with Your Long-term Partner
Couples build Intimacy on a foundation of knowledge, and sometimes you feel like you know everything about your partner. My question for you is, are you still listening to your partner?
You may know your significant other like the back of your hand; you can complete their sentences and predict their responses. Even so, you still need to pay attention to what they are telling you. Being a good listener is key to learning how to stay happy in a long-term relationship.
When your significant other is telling the same childhood story, you have heard a dozen times, stop to listen. Consider asking a few questions about the story. Think about why they are telling you this story, it probably means a lot to them so appreciate that they dare to be vulnerable with you.
It is easier said than done, and sounds like common sense, but how often do you and your partner listen to one another? Do you both ask specific questions about each other’s day? When you complain about work, does your partner empathize, or give solutions? When your partner is arguing with coworkers or family do you acknowledge their situation and offer support and empathy?
Here are a few things you can do to build intimacy with your partner
- Write down what they have planned for the day and then come up with questions about their day.
- Be vulnerable. Talk to your partner about your fears and insecurities.
- Listen to them like they are someone you just met.
- Empathize with their experiences don’t try and solve problems.
- Research topics they are interested and bring them up in conversations
- Find a hobby you both enjoy
What Keeps Couples Together?
When you commit to a relationship, you have no idea what the future holds. A few years into the relationship you may start feeling a little frustrated. You see your single friends on social media living the single life meeting different girls/guys at bars, concerts, and festivals.
You may think ‘Why did I commit so early? I could be out there playing the field.’ Just remember the grass is always greener until you jump the fence. Committed relationships have many positives that get overlooked for more hedonistic lifestyles.
Here’s an interesting one:
Married people live longer than those who have never been married. With more and more couples cohabitating before marriage, it wouldn’t surprise me if these benefits apply to other committed relationships. Scientists believe that long-term companionship helps encourage safer behavior. I can attest to that if my girlfriend wasn’t around I would have high blood pressure from all the pretzels and salty food I constantly crave.
Your partner doesn’t just remind you to take care of yourself. They also provide a valuable social outlet. We are social animals, if we don’t interact with other people, we get depressed. If you develop a strong relationship with your significant other, you can live a longer and happier life.
Here are a few ways to show you are committed and remind both of you why you got together in the first place.
- Reassure your partner that you want to be together with them long term.
- Show affection in public it’s as simple as holding hands, but it shows you are proud to be with them.
- Talk about your future together.
- Bring up past experiences that brought both of you joy.
- Recycle dates you went on in your first year of dating.
- Write a note about the qualities you admire in them.
- Send them a text and tell them how proud you are of the person they have become.
Conclusion: How to Stay Happy in a Long-Term Relationship
Strive to develop a consummate love with your partner. Listen to them, plan a future together, and embrace your commitment to one another. If things don’t work out in the end, you will have practiced being a good partner for future relationships.
Take time apart from one another it will help you build a more passionate relationship. Be selfless, make sacrifices, and show gratitude for your partner’s sacrifices. It’s simple stuff, yet so many people lose sight of what’s important. If you follow the psychology, you can have a happy long term relationship.
Free download: All tips and quizzes that you can use to practice being happier with your partner. (coming soon!)
Logan is an academic researcher and writer, with a heart of a scientist. He got his psychologist degree from George State University, where he also acts as an assistant researcher in the psychology laboratories. He's also a contributing author to Life of a Winner.