Many people have experienced falling in love, committing to another person, and then later discovering that the relationship just isn’t working. Long-term relationships require time, energy and work. Some people don’t do the work it takes. Others are so vastly different that their lives are spent trying to convince the other person they are wrong. In heterosexual relationships, women don’t always understand men, and men don’t always understand women. Are they really from different planets?
After listening to and observing many couples over the last 30 years, I have come to the conclusion that long-term relationships may require at least three things: maturity; fit and timing. This seems simple and worth considering
Maturity means that both people have done their personal work. They have each worked on their issues, come to terms with their past, and moved beyond it. They have forgiven others, let the past go, and set clear goals for their future. They have learned to live fully, without addictions, and take responsibility for their successes as well as failures.
David Richo’s “How to Be an Adult in Relationships” is a good book about personal maturity. Mature people don’t expect another person to make them feel good about themselves. It works best when two people love and accept themselves, and then are ready to share that love with someone else. The relationship is more like the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Maturity also involves having clear boundaries, asking for what one wants, and learning to communicate and compromise. Intimacy involves vulnerability and sharing. Both people need to be ready to do this. Granted, all of the above is “easier said than done.”Mature people don't expect another person to make them feel good about themselves. Click To Tweet
Fit means that both people have enough in common — activities, spirituality, values, lifestyle — so they are not continuing to bump heads about who gets to have who’s way. In other words, while we don’t want our partner to be a clone of us, if he or she is radically different, there will have to be a lot of compromising and negotiation. Having enough in common means that individuals are more likely to understand each other’s feelings, moods, and temperaments. Major differences in lifestyle, age, and world view can create problems and stress.
Timing is important. Some people are really ready for commitment and others are not. Some people may think they are ready, but they are not really ready. Meeting someone who has just rebounded from a relationship breakup may mean that the person is not ready for another commitment just yet.
Another important aspect of timing is how quickly the relationship moves from being casual dating to a more serious commitment. Some people prefer to take relationships slowly, gradually committing more and more. Others want to move more quickly, believing that this is “what I really want.” If two people radically disagree on the pacing of the relationship process, it may not work out.
Even with maturity, fit and timing, there are no guarantees. People change, times change, and life experiences sometimes move people in strange ways. Suffering through a traumatic accident, such as the death of a child, for example, can cause a couple to break up. Relationships are tricky and complex because people are complicated and made up of many layers. Falling in love may be the first step, but it is far from the last step in creating a mature, healthy, long-term relationship.
While we can never predict whether a love relationship will last, it is worth exploring where you and your partner are in these three major areas. Here are some questions to help you:
- Have each of you worked out your personal issues?
- Have you made peace with your past, and moved on?
- Have you forgiven those who have hurt you?
- Do you have enough in common to share dreams, activities, and personal and spiritual goals?
- Are you willing to be vulnerable, share feelings, and open your heart to your partner?
- Are you ready for the work it takes to keep a relationship vibrant and loving?
- Do you feel good about who you are individually, so you can allow your partner the freedom to be who he/she is?
- Are you able to trust your partner?
- Are you honest and trustworthy?
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then both of you have a pretty good chance of making a relationship work and last.
Michael Obsatz, Ph.D., has taught Sociology at Macalester College and is the author of “From Stalemate to Soulmate” (Augsburg, 1998) and can be reached at www.angeresources.com.
The following article first appeared in the February 2006 issue of The Phoenix Spirit. We do earn commissions if you choose to buy through some of the links on this page – at no cost to you.
Last Updated on October 24, 2020