New love is both fragile and resilient.
New love is fragile and resilient. Partners in the initial stages of an intimate relationship simultaneously walk on eggshells and stay totally committed to each other’s happiness. They ask themselves constantly, “Will this just be a wonderful adventure, or will it become a successful long-term relationship?”
Experienced daters know that the best way to live out that unpredictable time of uncertainty is to give the relationship their best and let the outcome grow from the experience. Yet, it is only human to be simultaneously attached to where the relationship is headed.
In the more than four decades I’ve worked with couples, I have learned to identify the indicators of whether a relationship is a short-term adventure or is evolving into a long-term commitment. If the partners can see how each path materializes over time, they can better know what to expect and how they want to proceed.
Here are the seven most common transformations I see in relationships headed for long-term success.
I’m not talking about “old shoe” comfort. When relationship partners become more comfortable with each other respectfully and authentically, they feel a growing and noticeable easiness in each other’s company, a kind of safety that is not indulgent or lazy. It’s as if both partners just like the other more and more over time.
They easily blend into one and just as easily separate. They willingly enter each other’s experiences but are not entrapped in them. They still have obvious attachment and commitment to one another, but they are not owned in any way by the other's needs. They can say “no” or “yes,” to requests without fear of being perceived as rejecting.
2.) Petty Squabbles Diminish
As most relationships emerge from their passionate first few months, they often begin to find little faults in the other and focus more on satisfying their needs. One of the most common predictors of a relationship on its way out is the increase in those repetitive, irritating challenges that do not get resolved.
Those repetitive meaningless interactions diminish in relationships that are moving towards more profound commitment. They are replaced by the search for solutions and compromises that ensure that both partners feel their needs are being heard and respected.
3) Perspective Increases–Short-Term Solutions Don’t Destroy Long-term Goals
Most people in new relationships want to fulfill every need of the other and feel secure that their needs will also get met. In the throes of lustful and passionate generosity, they push to give and get too much up front, not realizing that their urgent need for security may actually be counter-productive to the long-term goals they want.
Great relationships emerge from non-threatening moments of easy negotiation, intertwining current and future goals. They are free of urgency or the focus on outcome and trust that if they do the present right, the future will be as it was meant to be.
4.) Chivalry Emerges–The Kind of Love That Never Keeps score
Most giving behaviors have understandable expectations of reciprocity. Time, energy, devotion, and sacrifice are expected from both parties at different times and in different ways. Both partners have to feel, over time, that exchange of giving will be fair. It doesn’t really matter what the agenda is at the time.
If people sometimes give to get, give to ensure reciprocal giving later, give to feel good about themselves, give because the other partner’s needs are pressing, or just give because there are ample reserves to make it easy.
Chivalry, on the other hand, is giving because it’s the right thing to do, independent of fairness. Both partners know that neither would ever take advantage of that resource. They give unselfishly at those times because it is the right thing to do, and they share that ethic.
5.) Increasing Safety in Exploring Painful Current or Past Issues
As I see couples moving towards a genuine long-term relationship, I am always impressed with how they begin to share their past, opening up more and more deeply about experiences they may have never shared with anyone, and receiving the trust, empathy, and interest that makes them continue to deepen.
They talk about current fears and future dreams, feeling safe enough to explore in ways they never have before. They essentially make room for each other without prejudice or condemnation, even if they don’t understand or always agree. Tenderness expands, and judgments lessen.
6.) Comparisons and Contrasts to Other Relationships Diminish
It is natural for people in new relationships to compare them with those in their pasts and what they might want in the future. As relationships become more devoted, those thoughts diminish.
It’s not that there might always be someone who may seem better at some other time, but the partners in these deepened love relationships know the value of what they’ve found and what they are experiencing and focus on what they do have, rather than what is missing. They can experience freedom within their chosen commitment, not concerned about being abandoned or rejected simply because someone else might seem better in the moment.
They have attained the most significant aspect of true love, the commitment to their partner’s happiness with or without them. That kind of freedom within commitment is the most significant indicator of a relationship that doesn’t fail.
7.) Acknowledgement and Acceptance of What Is Unlikely to Change and Focusing on What Can
As a relationship evolves into a successful long-term partnership, both partners know each other deeply enough to not look for unlikely changes and feel grateful for what they can change in each other. They are catalysts to each other’s needs for personal growth and are in each other’s corners.
Because the authenticity is so entrenched, they can appreciate the other partner’s frustrations and support them in their efforts to change whatever they can. Repeated attempts to get the other to be someone he or she is not lessens dramatically, replaced by the comfort of knowing that the person cherished most in the world is in your corner.