Relationships don’t look like they used to (and that’s a good thing). But what does it honestly take to make a modern romance work? As part of Committed, we’re exploring partnerships ranging from a textbook marriage between high-school sweethearts to a gay couple creating a life together in the conservative deep South.
If binge-watching Gilmore Girls, Scandal, or The Good Wife has taught us anything, it’s that relationships are messy. Personal experience proves it too: From our eighth-grade romance to our most recent breakup drama, “love isn’t easy” is a life lesson we know all too well.
No matter your status—single, dating, engaged, or married—relationships take work. And whether they end with tears and empty Ben & Jerry’s or last until forever may depend upon countless factors, but your own actions, words, and thoughts undoubtedly play a role.
One thing that’ll give you an advantage in the game of love? Soaking up all the wisdom you can from relationship therapists, researchers, matchmakers, and more. Here, we’ve distilled it down to the very best advice 15 experts have learned. Regardless of your personal situation, their words may help you uncover the key to long-lasting happiness.
1. Do or say something daily to show your appreciation.
“Saying and doing small, simple expressions of gratitude every day yields big rewards. When people feel recognized as special and appreciated, they’re happier in that relationship and more motivated to make the relationship better and stronger. And when I say simple, I really mean it. Make small gestures that show you’re paying attention: Hug, kiss, hold hands, buy a small gift, send a card, fix a favorite dessert, put gas in the car, or tell your partner, ‘You’re sexy,’ ‘You’re the best dad,’ or simply say ‘Thank you for being so wonderful.'”
2. Realize every relationship has value, regardless of how long it lasts.
“There’s no such thing as a failed romance. Relationships simply evolve into what they were always meant to be. It’s best not to try to make something that is meant to be seasonal or temporary into a lifelong relationship. Let go and enjoy the journey.”
3. Never take your partner for granted.
“This may sound obvious, but you can’t imagine how many people come to couples therapy too late, when their partner is done with a relationship and wants to end it. It is very important to realize that everyone potentially has a breaking point, and if their needs are not met or they don’t feel seen by the other, they will more than likely find it somewhere else. Many people assume that just because they are OK without things they want so is their partner. ‘No relationship is perfect’ shouldn’t be used as a rationalization for complacency.”
4. Remember to take breaks.
“A friend taught me that no matter how in love you are or how long you’ve been together, it’s important to take an exhale from your partnership. Hang out with girlfriends until late in the evening, take a weekend trip to visit family, or just spend time ‘doing you’ for a while. Then when you go home to Yours Truly, you’ll both be recharged and ready to come together even stronger.”
5. It’s not what you fight about—it’s how you fight.
“Researchers have found that four conflict messages are able to predict whether couples remain together or get divorced: contempt, criticism, stonewalling (or withdrawal), and defensiveness. Together, they’re known as the ‘Four Horsemen of Divorce.’ Instead of resorting to these negative tactics, fight fairly: Look for places where each partner’s goal overlaps into a shared common goal and build from that.
6. Stop trying to be each other’s “everything.”
“‘You are my everything’ is a lousy pop-song lyric and an even worse relationship plan. No one can be ‘everything’ to anyone. Create relationships outside The Relationship, or The Relationship isn’t going to work anymore.”
7. Don’t just go for the big O.
“Sex isn’t just about orgasms. It’s about sensation, emotional intimacy, stress relief, improved health (improved immune and cardiovascular system), and increased emotional bonding with your partner, thanks to the wonderful release of hormones due to physical touch. There are many more reasons to have sex than just getting off.”