What does it take to remain in love with your partner long term?
My husband and I, when we were first married, heard someone say ‘tolerance’. At the time, being the naïve personal growth workshop junkies that we were, we were horrified, thinking that ‘tolerance’ meant barely putting up with each other. To us, ‘tolerance’ was just a form of settling. Of course, we were not about to settle for anything less than perfect.
After 23 years of marriage, we can both now say that ‘tolerance‘ is a mainstay of a long term relationship. Along with loving the best in each other, learning to tolerate each others’ quirks, weaknesses, failures, and just basic day-to-day differences, truly does matter. Certainly, there are many areas in any relationship where you can grow beyond tolerance to acceptance, and even to appreciation. But the bottom line is that there are just some things that you simply need to learn to tolerate. Gracefully.
We also had a friend tell us that the best way to get along was to ‘avoid’ the minefields. Again, in our blissful arrogance, we believed that this was just another way to chicken out, and to avoid dealing with the hard stuff.
We would both now agree that learning to ‘avoid the minefields’ is also a key to a long term relationship. Meaning, you don’t need to have fight number 372 again and again and again. You know the fights I am talking about; the fights where you know exactly what the other person is going to say and you both speak and act in a very predictable and repetitive manner. Learning to ‘avoid the minefields’ means that you have finally figured out when to keep your mouth shut. Enjoying each other can be as much about what you don’t say as what you do say.
What are some of the things you might need to learn to tolerate? For my husband and me, it can be simple things. For example, my husband can’t stand how I simply pile the dishes in the dishwasher in a haphazard manner, while it bugs me that while they remain in the sink, he doesn’t rinse and stack them in an orderly fashion. Luckily, neither one of us cares about the kitchen all that much and it is something we can adjust for each other fairly easily.
Certainly bigger things require another level of tolerance. I cannot stand that my husband is a pilot and he flies a small airplane. It terrifies me, and if I could change one thing about him, I would get him to stop. He, on the other hand, can’t stand that I won’t fly with him. I tolerate his flying, and he tolerates my upset about it and my unwillingness to get in his plane. This is something that is very likely not going to change for either of us. At this point in our relationship, we have learned to live with it, and most of the time we keep our mouth shut about it (after many years of fighting about it) 🙂
A lasting relationship requires that you both continue to learn to successfully negotiate the balance between tolerance and confrontation, between stepping onto the minefields versus working around them, and of knowing when to take a stand, and when to just remain silent and let it pass.
I used to say that it is important to find someone that has 3-4 qualities that you love, and who doesn’t have the 2-3 qualities you simply can’t or won’t tolerate.
Now, I believe that there really is only one quality that ultimately matters in keeping a relationship alive. The one quality that keeps passion alive is having a partner who will work on the tough issues with you. Someone, as Dr Keith Witt says, who will, ‘do what it takes to get back to love’.
If you have that level of commitment with someone, where both of you will work your butts off to truly get through issues, you have everything. If a couple does not have this commitment, it is surprising to me that they manage to stay together, much less continue to passionately love each other over time. Magic is created when you have a partner who will not just stay with you out of obligation, duty, boredom, or fear, but who will do the hard core, gut wrenching work with you and do what it takes to allow you to fall in love with each other over and over again.
What are some of the other behaviors and activities that can give your relationship staying power?
- Active and ongoing participation in varied personal growth seminars including therapy and self help groups
- Taking care of each other in large and small ways
- Forgiving each other easily and readily
- Embracing each others’ human frailties as well as each others’ power, talent, strengths, and accomplishments
- Loving each other fiercely with all of who you are, no holding back
- Calling forward the best in each other consistently
- Believing in each other completely even when you are at your worst
- Learning to trust and communicate, and learning to accept what is, rather than continually trying to push things to how you want them to be
- Together, working hard to overcome temptation and paths that seem easier, as well as overcoming the desire to give in to victimhood or feelings of wanting to persecute the other.
- An ongoing intention to keep moving forward in your lives as you move towards a greater fulfillment of your potential and dreams. In other words, never stop pursuing both of your dreams.
In a relationship that is growing and expanding, there is a continued deepening of mutual admiration, respect, friendship, and comfort with each other as the years go by. A long term, alive, and real partnership is a long, long growing into love. I suggest that you seek that, hold out for that, and grow into it. Create fertile soil by doing your own work on yourself, and allowing space for both of you to keep growing, transforming, and evolving over time.