As a sex therapist, many clients I see find themselves wishing they were right back where the relationship started: in the honeymoon phase.
When everything was exciting and intense and passionate. When you didn’t necessarily think about healthy relationship expectations because everything just felt… right.
Perhaps, you had sex every day. Felt completely consumed by each other. Maybe even missed the other person when they went to the bathroom.
Your feelings during this honeymoon phase were big and expansive and, perhaps, overwhelming — feelings which you kind of want to return to.
There’s nothing wrong in wanting it to be this way. And you shouldn’t feel bad if you sometimes feel like you want to go back to that constant state of euphoria with your partner.
I mean, wouldn’t we all if we had the choice?
You can’t go back to your honeymoon phase, but you can adjust your relationship expectations.
You can still make your romantic relationship last over time without trying to go back.
Finding “the one” and living together happily ever after is a fairly widespread ideal, especially in the western world.
But ideals are, per definition, unattainable. Looking to reach that ideal of constant euphoria and butterflies galore may, therefore, lead to a crisis in your relationship.
Wanting that ideal isn’t bad — but believing it should be a constant in your life leads to both of you feeling like there’s something missing. And perhaps, worst of all, leads you to believe you shouldn’t be together anymore (when there’s nothing wrong in the first place)!
This is where our expectations come in and why they’re so important to cultivating a great, strong relationship.
Healthy relationship expectations
Even if constant butterflies aren’t necessarily the goal, you and your partner can learn how you can make your relationship last and thrive over time, with the reservation that what you’re striving for is a realistic idea of a relationship.
Some researchers, like John Gottman, calls this “striving towards a good enough marriage.” And, in reality, that’s perhaps where you should attempt to set the bar, at least for everyday.
A good enough relationship is one where you still want to be with your partner after years or decades together — a relationship where genuinely still enjoy your time together.
In order to maintain realistic expectations of yourself, each other, and the relationship as a whole, you continuously have to evaluate your ideas and attitudes.
You need to ask yourself why you want things to be a certain way and if those goals are desirable in every situation.
One thing’s for certain, no matter how in love you are or how unstable your relationship is at the moment, things are constantly changing — and the change may work in both directions!
What the research says
If you’ve asked yourself how people make a relationship last over time, you’re not alone. That’s, indeed, the million-dollar question.
Everyone wants to know how to do it.
There are a few important principles that govern the durability and success of a romantic relationship. And in order for your relationship to last, you usually need to focus on other things than what initially attracted you to one another.
Your relationship’s strengths and weaknesses
Dating sites and apps can easily have you believe that similarity in personalities is the most important factor for a lasting relationship. However, being similar doesn’t guarantee a great love affair — even if it can be important in terms of how we become sexually attracted to someone.
So, what’s important, then?
Simply put, if you’re looking to create long-term love, you need to focus on both your strengths and weaknesses.
And to do this, you need to come at them from a perspective of healthy relationship expectations. Without the right expectations, no amount of work will ever be enough.
It’s not uncommon to forget to appreciate the strengths you share as a couple. Appreciation is easily as important to relationship resilience, as is working on your weaknesses.
6 factors that determine how great your relationship is after the Honeymoon Phase is over
1. How good you are at dealing with conflicts and communicating significant events in life.
Relationship expert John Gottman divides conflicts into two kinds: those that are solvable and those that are unsolvable. Gottman believes the unsolvable conflicts represent 69% of all conflicts.
And this means you definitely need to find a way of dealing with unsolvable conflicts if your relationship is to stand the test of time. One way of doing this is creating healthy relationship expectations surrounding conflicts.
2. How willing you are to work on your relationship.
Without putting in time or effort, it will be difficult for your relationship to last over time. This may seem too simple or too obvious, and in that case, watch how much effort and time you’re currently putting in.
Is there an area you could work on a little bit more? Perhaps one you’re currently avoiding, such as your sex life?
Low libido in long-term relationships is really common. And when you haven’t had sex in a long time, it’s easy for sex to become a very big deal.
Everything and anything that reminds you that you “should” be having sex: a sex scene on T.V., the way your partner cosies up to us in bed, or even just the mention of sex from your partner, can cause you to tense up.
3. How good you are at continuing to develop your individual identity while still being a team.
Many believe that cultivating your individual identity is crucial for both attraction and desire to flow.
If you’re no longer sure where your partner begins and you end, you might want to work on rekindling your identity.
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4. How good you are at idealizing your partner’s personality and behavior.
At first glance, this may sound a tad strange. But, researcher Sandra Murray has, in a number of studies, found that those who are the happiest a few years into the relationship are those who idealized their partner at the start of the relationship.
This can look like idealizing certain traits your partner has, such as their intelligence or kindness, or the way they treat you by cooking your favourite meal or suggesting a fun date night activity.
5. How often you respond to your partner’s attempts at communication.
Healthy relationship expectations surrounding communication are paramount. And when looking at the most long-lasting, strong relationships, you can see that these are ones where partners more often than not, respond to their partner’s attempts at communication.
This doesn’t mean you’re brilliant at it all the time nor that you never miss the mark. It means that those who respond more frequently to their partner’s attempts are happier with their relationship and tend to have longer-lasting relationships.
6. How supportive you are of your partner.
Being a great support, whether in times of sorrow and hardship or in times of happiness and excitement, is crucial.
If you’re interested in making your relationship resilient, take a look at how much you and your partner are willing to support one another’s goals, how willing you are to compromise, and what you’re both prepared to sacrifice for each other.
Build resilient relationships
When it comes to making your romantic relationship last over time, it’s all about setting healthy relationship expectations, not going back to the honeymoon phase.
This can be done by examining your relationship’s strengths and weaknesses and working on them together, to make your bond stronger and your relationship more resilient.
Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Women’s Health, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, Glamour, and more. For more advice on relationships, visit her website. If you want to create more desire and intimacy in your relationship, download her free resource: The Guide for Intimacy.
This article was originally published at leighnoren.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.