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If you ask a handful of therapists what makes for a healthy long-term relationship, you’re bound to get more than a dozen answers. Honestly, you may get a dozen different answers from me on a given day.  This is because the factors that contribute to long-lasting and fulfilling relationships are complicated and change as we and our partners grow.

The person your partner committed to five years ago is not the same you of today. It’s unavoidable and normal for needs and desires to change over time. This doesn’t mean that relationships are doomed to fizzle out as the years pass. In fact, I’ve found that some partnerships grow stronger the longer people are together. While I don’t have a single easy answer about how to make that happen, I do have some advice on how to maintain closeness with your partner(s) and some common pitfalls to avoid or correct. 

You may have noticed the title of this blog: “Is love enough?”, the answer being: it’s not. To which you may rightly be wondering, “Isn’t that a tad dramatic?” Fair question; thank you for asking it. My answer, however, is no. You see, over the decade I’ve practiced therapy I’ve observed that few relationships end because partners stop loving or caring about each other. Frequently, they end because needs and desires are not met.  Often, they were never even named. This leads me to the first pitfall I encourage partners to recognize, name, and correct: Psychic Expectations. (Or the Jean Grey Phenomenon for my fellow Millennials).

Psychic Expectations in a Long-term Relationship

Long-term relationships success | New Connections Counseling CenterWhat do I mean by this? Well, many individuals are raised in families and cultures where naming our needs and wants is not only frowned upon but also taboo or dangerous. Take a moment and consider: What were your family’s spoken or unspoken rules about asking for what you need or want? What were their likely reactions to asking? For many folks, it is ridicule, rejection, or indifference.

Many people learn early that asking for what they need in relationships with others is either a road to nowhere or a road to ridicule. Many clients over the years have worried about being “needy” (I sincerely wish we’d strike this word from our collective vocabulariessimply for existing, for having needs at all. People learn to hide their needs and engage in a lot of behaviors meant to covertly hint at them and are inevitably disappointed or resentful when their partner fails to detect these hints.

Think too about society’s general expectations for your gender identity within a romantic relationship. Are you expected to be accommodating? Stoic? “Low maintenance”? A common trope in media that reinforces this pattern is the idea that true love means a partner will be able to intuit and (psychically) know what you need. There’s this idea that if you must ask, then your partner is failing or not “the one.” This works in the other direction too. The belief that we’re supposed to know our partner’s needs without asking.  I don’t usually give direct advice as a therapist, but I will here: ditch both expectations. It creates a deeply unfair and unsatisfying situation for all parties in a relationship. If we don’t tell our partners what we need, we’re setting them and the relationship up for disconnection and failure.  

What Are the Keys to a Long-term Relationship?

You’ve asked some great questions along the way, but this is the best so far. There are a few things I generally recommend for folks:

1. Engaging in meta dialogue

First, I encourage partners to engage in a meta dialogue. Yes. That’s right. I want y’all to talk about talking. Now, before you click off this article, hear me out. To correct these patterns, it’s important for all partners to understand the social contract the other party moves through the world with. It can help increase empathy and understanding between partners to understand what it means and how it feels for a partner to have to name their needs. Remember, we may be asking partners to engage in a dialogue that they learned to associate with danger or a myriad of other negative responses. It may be something they’ve never done before. Talk about what can make these conversations easier and don’t be afraid to enlist a couple’s therapist if needed. 

2. Naming your needs

Second, I encourage you to remember that naming your needs also provides space and permission for your partner to name theirs. It’s also not a one-way street, ask your partner what their needs are directly too.

3. Having regular state of the relationship discussions

Couples therapy | New Connections Counseling CenterLastly, these discussions cannot be a one-off event. I encourage partners to find a regular time and space to have a State of The Relationship discussion. How are things working out? Are there things that we can do to support one another better? Are there things you’re needing from me that I may not be aware of? This could be something y’all do as a scheduled event or just a general check-in you build into conversations throughout your weeks. Another important factor to keep in mind is that couple’s/relationship therapy can be incredibly helpful in this process, it’s not something you need to do alone. These discussions may not be easy initially, but if done well they can bring partners closer together and provide your love with the long-term support it needs. 

Couple’s Therapy in Baltimore, MD

Couples therapist | New Connections Counseling CenterAre you experiencing problems in your long-term relationship? Do you want to get back that sense of connection and intimacy that you and your partner once had? All relationships have their bumps in the road, the difference is how we deal with them.

Even if most of the time you and your partner have a healthy relationship, it can be helpful to step back and look for improvements you can make together. Our team of therapists can help you and your partner recognize and work through problems that are putting at risk the long-term success of your relationship.

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About the Author:

Brandon Muncy

Therapist (LCPC)

Brandon specializes in gender affirmation care for trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming clients. He’s also experienced in LGBTQ+ identity development, men’s issues, and relationship/marriage counseling.

In his free time, he enjoys archery, running, learning ASL, and playing the violin (poorly).

Read More About Brandon

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