What's the Key to a Long-Lasting Relationship?
How to Maintain a Good Connection Over Time
Someone recently asked me what the single most important factor is to a long-lasting, healthy relationship. Big question! I can come up with 10 things pretty quickly, but to try and choose one above the rest is difficult. Nevertheless, I have come up with one answer which I believe embraces many of the important facets of good relationship.
The answer in a word is interest.
For a relationship to be healthy and last, each person must show real and authentic interest in the other person, consistently over time.
As I mentioned, the answer has many other implications. Showing real interest over time requires regular and ongoing conversation and interchange, seeking to know and understand, having ongoing feeling, receptivity, and friendship. To really show true interest in someone over time, you must:
- Have more positive feelings than negative. If your feelings are more negative, you will lose interest and eventually become indifferent.
- Ask questions and encourage communication to really understand how someone feels and thinks. By engaging in open conversation with real curiosity, you send the message that you want to know who the other person is, and you encourage them to reveal the many emotional layers of themselves over time. This creates true intimacy.
- Accept the other person, flaws and all.
- Have respect for the other person.
- Have the other person's best "interest" at heart.
- Be friends. Good friends. Good friends that trust each other.
- Be as concerned about the other person's feelings as your own. You must be able to empathize and show it.
- Have a real connection to the other person, and an ongoing desire to maintain that connection.
The Bottom Line
Here's a question for you: If you are in a relationship for 50 years, what is it that will hold you together in a way that maintains a healthy and loving bond?
Most likely it's not going to be physical attraction, the kids, or even common interests. All of these things wax and wane over time.
True friendship is at the core of any lasting relationship. True friendship is characterized by kindness, concern, connection, acceptance, conversation and communication, respect, trust, intimacy and real love. At the base of true friendship is real and abiding interest in the other person. In fact, that kind of ongoing selfless interest is what builds real love.
All the rest of it – passion, chemistry, likenesses and differences, attraction – are secondary and ultimately fleeting. They may all remain to some degree, but as most of us who have been in long term relationships know, it is interest and real friendship that keep a relationship going and make it wonderful.
What If You've Lost That Connection?
You may very well be able to get it back. However, it is not always easy. In order to do so, you have to be willing to take steps yourself regardless of whether your partner shares in the process. Here's what you can do:
Step 1: Make 3 Lists
Make a list of everything you like about your partner. If you find this difficult, make a list of everything that attracted you to him in the beginning of your relationship. Think about and try to feel the feelings you had when you were first together.
Make another list of things you know interest your partner. What does she like to do? What does she think about? What are her habits and interests? Who are her friends if that applies? What interests has she had over the years?
Based on this list, make a new list of all of the topics of conversation you might engage in with your partner to initiate more interaction. If you're really out of touch, write out actual questions you might ask. Use these questions to increase the conversation between you. Practice listening and showing interest in what your partner has to say. Develop a real curiosity about what she thinks.
The first list is to remind you of the feelings you have had for your partner in the past, and maybe some you may still have. The second list is to help you see what you really know or don't know about your partner, and to give you a starting place for showing interest. The third list is going to be your guide.
What if I Already Know These Things?
You may think to yourself as you read this, "I already know what he thinks." Yes you may, but even if you've been together a long time, there is always more to know. Are you the same person you were 20 years ago? No, you aren't, and neither is your partner.
Be open-minded and curious. Ask open-ended questions like "What's most important to you?" or maybe "How would you like to spend your last ten years if you had to decide right now?" "If you were to start your life over, would you have chosen a different type of work?" Questions like these can stimulate good conversation and often reveal feelings you had no idea were there. Use your imagination to make a list of questions or ideas to converse about.
Step 2: Start Talking
Conversation is the easiest way to show interest and strengthen the bond between two people. Take your third list and begin to initiate conversations. Pick topics that you have heard your partner talk about before. If your husband loves to cook, ask him what his favorite thing is to make. As he talks about it, ask him more questions based on what he tells you. You might even ask him to make it for you and plan a dinner.
If your wife loves politics, ask her what she thinks is the most important political issue right now, and what's her opinion about it. If she likes gardening and you know nothing about it, ask what she's working on right now in the garden and which plants or flowers she likes best and why.
These are very generic ideas, but you get the picture. Ask about things your partner loves and show interest in the answers. It can be about anything. The idea is to encourage more conversation.
The one caveat is to stay away from toxic subjects, which means do not let your conversation drift into arguments. If there is a lot of built up anger or negativity, you will need to address this first in counseling before trying this technique. This works more when distance has crept in, but not so much when there are real unresolved issues that are highly contentious. Still, give it a try and see if you can strengthen the bond and close up the distance. Then you may have more success addressing difficult issues.
If you practice this over a month, you may find that there is a real turnaround in the level of interaction between you, and in the sense of connection.
Step 3: Make Plans to do Things Together
Once you feel some connection coming back naturally as a result of more conversation and interaction, you can go to the next step with is to spend more planned time together. Many couples try the reverse order, which is to plan time together and then start talking, but I think the talking should come first. It makes the time together more useful and less likely to feel like a failure. If you've been living together yet apart for a long time, then throwing yourselves together on dates may fall flat.
By the Way . . .
This article is aimed at couples, but showing interest is the basis of all relationships including friendship, parent and child, work partners, or even more casual relationships. When you show real interest in someone, most every time they will want to connect with you more. Give it a try.