Love

9 Counterintuitive Strategies To Make A Relationship Last

Photo: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels via Canva
happy couple

A big reason relationships fail today is the assumption that healthy relationships are entirely subjective. While every couple has unique dynamics, the fundamentals of a strong partnership are largely universal. As Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Every relationship is great when things are going well. If you don't know the backstory of someone's relationship, the smiling photos on social media and public loving demeanor could be the eye of the storm in their dysfunctional relationship.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is looking for a relationship based on how good it makes you feel.

Don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t be with someone who treats you well and whose company you enjoy. But if you get into a relationship based only on the good times, then you are potentially setting yourself up for a heavy dose of dysfunction.

Even the happiest relationship has trying moments that inspire you to wonder if you’ve made a mistake. That’s to be expected when you take two people — with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives — and attempt to create a lasting union. The point isn’t for relationships to be perfect or even consistently pleasant, but the good should outweigh the bad by a significant margin.

RELATED: Forgiving Him Is The Only Way To Make Love Last — Here's How

So what makes a relationship a fruitful, positive experience?

9 Counterintuitive Strategies That Will Make Your Relationship Last

1. Be honest with yourself.

"The first principle is not to fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool." — Richard Feynman

The challenge with self-honesty is that once you acknowledge the truth of a situation, you have only three potential responses:

1. You do something to fix the problem and change the problematic future that will result.

2. You do nothing, fully aware you're on a self-imposed path to destruction.

3. You do nothing because you believe things are okay or will change.

If you aren't honest with yourself about what you want, you're unlikely to get it. You'll be blown about by the circumstances of life because you don't have a plan. There is no universally correct path. There is only one path that works best for you and the only way to know that path is to admit to yourself that you need to start walking it.

2. Agree to disagree.

If you can find someone with whom you can have a polite, constructive disagreement, you’re 85% there. You don’t need to worry about shared interests and values if you can do this. If you can’t, all the chemistry, compatibility, and shared values in the world can’t save the relationship.

If you’ve been dating someone for three months and haven’t had an argument, you’ve passed an important test.

If you’ve been dating someone for a year and haven’t had an argument, you’ve failed an equally important one.

When you first start dating someone, two individuals are trying to figure out how to exist in unison with one another. If the most notable aspects of two people's personalities don't interact well, then it won't be a successful union. After all, if you can't be yourself around someone, you won't like them enough to spend serious time around them.

As you spend more time with someone, their personality will become more exposed. They will become more comfortable around you and show you parts of themself that will likely clash. If you date someone for a year and haven't found a point of distress or disagreement, then at least one person treats the relationship as casual.

   

   

3. Ban disrespect.

Insults are different from criticism. Criticism is feedback about something you’ve said or done that was displeasing. An insult is an expression of contempt that crosses the line from critique to verbal abuse.

  • Criticism is about something wrong you've done. Insults are to make you feel bad.
  • Criticism focuses on what you've done. Insults attack who you are.
  • Criticism tries to prevent future problems. Insults only create future problems.

Many people use the two synonymously, but they are nothing alike. Giving and receiving criticism is essential for a relationship to last. There is such a thing as being "overly critical," but that's a distinction of degree, not type. Insults, however, can't be tolerated.

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4. Reach an agreement regarding children.

There are only three ways to look at this issue:

  • Wants children
  • Does not want children
  • Indifferent

Note that “undecided” is not an option. This isn’t because I don’t think some people aren’t sure about having kids. It’s because these are the only three stances in the context of what makes a relationship work.

Given that, from conception to adulthood, a child is at least a 20-year time investment, you don’t have time for “I’m not sure” or “Maybe one day.”

If you are the person who wants kids, and you're with someone who doesn't — or vice-versa — do not waste time. End the relationship and be clear about why. Please don't waste time hoping they'll change. Life is short.

People who want kids should only date people who want kids. People who don't want kids should only pair up with people who don't want kids. This seems straightforward and obvious, but I've met people who are convinced that a person will change their mind, and after nearly a decade together, they're left confused and angry.

5. Put politics to the side.

According to a 2020 poll by YouGov, 86% of women find it difficult to date someone of a different political affiliation. This happens because we use politics as a proxy indicator for someone's values and beliefs. On the surface, this seems like a good idea, but it's typical first-order thinking and laziness.

While other countries have more political parties to support, The United States has two parties. Most people don't support every policy and stance endorsed by the party, but they have to pick someone.

Typically, a person supports the person who most strongly aligns with the issue they feel the most strongly about and considers the other stuff the collateral damage since there's no way to throw out the bathwater without the baby.

Regardless of how important your politics are to you, here’s what I’ve found:

  • When you first start dating, politics shouldn't come up anyway. You're in the process of getting to know the person and forming a connection. Most importantly, you're having fun. Maybe your idea of having fun is to debate politics, but most people don't consider this a good time. Even if they agree with you.
  • After you've been together for some time, assuming you've done the first step correctly, you'll discover that politics by themselves never come up. The notable exception is if you're with someone whose job explicitly involves politics.

​​​​When you discover a clash in perspective, it's always worth asking yourself, "Is an agreement with me on this issue so important that I'll jeopardize the other parts of my relationship over them?" Or, said differently, "Is this hill worth dying on?"

I have no idea what's most important to you. Unless your way of earning a living depends on your politics, it's likely not worth ruining a relationship.

6. Be aware that each other keeps you together, and love keeps you from falling apart.

You only need two things to make a relationship last:

1. You need to like someone enough to enjoy spending time around them when you aren’t having sex.

2. You need to love someone enough to be okay with the parts of them you dislike.

Liking someone is more important than loving them. Neurochemically speaking, falling in love is no different than doing cocaine. The chemicals released during sex are enough to make someone fall in love with you. Even more surprisingly, you don't even have to like someone to be in love with them.

You can hate them because of the fear they inspire in you, but neurochemically still be in love with them. Stockholm Syndrome is specifically the feelings of affection that a person develops for their captor or abuser.

However, being liked is different. No one can force someone to like them. When you like someone, you enjoy spending time with them, regardless of what you do. When you're with someone you like, an eternity feels like it passes instantly, and every instant is eternally fixed in your memory.

When you like each other, you naturally are motivated to spend time together and continue learning about one another. You can more easily have fun and look forward to each day together. It's hard to get tired of someone you like, and that's the whole idea of a lasting, happy relationship: you have to like each other.

However, every day won't be a picnic. There will be times when you make each other angry. Mistakes will be made, and misunderstandings will occur. Along with your ability to have a conversation and solve problems, love-inspired devotion, and commitment are what keep you together for the long haul when you feel like, in the short term, you'd rather be apart.

You'll fall in love by having sex and spending time together. Work on liking one another more, and the magic will never leave.

Patrice O'Neal has great commentary on this, albeit only from the guys ’s perspective.

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7. Accept that romantic love is not unconditional.

Romantic love is not unconditional. If it were, you'd feel the same way for your spouse as the homeless man at the gas station. The fact that you chose to be with them (and them, with you) means that conditions were met.

You don't have to know exactly what those conditions were. All you need to understand is that becoming a worse version of who you were when you started dating in any area through inaction or indolence is the death of any relationship.

Take note that I said through "inaction or indolence" and "worse than who you were when you started dating." Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes, you get laid off, or work becomes so busy that you can't make it to the gym. You might mess up and have too much to drink or lose your temper. Part of a relationship is being there for a person when life sucks.

how to make a relationship lastPhoto: Syda Productions via Canva

It's a major problem when a person enters a relationship one day, and then, for no reason, they start regressing. You can't get with someone who plays video games all day and doesn't work out and then get upset when, three years into the relationship, he would rather play Playstation 5 than take a hike with you.

Yes, sometimes people change. However, getting into a relationship based on "hope" and "potential" will make everyone frustrated if neither is fulfilled.

8. Manage expectations and trade-offs.

Understand that everything is a trade-off. You can have anything. You just can't have everything. It's important to be honest with yourself about traits that are important to you. And let's simplify traits down to something easy to work with but still accurate enough to make useful predictions.

Physical attraction, emotional stability, functional intelligence. While we'd like to get someone who rates highly for our personal preferences in all categories, it's better to assume that you can't get everything. In the worst-case scenario, you're not disappointed. In the best case, you're pleasantly surprised.

Instead, you'll have to pick two things that are important to you. Rank them like this:

  • One that is necessary. Imagine your ideal partner can only have one trait of those three.
  • One that is sufficient. This is a requirement, but you’re willing to take less of it if you get more of the first category.
  • One that you’re willing to go without. It most likely won’t be this way, but lower expectations are the secret to happiness.

Every person is different and wants different things in a relationship. However, keep in mind that each configuration has pros and cons.

Someone who is beautiful and emotionally grounded might be hard for someone seeking mental stimulation. Or, you might think you want someone stoic, but their inability to relate to your emotional experience of the world makes you feel like you're with a robot.

Everything we want, even the good, comes with a trade-off. When determining which traits work best for you, consider the potential downside of each trait. Then, ask yourself which ones you can tolerate and which are a no-go.

Avoiding big problems is far more important than focusing on big successes. Everyone says you should try to get everything, but that's impossible. You will have to give up something, but that's because part of a relationship is growth and development together.

9. Commit to the relationship over one another.

“Get to know somebody and you learn a lot about em; Won’t be long before you start to doubt em; Tell yourself you’ll be better off without em; Then you go back in the party and make a scene about em” — J. Cole, “G.O.M.D.”

Relationships are emergent systems. That is, two individual lives come together and form a new lifestyle. The more time you spend together, the less you become two distinct people.

I don't mean this to say that you lose your identity or autonomy. Instead, I mean that more of your existence is defined by the role this person plays in your life. Your identity results from the time and energy invested, the trials and tribulations conquered, and the progress and victories celebrated.

This is why making the relationship the highest priority is important — not one another. If you behave in a way that ensures the relationship remains strong, you will occasionally do things that you'd prefer not to or make sacrifices that you don't want to, but the idea is that you get a partner in life in return

A strong relationship can resist forces that attempt to dissolve or disintegrate it. Many things can weaken or end a relationship. You only need to understand the ways to keep it strong.

All happy relationships can handle disagreement; they respect one another, earn each other's love, identify what matters most, and put the health of the relationship at the top of their priorities.

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Ed Latimore is a retired American professional boxer, influencer, and best-selling author. His work focuses on self-improvement and a practical approach to Stoic philosophy and he shares his writing on his newsletter.

This article was originally published at Ed Latimore's Substack. Reprinted with permission from the author.