How to make a Long Term Relationship Work

Last week we talked about how to make the sometimes angst-ridden friends with benefits relationships work. This week, it’s all about the long haul. When you’ve finally found that certain someone who you want to be with forever and ever, how do you move past the let’s-gaze-at-shooting star stage to something more lasting? Though every relationship is unique – and some need more attention than others – here are 5 tips toward a good start (or a mid-range jump-start) on long term love.

1. Be affectionate. When couples first pair up, it’s often hard for them to keep their hands off of each other. Over time, however, distance may creep in. After all, you see each other every day, in even the most unflattering shades of halogen, with toothpaste trickling out the sides of your mouths, and it’s sometimes hard to remember how much people – including you – need to touch and be touched. Try to sneak a few forehead or full-on mouth kisses in, hug a little longer, spend a lazy afternoon in bed together, or slip into the shower for a mutual rub-down. Showing affection is one way to express your love, affection and attraction which can all help to foster long term love.

2. Express gratitude. It’s easy to take each other for granted over time. We get into routines and people often take on certain “chores” when they live together. Yet viewing his taking out the trash as his “job” doesn’t leave much room for appreciation, does it? Try to recognize the ways you help each other out. Thank your partner with a simple “thank you” (for making the bed, emptying the dishwasher, calming the baby, walking the dog) or show your appreciation with a kiss (thus knocking out the “be affectionate” tip and this one in one fell swoop) or something a little more intimate.

3. Be gentle. Through the daily joys and challenges of long term relationships, there are bound to be times when you’ll need to take a deep breath and be gentle with your partner – and with yourself. People mess up. You are bound to have your heart broken or to break your partner’s hurt. People disappoint. When trouble strikes – and it almost always does – look for your compassion and empathy and keep your eye on the prize. Know that two caring, committed people can make it through even the biggest of messes.

4. Try to be supportive of change. Although you can almost never change a person, there are often small things we try to change for the sake of peace at home. Perhaps you’re trying to get him to get his socks into the laundry basket or your partner’s desperately trying to get you to make it on time to dinner (is “running late” your most oft-used text?). Changes takes time and practice. Rather than bring up the “you said you’d change” nag, try to focus on the good effort and occasional good results – over time, things are bound to improve.

5. Understand the ebbs and flows. Every long term love has its ups and downs – it’s the nature of the beast. When you’re dating around, it’s often easy to duck out once the going gets tough but in order to go the distance you have to come to some level of acceptance of the rough spots. It’s sort of like dealing with family – knowing that as much as they drive you crazy at times (and yes, you drive them crazy too), you’re in this thing together. Take a deep breath, remember why you love the person and keep going knowing that the good times are likely just around the corner.

To learn more about making it work, check out The Relationship Cure by Dr. John Gottman. And by all means, don’t let months or years together dull the romance – get on out there and look for a shooting star together. They’re out there.

Related MSP articles:
- Q&A: How do we spice up our sex life?
- How to talk about sex including the “what’s your number?” conversation
- What are polyamorous relationships work? Can they work? 

[Originally published in my weekly column on]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at