The dating process is hard enough — but once you finally find someone you want to commit to, one question will inevitably creep up: Will my relationship last?
Today, we’ll try to answer that. But before we do, I need to ask you a question first. What makes a relationship “successful” to you? Is it the length of time you’ve been together? Fidelity? Perceived happiness? Compatibility in certain areas? Ease? Comfort? Love? Or something else?
To answer the question, “will my relationship last?” we need to take an honest look at the truth behind our typical measurements of “success.” Because often, the ways we define success in a relationship don’t always lead to happiness.
Next, we’ll turn the pursuit of romance on its head. How should we really approach relationships if we want them to last? Instead of chasing certain “markers” of success, you’ll need to develop a whole new mindset to avoid pitfalls and setbacks in your selection process.
So without further ado, let’s begin!
Will My Relationship Last? 7 Ways to Define Success
First, let’s take a look at some of the most common characteristics that make us think a relationship is “successful.” See if you recognize any of the following reasons for staying in your current or past relationships. While these reasons may still make sense for you, keep an open mind and consider all angles.
Have you ever asked someone how long they’ve been dating, only to find they’ve been dating for 5+ years and still aren’t married? Or perhaps the reverse is true. Maybe you know someone who got married after just a short time. Do you judge the future success of the relationship by the length of time they’ve been together?
Maybe you shouldn’t. We’ve all heard the old adage of “staying together for the kids.” Likewise, we all have that female friend who loves giving her boyfriend timeline ultimatums about when she expects to get engaged, married, and have kids.
I’d argue that the length of a relationship shouldn’t be used as a measurement for determining success because it doesn’t guarantee that the relationship is healthy, happy, or sustainable. Some people who have been married for decades hate each other. That’s not the type of relationship you’d want to base your measuring stick against, is it?
Famous psychologist Esther Perel studies infidelity in relationships. Her books, Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs offer interesting glimpses into fidelity across cultures.
For instance, in places like France and other European countries, Esther explains that the general opinion of infidelity is often that it is a necessary evil in maintaining a healthy, sustainable marriage. She also provides various examples of ways in which infidelity can work — and even make some marriages more satisfying, sustainable, and healthy.
For example, a couple may have a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” Or, they may engage in the “hall pass” system. Some couples even decide to open up their relationship to bring in new and exciting partners to spice up their sex life in fun and novel ways.
While it doesn’t always work, some couples greatly benefit from such a setup. I know one couple in an open relationship, and they’ve been happily married with kids for decades. It seems, then, fidelity is not always an effective measurement for determining relationship satisfaction, longevity, or success.
Now this one is a touchy one. Can you have lots of happy experiences in your relationship but still feel unsatisfied? Or, on the flip side, is it possible to have lots of unhappy moments and still have a satisfying romantic relationship? Should happiness govern the success of a relationship?
It depends on how you view the happy and unhappy moments. You might be very happy with a partner, but instead, choose to pursue a more difficult relationship for the growth and personal transformation the latter can provide. Perhaps the partner who can keep you happy doesn’t challenge you to grow in the ways that would make you deeply happy on a personal level.
Perhaps the happiness that comes from the first partner only offers a superficial level of happiness but the latter, more challenging relationship would enable you to foster an exceptional level of personal joy, for the inner alchemy it catalyzed within you.
4. Compatibility (Sexual and Nonsexual)
I’ve met couples who have a million things in common, who share everything with one another, who love each other’s company, but who don’t have sex. Would this be deemed a successful relationship or an unsuccessful one?
It depends, I suppose, on the wants and needs of both parties. In the relationship I’m thinking of, both partners have had difficult conversations around the topic and have come to the conclusion that sex is not as important as the compatibility they enjoy in other areas. They are happily married and love one another very much.
Simultaneously, there are those in the same position who are willing to walk away from their best friends and life companions because they know that sex is a mandatory component of their own perceived success in relationships.
I also know couples who love each other deeply and have very different personal and sexual interests, but whose connection is stronger than anything I’ve ever witnessed. Perhaps compatibility isn’t the only factor that goes into creating a successful relationship.
5. Ease and Comfort
For a long time, I believed that the ease and comfort of a relationship would determine how successful the relationship ultimately is. I now believe that this may very well tie into the length of the relationship, but it is not necessarily good criteria for measuring the success of a relationship.
When things are too easy, growth stalls. People grow bored and might be inspired to look outside of the relationship for personal fulfillment, growth, and novelty.
What “The Notebook” Teaches Us About Comfort in Relationships
In the movie “The Notebook,” Noah tells Allie, “So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s going to be really hard; we’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, every day. You and me… every day.” Their love is palpable and I think everyone who has seen the movie would agree that these two are destined to be together.
But their relationship was never easy. They fight all of the time in the movie, and Allie even alludes to it when she yells at Noah for asking her to just stay with him. “Stay with you? What for? Look at us! We’re already fighting!” He responds with, “Well that’s what we do! We fight! You tell me when I’m being an arrogant son of a bitch and I tell you when you’re being a pain in the ass! Which you are, 99% of the time. I’m not afraid to hurt your feelings, you have like a two-second rebound rate and you’re back doing the next pain in the ass thing.”
Again, their love is palpable, despite the conflict. They both acknowledge that their relationship isn’t an easy one, and it’s certainly not as comfortable as her relationship with the wealthy Lon would be. However, she decides to follow her heart and pursue the path that isn’t easy or comfortable.
In my opinion, the audience agrees that this is the right choice, based on the popularity of the film. It took me years to learn that maybe love isn’t always about “easy.” Maybe it’s not about comfort. Maybe those things aren’t good measuring sticks for successful relationships.
Have you ever loved someone with all of your heart and still had to let them go? Perhaps it was due to external circumstances, an addiction, a stubborn outlook, or even an avoidant attachment style. Did the dissolution of the relationship mean that the relationship was a failure? I’d hate to think so, especially if there’s still love on both sides.
7. Something Else
You might judge a relationship successful based on marriage, kids, how much stuff you collectively own, what it looks like on paper, etc. But just because you’re married, have kids, never fight, own lots of fancy things, or seem perfect to the outside world, doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is a success.
Perhaps one or both of you are unhappy, restless, or unsatisfied in some way. Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of — couples counseling, talking with friends and family, scheduling regular date nights, but still, you feel that nagging feeling that something (elusive) is missing. This can be particularly hard, especially when everyone around you thinks you’re the perfect couple. But if one or both of you knows intuitively that something isn’t right, I wouldn’t recommend calling it a success.
Harmful Ways to Define Relationship Success
Hopefully, reexamining the above seven theories for relationship success will steer you away from pitfalls and setbacks in your selection process that might contribute to relationship failure down the road.
Defining success by external opinions, how things should be, what society says about your relationship, doesn’t mean that you’re fulfilled. If you think a relationship is successful because there is no conflict, but deep down you’re unhappy, that isn’t success, and it shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.
It can be difficult to understand these intuitive nudges but your body and intuition have a lot more storage space than your conscious awareness. Sometimes your body just knows something is wrong. Just ask Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote about this in his book Blink.
As summarized on Wikipedia: “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005) … presents in popular science format research from psychology and behavioral economics on the adaptive unconscious: mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information.” This book is a great read if you’re interested in understanding intuitive knowledge.
Beneficial Ways to Define Relationship Success
Consider what is important to you. You should always focus on how you feel. Your feelings are a guiding light. However, it’s important to tap into your feelings and question whether you’re feeling good or bad about someone you’re dating out of a space of love or fear.
If you’re operating out of a subconscious space of fear, you might notice that you feel “good” based on external validation, but not from within yourself. You might notice that your feelings about the person you’re dating or the relationship itself come from the behavior of the other person, rather from the way you genuinely feel about them and about your relationship. If you only feel good when they give you some form of validation, that may be feeding your ego, not your heart and soul.
Pay attention to your gut, your inner voice, and your intuition. Question where your feelings are being sourced from — is it love or fear? Fear is needy, contingent on external validation, and operates from a space of scarcity or fear of loss. Love operates from a space of abundance.
Will My Relationship Last? Wrap-Up
There are many ways people define success in relationships. You might have noticed yourself saying, “We never fight,” or “They’ve been together for years” as a means of assessing success. But these aren’t always the keys to a healthy, happy, or loving relationship.
What’s important is defining success for yourself. What do you need in order to say, this relationship is a success? This requires some real digging on your part to get at the truth of what you really want.
Often, a dating coach or another type of neutral third party can help you with this process. As part of my 3 month Signature Program, I can provide support as you rediscover your true desires and beliefs when it comes to relationships.
Together, with the right set of questions, we can examine your relationship mindset and make sure it’s aligned with your heart. That way, when your dating strategy leads you to the love of your life (and believe me, it will) you’ll be prepared to make your relationship last forever. Book a call with me today to get started.