3 things lasting relationships have in common
The three main ingredients for a lasting relationship may surprise you because they’re not love, sex or money...
The Beatles sang that you “all you need is love”. But if that’s all you have, chances are that your relationship may struggle to go the distance – that’s what the love scientists and researchers are saying, based on several studies.
If couples want to last the 50 years to celebrate their golden anniversary, they need to bring more pragmatic stuff to the relationship than just the sparkly, shiny feeling of being in love. So what are two of the main ingredients in the recipe for everlasting togetherness?
The answer is commitment and space, according to two studies. These attributes may not be romantic or earth-moving, but experts say that mixed with generous dollops of respect, caring and affection, they can help your relationship shuffle happily into the twilight years.
1. A commitment to going the distance
The median age for divorce in Australia has been rising steadily for two decades and is now 41.3 years for women and 44.2 for men. In 2006, a third of divorces occurred in marriages of 20 years or more at a stage in life when many would feel the real hard work of raising kids, establishing careers and paying off mortgages could be behind them.
So why are these long relationships busting open just when they can see the light of good times ahead? The Relationship Institute at UCLA in the US says it boils down to the level of commitment to the relationship that couples take into the marriage at the start. Researchers followed 172 newlyweds for 11 years and found that the marriages that went the distance – 78.5 per cent – were made up of couples who were willing to “make sacrifices” for the sake of the marriage.
The researchers said the couples with successful relationships were committed not only to each other but to the overarching relationship, and were determined to protect it.
Relationship educator and counsellor Denise Reichenbach, of Relationships Australia, uses an analogy in which the relationship is the roof of a building and the couple are individual pillars working as a team to keep the roof from caving in.
She agrees that while love is important – and being in love is likely what got the whole thing started in the first place – a successful relationship that lasts for decades requires a commonsense approach and an initial deep and real commitment to making it work in good times and bad.
“The relationship is the higher shared goal,” Reichenbach says. “With couples making a commitment to doing what they have to do to keep it strong. It’s about putting the relationship first and facing the unavoidable reality that it can’t always be smooth sailing and good times.”
2. A healthy amount of space
In a US study on couples, twice as many were unhappy with their lack of privacy and space than their sex lives, according to psychologist Terri Orbuch, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and author of 5 Simple Steps To Take Your Marriage From Good To Great (Delacorte Press).
Orbuch found that 29 per cent of spouses said they didn’t have enough “privacy or time for self” in their relationship, with more wives than husbands reporting not having enough space. The importance of space, she says, is that it gives people time to process thoughts, pursue hobbies and relax without responsibilities to others.
Reichenbach agrees that it’s important to allow partners to also pursue their own dreams, too. “Not every goal can be a joint one,” she says. “A relationship needs to have the trust and respect within it to allow each person to also be individuals.”
3. Being affectionate
Cuddling and caressing were found to be more important ingredients for couple’s long-term commitment in a 2011 study by the Kinsey Institute in the US, which looked at relationship and sexual satisfaction. And contrary to stereotypes, tenderness was found to be more important to the men than the women.
Another interesting finding was that women’s sexual satisfaction within the relationship grew over time, with those who’d been with their partner for less than 15 years less likely to report sexual satisfaction than those who’d been with their partner for more than 15 years.
b+s sex and relationship expert Dr Gabrielle Morrissey insists that while relationships can survive without sex, this physical intimacy is what most people “signed up for” when they started the relationship.
“Sex can be the glue that keeps a couple together or feeling connected – it can be what helps them feel bonded, despite the challenges in their everyday life,” Morrissey says. “Without it, they often grow apart. Couples who enjoy a regular sex life, tend to nag less, fight less and feel as if they have an ally in their life, no matter the problems.”