Very few people meet the love of their life early — in high school or even earlier — and then go on to a lifelong, deep and fulfilling relationship. Without passing judgement on whether such a relationship is good or bad, it’s just a fact of life that most people have a few or even many relationships before finding a partner for a long-term commitment.
That means, by definition, that most people have experienced the heartache and loss of a broken relationship. It also means, if any of their relationships have developed beyond the stage of infatuation, that they have experienced the fairly slow process of recognizing what initially attracts them romantically to another person — and what is required to maintain and deepen the relationship over time.
Initially, people might describe the attraction as “chemistry,” or “shared values” or something more vague like “they make me feel special.” Those are indeed important considerations, but are they enough to sustain a relationship over the long haul? Writing for Psychology Today, Randi Gunther, Ph.D., says “there are some personal qualities that are guaranteed to sustain and deepen love and commitment over time that are often not as evident early in new relationships. They show up over time and are driven by the core beliefs and personal philosophies of those who are determined to live a meaningful life in whatever endeavors they participate in.”
She then goes on to list 11 qualities that fall into that category, including:
Fairness. Many couples may never analyze their relationship in terms of “rules,” but that doesn’t mean they are not living by some rules. They may implicitly understand that household chores need to be divided, and that the actual amount each does probably exists in a larger context — if one partner works outside of the home and the other does not, then they’re not likely to split chores 50-50. That’s okay if both accept the terms of the implied agreement and live by them. You can add your own list of actions — stated or simply understood — that you both agree to live by, and recognize that maintaining a relationship over the long term requires both to live by the rules.
Courage. Aristotle is probably the most important and most insightful thinker to ever consider the topic of virtue. In particular, he said that “Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others.” That is why courage makes Gunther’s list. “It is often scary to take the risks needed to challenge oneself and others in a long-term relationship when the consequences might be hard to bear,” she says. “Yet, thoughts, beliefs, and actions withheld to maintain a questionable harmony often backfire when those pent-up behaviors erupt.” It takes courage to take risks, and taking risks is crucial to the health of your relationship.
Interested and interesting. Ideally, personal growth does not cease until the day you die. If you are personally growing, it is imperative that you communicate how to your partner — it not only is a sign of openness and honesty, it makes you interesting. On the flip side, if you show that you are interested in your partner’s growth, they will truly appreciate that you want to know them better.
Resilience. It’s been said that never suffering a personal tragedy is as likely as dancing through raindrops and never getting wet. Everyone gets knocked down, and how well you respond depends on your resilience. “Though some people are just born with more capacity to rebound, resilience can also be learned,” Gunther writes. “The past is for lessons, not for rehashing or reasons to helplessly go down again in defeat.” Invite your partner in on your thoughts and feelings as you try to learn from your setbacks. That may very well also have the happy effect of increasing the intimacy of your relationship.