Whenever you broach the topic of love with most people, they will tell you, “When you find the one, you just know.” If you’re rolling your eyes because you’ve heard this a million times as I have, trust me, I feel you. While there is validity in recognizing compatibility with a potential partner, it takes far more than compatibility to create a healthy, lasting relationship with anyone (no matter how great they are).
Love and attraction are actually quite scientific and go far beyond whether someone looks good or likes the things that you like. However, I’ll spare you the details and break it down in a way you won’t forget.
Imagine you have found and purchased your dream car. It’s brand new, it brings you excitement, you find joy in sharing it with others, and you put in extra work to keep it looking fabulous. But, after a while, it just becomes a car. You stop investing in it as much and you don’t feel the need to show it off. The most important thing to you over time is that it gets you where you need to go. However, if you aren’t replacing your tires, changing your oil, or getting regular maintenance, that once shiny, new car becomes a hunk of metal on the side of the road.
What does a car have to do with a healthy relationship? Think of love and attraction as that excitement you have when you first buy your dream car. You and your partner feel in sync, you’re thriving, they don’t annoy you yet, and you don’t have to put in much effort to reap joy from your initial investment, which is the relationship itself. You get to relish your time with your partner, feel them out, and learn new things about them and from them, and you get to share the joy of the newness of this partnership you’ve started with people you care about.
But, after a while, that honeymoon phase goes away. You get to a point where you could probably finish their sentences. You are able to see them as a whole person (good traits and bad traits), and that joy (if not purposefully maintained) fades. You and your partner may lose that initial spark. This is when you may experience more turbulence in your relationship. So how do we keep our relationships flourishing and thriving despite how much time we’ve invested in our partner?
Of course, love is important. Checking in with yourself and your partner and ensuring that the love you initially felt is still existing inside of you is important. But *my* philosophy on maintaining a long-term relationship beyond mutual attraction is built on three easy-to-remember pillars:
- Shared Activities
Without these three pillars of love, your relationship, too, will end up as a hunk of metal on the side of the road.
When we get in the rhythm of a relationship, we tend to use a lot of our shared time with our partner doing mandatory things. Our shared activities consist of household work, managing kids, earning income, and other necessary activities to survive. All of these are valid, important, and great ways to ensure you get time with your partner. However, how long can doing the dishes together realistically hold your relationship together? The key here is intention. Putting intention behind shared activities may be finding a skill neither of you know and learning it together, teaching one another new skills that one of you may already be good at, or setting aside quality time doing something you both already enjoy, like listening to an audiobook together and discussing your thoughts on it. These intentional activities promote what I like to call “entanglement.” The more “entangled” you are with one another, the more value you see in their personhood, in their place in your life, and the more general appreciation you have for and with that person because something that you enjoy is associated with someone you enjoy. This adds longevity to your mutual joy, love, and attraction.
On the contrary, we are evolving humans. Who I am today is not who I was last year and is definitely not who I will be a year from now. My interests change, my hobbies change, my perspectives change, my passions change, and so on and so forth. Having shared activities is important so that you can grow and evolve in your partnership. But having space to grow as an individual helps you not only keep that excitement of being able to constantly learn from your partner and teach your partner what you’re into these days but also helps you establish your own individual joy to bring back into your relationship. Joy doesn’t grow on trees, and it definitely won’t exist in your relationship without intention. When we are fulfilled in our individual lives, that spills over into our relationships of all kinds, but especially our romantic ones.
I know, I know, this sounds cliché, but hear me out. It’s easy to say communication is key, but it’s way easier said than done. In short: lack of communication leads to resentment. If you aren’t communicating with your partner what you don’t like about how they treat you or behave around you, they don’t know to change, and you just grow angry and eventually tune them and your feelings toward them out. But if you aren’t communicating what they are doing right, what you LOVE that they do, and what you appreciate about them, then they don’t know to keep doing it and may feel undervalued, and you are then stuck in a relationship with someone who knows how to make you feel good, but may not do it because they don’t know it’s needed. Confrontation isn’t always fun, especially with someone you adore, but it’s way better than losing someone because you didn’t speak up.
So, are relationships the same as a new car? Of course not. They are far more complex than that, but if you aren’t putting intention behind shared activities, time for individuality, and communication, then your relationship will end up like an ill-maintained car, no matter how nice it was at the beginning.
To sum it up: When you find someone worth your time, you’ll know. But don’t stop there. Do the work, invest in your partnership, and maintain intention so that your partnership remains healthy, happy, and a pleasure to be a part of.
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Autumn Morris is a Certified Intimacy Educator who works to help curious humans connect love, sex, intimacy, and life in 2020. Kind of like Dr. Ruth meets TikTok.
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