We all know that many long-term relationships eventually become distant, conflicted, boring, and/or passionless. Some people believe that this is endemic and either move from relationship to relationship or cut their losses and settle for a disconnected relationship. But the fact that some couples do keep their love and connection alive throughout their relationship indicates that you can have a more than mediocre relationship forever.
That said, staying in love forever doesn't happen accidentally. In my many years of facilitating the healing of relationships, I've discovered five choices that successful couples consistently make.
1. Regenerating a sense of newness by staying open and curious.
At any given moment, you are either consciously choosing to be open to learning, or you are unconsciously choosing to protect against pain with some form of controlling behavior, such as anger, withdrawal, compliance, or resistance. All these and many other forms of control create distance rather than supporting love and intimacy.
Relationships stay alive when you bring newness into them. When people first meet, everything is new. Over time many people begin to feel bored with each other. The experience of newness is dampened because we try to control love and avoid pain. Controlling behavior leaves no room for newness and, in fact, is antithetical to it.
Newness can occur only when both people are open to learning about themselves and each other. Being open to learning enables both of you to continue to grow, and it is growth that creates newness. Controlling behavior stops growth, while choosing to be open to learning creates growth and newness.
2. Opening their hearts and being vulnerable.
An important aspect of being open to learning about yourself and your partner is learning how to keep your heart open to connection rather than protecting against pain by closing your heart. While we can connect intellectually when we are focused in our heads, we connect emotionally only when we are openhearted. It is emotional connection that creates intimacy and passion.
While sharing your heart makes you feel very vulnerable, it's this very vulnerability—letting each other in on your struggles and your loving feelings—that fosters intimacy.
3. Taking responsibility for their own feelings.
When you make your partner responsible for your feelings, you will try to manipulate him or her into giving you what you believe will make you feel safe, worthy, and lovable. One of the most important choices you can make to keep love alive is to learn how to be responsible for your own feelings,rather than blaming your partner for your pain or manipulating your partner into giving you the love and attention to you need to give yourself.
Self-abandonment—due to ignoring your feelings, judging yourself, numbing your feelings with addictions, and making your partner responsible for you—is the single major cause of relationship failure.
4. Practicing presence.
We connect with each other when we are present—not when we are focused on the past or future or lost in various activities and addictions. Distracting ourselves when we are together is a quick way to bring about disconnection and boredom.
5. Focusing on appreciation and gratitude rather than complaints and judgments.
Too many people use their relationship like a trash can—dumping their complaints and judgments on their partner. Complaining and judging are forms of control that create distance rather than connection. While you might feel a bit of closeness when commiserating, this isn't what creates newness and passion. While comforting each other during hard times is very loving, supporting each other in being victims will only create more pain.
Expressing true appreciation and gratitude for your partner's wonderful qualities—the qualities that led you to fall in love—is not only vital for maintaining in-love feelings but will also bring you joy.
It takes practice and commitment to be able to make these loving choices when you have mostly learned to protect yourself against pain. When two people practice staying open to learning about themselves and each other, to opening their hearts, and when they practice staying present, appreciative, grateful, and responsible for their own feelings, they will not only stay in love forever after—their love and intimacy will grow and deepen over the years.