Until very recently, I’ve always been one of those perpetually single types: you know, the kind who has a new crush every week thanks to the dozen different dating apps on her phone. Now, however, I’m in my first long-term relationship (nine months and counting!) — and I have to admit, it’s a super comforting feeling to finally have a partner who I can always count on, instead of just one mediocre fling after another. But aside from all the lovey-dovey stuff, what are long-term relationships really like? I’ve quickly learned that Maroon 5 was right all along: it’s not always rainbows and butterflies, no matter how much you and your partner love each other.
“Long-term relationships will change you — either for better or for worse,” Jianny Adamo, Counselor and Certified Relationship Coach at Fearless Love, tells Bustle. “Love has the power to transform us, so hopefully we have chosen well and picked a partner that can grow with us. [Their] friends and family become our friends and family and vice versa. Their debts or assets will either take or give to our relationship. Their ability to support, listen [to], and cherish us will be wind in our sail, but if they tend to criticize, invalidate and can’t hear you, this will take from you.”
Inevitably, every long-term couple will go through difficult phases in their relationship. The key to making it last? Remembering that, no matter what, you and your partner are on the same team and can tackle anything together — including working through rough patches. If, like me, you’re a late bloomer when it comes to relationships, here are 11 unexpected things you learn in your first long-term relationship.
1. Questioning Your Relationship Is Normal
You might think that once you’re in love and settled down, you’ll know without a doubt that your partner is “The One.” Truthfully, it’s totally normal to have the occasional doubt about your long-term relationship — and you shouldn’t feel guilty when that happens.
“Even if you’re deeply in love with your partner, it’s perfectly normal to occasionally question your relationship,” Jonathan Bennett, Dating/Relationship Coach and Owner of The Popular Man, tells Bustle. “Everyone has doubts from time to time, whether it’s about the future of the relationship or if your partner truly is ‘the one.’ As long as the doubts aren’t lingering and constant, they’re normal and even healthy.”
2. You’ll Experience Temptation
Being in a relationship doesn’t prevent you from being attracted to other people sometimes: in fact, having a crush while in a relationship is totally normal.
“You will still find other people attractive and, even if you stay away from temptation, it can occasionally find you,” Bennett says. “Social media pretty much guarantees you’re going to interact with people from your past and present who might not have the best of intentions. However, being aware of the temptation allows you to keep your guard up and fight it.”
3. Long-Term Relationships Can Feel “Boring”
When you spend so much time with one other person, of course, there are going to be moments when you think, “wow, this is boring compared to being single” — but being occasionally bored in your relationship isn’t always a bad sign.
“The biggest ‘secret’ no one ever tells you about long-term relationships is that the relationship is mostly boring,” Bennett says. “This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just important to realize that the excitement and raw passion of the early ‘in love’ phase will fade to a degree. However, those who truly love each other will work to find joy and happiness in the everyday things of life. When you achieve this, you know your relationship is truly built to last.”
4. It’s OK To Be Vulnerable
By far, one of the most surprisingly amazing moments you experience in a long-term relationship is when you realize that your partner really knows you… and totally accepts you, even at your most vulnerable.
“[In a long-term partner] we see this separate individual…someone to which we are not fused, who can value us and love us regardless of our vulnerabilities, pains and fears,” Dr. Barbara Winter, Psychologist, Sexologist, and Sex/Relationship Expert, tells Bustle. “While this may be present during the initial stages [of dating], it is more adult-like in long-term relationships.”
5. In An LTR, It’s Not Always About You
If you’re still in the honeymoon phase, you and your partner might be drunk in love and want to be with each other 24/7, but it’s important for each person in a LTR to have some degree of independence from their partner.
“While [your] partner may now be in the center of [your] circle/world, their world is made of others and other pursuits as well,” Winter says. “Some couples have great difficulty navigating this stage and the fact that one person has other parts of their life (i.e. a sport or hobby) in which they are not [a] part can be considered a betrayal to the partner. It’s important to then learn the relationship is still secure and safe, and that the cultivation of creative activities might be a core value of [your] partner.”
6. Forgiveness Is Crucial
If your partner does something that hurts you, you should communicate about it and work out a solution together. But in a healthy long-term relationship, neither partner will continue to hold a grudge against the other for something that they’ve agreed to put in the past.
“Forgiveness and the ability to let things go is crucial,” Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman, Jewish matchmaker and relationship expert, tells Bustle. “Yes, arguments will happen, but they need to be fully dealt with, and then forgotten about and never brought up again. This allows a couple to move forward daily with a fresh slate. Instead, what I often see happens is that insults aren’t forgiven, and pain is held on to. And so, when a fresh argument arises, it now sits upon the previous unresolved pain and hurt. Couples that stay together for the long term have the ability to fully resolve, and then permanently put away a dispute.”
7. Sexual Desire Changes Throughout A Relationship
Dry spells can be NBD, so long as both partners are willing to talk through their intimacy issues and are able to communicate their sexual needs in an open, honest, and mature way.
“Sexual desire waxes and wanes throughout our lives and throughout our relationships,” Dr. Rachel Needle, Licensed Psychologist and Certified Sex Therapist, tells Bustle. “Many couples struggle with trying to keep the passion alive in their relationship. Typically, at the beginning of a relationship, desire and passion are quite high. When people get comfortable in their relationships and… all of life’s other factors come into play, desire sometimes fizzles off if [it’s] not worked at. You have to work at keeping the passion alive in a relationship.”
8. It’s OK To Go To Bed Angry
The old adage that couples should never go to bed angry might be good advice, but it isn’t always practical.
“After a long day, you’re tired and extra cranky and this is not a good combination for effective conflict management,” Samantha Burns, Couples Counselor, Dating Coach, and Relationship Expert at Love Successfully, tells Bustle. “Rather than rehashing the same points over and over again and escalating an argument, sometimes is best to just go to bed. You tend to have a clearer mind when you wake up and in the calm of the morning the issue may no longer feel like a big deal, so you can let it go, or work through it more rationally.”
9. Your Partner’s Cute “Quirks” Might Bug You Someday
You might initially find it cute that your partner always steals the blankets from you, but when it’s your hundredth night sharing a bed and you have an important work meeting in the morning, you’ll probably be singing a different tune.
“I’m sure you’ve been told before that you can’t change someone and you have to accept him or her as is,” Burns says. “This can be extremely challenging in a romantic relationship, when aspects of someone’s personality or lifestyle get under your skin.” It’s OK to be annoyed by your long-term partner from time to time — just remember not to dwell too much on the day-to-day irritations and always appreciate the things you love about your partner.
10. You Can Share A Bathroom And Have A Hot Sex Life
If you’ve never been in a long-term relationship, you probably cringe at the thought of your hypothetical partner seeing you during “gross” moments. In reality, when you’re truly comfortable with someone, you can witness the icky stuff and still maintain a hot sex life.
“Many close couples have an open door policy when it comes to bathroom etiquette, and their sex life is thriving,” Burns says. “I’m not saying there is a direct correlation between chatting with your partner as they go number two, and having toe-curling sex, and they certainly don’t need to occur in that order. But there is a level of comfort, intimacy, and acceptance that comes with sharing a bathroom. It shows that at your grossest or sexiest, your partner loves you all the same.”
11. Arguments Are Normal
When you’re in a long-term relationship, arguing is inevitable. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny squabble over the dishes or a serious disagreement — what really matters is how you communicate during (and after) the argument.
“How you repair the damage after a fight is actually more important than the content about which you’re arguing,” Burns says. “Many couples have a dysfunctional dance in which one partner pursues the conflict in hopes of resolution or comfort, and when the other partner doesn’t respond, shuts down, or ignores the issue, the pursuer tends to yell, cry, or engage in other negative behaviors for attention. Learning how to change this dynamic, which involves listening skills, understanding and validating your partner’s emotional experiences, is a key to successful long-term relationships.”
How To Make A Long-Term Relationship Last
Things may not always be easy, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a healthy, satisfying, loving relationship with your long-term partner — even during the bad times.
“Some long-term couples have an incredible ability to focus on the good,” Burns says. “You can begin to do this with a daily gratitude practice in which you express appreciation for at least one thoughtful thing your partner did that day. This will slowly change your relationship dynamic because each of you will want ensure you’ve done something sweet so that your partner can genuinely thank you, and you’ll be focusing on your partner’s positive actions.”
As long as you and your partner communicate well, appreciate each other, and can grow together, there’s no reason your long-term relationship ever has to end.