The Secret to Successful Long-Term Relationships

a long-termed couple laying on a hammock

It’s no secret, according to a recent post in the New York Times.

“The passion ignited by a new love inevitably cools and must mature into the caring, compassion and companionship that can sustain a long-lasting relationship.”

As a dating coach for smart, strong, successful women, I spend an inordinate amount of time explaining this very simple concept. Over time, invariably, the dizzy sensation starts to fade. The obsession with being together wanes. The mask slips off, the imperfections show and become magnified. Stability and domesticity takes over. Suddenly, you’re not the couple making love five times a week and jetting off to Istanbul. You’re the couple with two crying kids that is so exhausted at the end of the day that sex is about the furthest thing from your mind.

If you aren’t content with a revolving door of partners, and like the idea of partnership and growing old with someone, what are you to do?

This should not be surprising or even disappointing. If anything, it should be predictable. The problem is that people don’t want to accept this new reality, and become disproportionately disappointed when it happens. So they break up, searching for the next high, only to find that the NEXT relationship has a completely different set of issues. The only way around this, I’d suppose, would be a George Clooney lifestyle. A series of passionate affairs, all of which are doomed to end after six months to two years. But if you aren’t content with a revolving door of partners, and like the idea of partnership and growing old with someone, what are you to do?

Sonja Lyobomirsky, a scientist I’ve cited here before, describes a slew of research-tested actions and words that can do wonders to keep love alive.

“Dr. Lyubomirsky emphasizes “the importance of appreciation”: count your blessings and resist taking a spouse for granted. Routinely remind yourself and your partner of what you appreciate about the person and the marriage.

Also important is variety, which is innately stimulating and rewarding and “critical if we want to stave off adaptation,” the psychologist writes. Mix things up, be spontaneous, change how you do things with your partner to keep your relationship “fresh, meaningful and positive.”

Novelty is a powerful aphrodisiac that can also enhance the pleasures of marital sex. But Dr. Lyubomirsky admits that “science has uncovered precious little about how to sustain passionate love.” She likens its decline to growing up or growing old, “simply part of being human.”

As for me? After six years with my wife, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I don’t miss the heady rush of blind passion, because I acutely remember the other emotions that so often surrounded it: fear, anger, and insecurity. So let me know: do you want to keep that feeling alive forever? Or are you content with the depth, comfort, and safety that comes with long-term commitment?

Read the New York Times article here and share your thoughts below.

Join our conversation (102 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 1
    Grace Pamer

    I love all the imperfections!   If you are best friends like we are then that passion never really fades.   You love each other all the more, have more shared laughs and history to look back on and know exactly how to make each other laugh.   So for me married life with all its foibles is great fun. Sure you don’t get the butterflies in your stomach so much but what does that matter when you’re happy?
    Some people I guess need that new love sensation like they do a drug. Sure its a powerful sensation but I love sharing my life with my best friend and love.

  2. 2

    An important lesson young people (and many older ones) need to learn. But our culture gas bred us with the bigger, better, faster, newer etc. mentality.   We don’t always have a good handle on what normal is.   It has been part of the curse of being a blessed nation. We don’t learn how to be content.

  3. 3
    Ronnie Ann Ryan - The Dating Coach

    Evan – I completely agree! There’s a chapter in my book called, “Perfection won’t keep you warm at night” that discusses this very topic. Just because that dizzy feeling as you call it dissipates with time, that doesn’t men its not a gold and lasting love or the wrong man. It’s normal!
    I have been married for 12 wonderful years and I will happily admit that I can still feel that thrill of new love. Recently I was driving down a road on the way to our home and saw him walking. I got the old chills from back when we were dating because seeing him was so unexpected. The idea of mixing things up makes a lot of sense to me to bring back that feeling again.
    I tell my clients that it’s easy to say “no” and leave, but the rewards often come from saying “yes” and working things out.

  4. 4

    EMK, I think you are preaching to the choir here. Most of us reading your blog do want a committed relationship. However, not everyone we date feels the same way, and therein lies the problem (the Clooney types).

  5. 5

    If you want comfort and predictability, live with your brother or sister or just stay at your parents’ house.
    I cannot stand this attitude that long term relationships/marriage “have to” lose their passion, their heat and chemistry.   The passion and the heat make life thrilling and exciting and sex exalted—and THIS, I say, within a relationship (I am not talking about superficial fly-by night “chemistry).
    There is a tone to this blog in general that passion and chemistry are chimeras, that they are ephemeral.   Nonsense!   In the right couples, you can “feel” the heat and I am talking about the long-term coupledom that I know…and the one I live  
    As for The New York Times and its “experts”…a dime a dozen

    1. 5.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Yes, “Anna”, that’s exactly what I’m saying. My relationship with my wife is just like my relationship with my sister. Great reading comprehension skills.

      And since you called my facts “nonsense”, perhaps you want to tell Wikipedia that it’s nonsense as well. This is from the page for “love”.

      “Lust is the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, and involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months. Attraction is the more individualized and romantic desire for a specific candidate for mating, which develops out of lust as commitment to an individual mate forms. Recent studies in neuroscience have indicated that as people fall in love, the brain consistently releases a certain set of chemicals, including pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which act in a manner similar to amphetamines, stimulating the brain’s pleasure center and leading to side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Research has indicated that this stage generally lasts from one and a half to three years.

      Since the lust and attraction stages are both considered temporary, a third stage is needed to account for long-term relationships. Attachment is the bonding that promotes relationships lasting for many years and even decades. Attachment is generally based on commitments such as marriage and children, or on mutual friendship based on things like shared interests. It has been linked to higher levels of the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin to a greater degree than short-term relationships have. Enzo Emanuele and coworkers reported the protein molecule known as the nerve growth factor (NGF) has high levels when people first fall in love, but these return to previous levels after one year.”

      Anything else you’d like to say to contradict my science with your feelings?

      1. 5.1.1

        Evan I second you on this. I am actually reading “The chemistry between us” (written by Larry Young PHD) which deals with this exact topic and how  our brains manipulate us  into “mating” by producing specific hormones at specific times. It’s very interesting and  contains loads of references to scientific studies that  were performed  to extrapolate these theories. There is a very interesting section on how we essentially become addicted to our partners yet are still driven to seek out sex with new partners while preserving the comfort zone we have with our existing partners. Our bodies kind of work against us – which is why one shouldn’t trust chemistry.
        Maybe Anna should read  the book.

    2. 5.2
      Evan Marc Katz

      Oh, and one more thing, “Anna”.

      Last time you were here (under a different name), you told me that I was “crude”, that you were a brilliant supermodel Ivy League type who cooks, and that you would not be staying any longer.

      Let’s just agree that the last thing is definitely true.

      1. 5.2.1

        whooooo Evan I am laughing that you had to respond to Anna 😎

        You don’t need to defend your corner. Just rise above the haters. Keep up the good work.

  6. 6

    There is someone I have been trying to get over for the last few months, and whenever I rightly note that I never had such a great personal connection with a guy in Years I just remember how I would get these horrible stomach flips from not knowing if he was going to call or follow through. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll date the next guy who does follow through, just that I need to realize this is non-negotiable. That aside, when I look for a personal connection, I’m thinking of a guy I can talk to all night and be myself around. That doesn’t disappear just because passion may fade.

  7. 7

    I think I’ll answer for Evan on this one, Ruby. It’s simple. Just don’t date the Clooney types.

  8. 8

    The NYTimes article allows readers to comment, so I would like to share my favorite comment – the comment I believe to be most true – from that long list, by “ellen” (bold mine):
    “I was divorced (more than once) when I met my husband, a widower of 8 years…  We’re married now and share our grandchildren and our children. We have a wonderful life and I’ve learned the lessons well. Respect, honesty, trust, and humility. Sounds easy, but when you keep them in mind, even when the other person is driving you crazy, you make mole hills out of mountains and THAT is the secret to any negotiation, romantic or otherwise. Less drama, people. Much, much less. Save your energy for fun and important goals, not trivial or useless arguments. Choose your battles, and then don’t fight them. Negotiate lovingly.”

  9. 9

    Anna, I am in a relationship right now where the heat, passion and chemistry you’re describing is fading. And tell you what, it’s never really been there to begin with. Ever since our first date, our relationship has felt comfortable, safe and easy. Not passionate, exalting or exciting. Did I fall in love and have butterflies? Sure. But the butterflies never last very long. I don’t know how old you are. But in my 20’s, I wanted exciting experiences (study abroad, travel, date guys with big circles of exciting friends). Today in my 30’s, I couldn’t care less. I want stability, comfort and predictability. I’d love to know the long term couples whose “heat” is apparent. I don’t see it in any long term couples that I know. What I usually see is a loving, supportive working partnership with two people on the same page. That’s what really matters in the long term, Anna.

  10. 10
    Karl R

    I’m reminded of something my wife emailed to a friend of hers:
    “Now I have my own cheerleader!   Karl always has my back.   I think I like being married!!”
    Infatuation fades. It’s important to recognize that in advance, so you’re not blindsided when it happens.
    In my opinion, it’s also important to take these relationship-sustaining ideas and turn them into habitual behaviors. It may not be possible to turn variety and surprise into habitual behaviors, but it’s easy to do with positive verbal and emotional expressions, nonsexual touching, and smiling at your partner.
    These are things I can unilaterally do to make my marriage better, stronger and longer lasting.
    “Unilateral” is not a dirty word.
    There are several regular readers who are going to be offended at the idea that they’re being encouraged to do something for their partner when their partner may not reciprocate equally (or at all).
    I benefit from a good, strong, healthy marriage. I benefit from it even if I do more work than my wife does. (I put more work into some areas. She puts more work into other areas. Any comparison between the two would be apples-to-oranges.) If I insist that our efforts be equal, then my benefit is  limited by the amount of effort my wife puts in. (Alternatively, I could try to nag her into putting in the same amount of effort that I do, which would cause enough damage to vastly outweigh the benefits.)

  11. 11

    Reading advice such as the NYT article, to stick it out when chemistry fades, has always puzzled me. Is this something people really do? I mean, we somehow manage not to trade in our child, or our dog, for a new one every two years, because the novelty has faded and we are now taking our kid, or dog, for granted. Normally people just continue to love the kid, or dog, same as they did before with no problems. Why would our relationship with a long-term partner (i.e, essentially, family) be any different? I’m racking my brain trying to think of one time I heard anyone complain that their marriage is falling apart because they no longer have butterflies in the stomach, and I’m coming up with nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen many marriages fall apart, but for valid, serious reasons. Is this danger of leaving a relationship because it no longer makes you feel weak at the knees, maybe possibly overrated?

  12. 12
    Jackie Holness

    Lots of drama in the comments today 🙂 The article sounds good…but then again I’m not married yet…plan to be married sometime this year…we will see how I feel a decade in…

  13. 13

    Six years is still a pretty young marriage. I have several friends who have been married or together for many years. I’m talking 20-30 years. They all say the same thing: that you can love your partner deeply, and lose the physical attraction for them that you used to have. Most of these friends started out with romantic and passionate relationships, too.
    You can try a million different positions, costumes, and sex toys, but sex still becomes predictable. Of course, the tradeoff is the knowledge that your partner loves you unconditionally, and you love them. One couple is even trying an open marriage, which is rather unconventional, but so far, seems to be helping their relationship more than I would have imagined. Definitely an injection of “novelty,” but not for everyone.
    Alexandra #8
    “I think I’ll answer for Evan on this one, Ruby. It’s simple. Just don’t date the Clooney types.”
    That would be easier if those types displayed themselves that way from the get-go, but they often don’t.

  14. 14

    @ Ruby, the way I see it, sex is just predictable in general. But just because you’ve run out of new positions to try, doesn’t mean that the old positions no longer feel good. That’s the nature of the beast. And the knowledge that you both love each other unconditionally, is, in my opinion, a turn-on. I didn’t have that luxury in my marriage (we were together for 22 years) and we still found each other physically attractive. We had sex on a weekly basis the entire time until I said I was moving out. Sure it was predictable, but it still felt good, because, well, it’s sex and how else can it feel? I like what Grace wrote in #1, and Alexandra in #10; each sounds like a great description of a solid, good healthy marriage, that still leaves room for physical attraction. Maybe not the hot and steamy kind that one sees in XXX-rated movies, but still a physical attraction. FWIW, my mom also told me once that, after 30 or so years together, as she and my dad grew closer together, their attraction to each other grew as well. Sure, sex with a partner of 30 years doesn’t feel like the first time with a new person would, but, from my experience of the latter, that’s probably a good thing.

  15. 15

    I expect it to get to comfort level but I don’t want to start that way (if that makes sense) because I worry there’ll be nothing to look back on otherwise. Makes me a lot pickier. At the same time, I’ve always been more passionately attached to relationships which were messy – ‘addicted to the drama’. When I think about this post it makes me feel quite serene and less lonely since I can experience my highs in outlets other than infatuation.    To me it shows why obsessing about love is a bad idea. Maybe George Clooney types are hopeless idealists?

  16. 16
    Ellen (Rebekah) aka redheadinDixie

    There seem to be two Ellens on this blog now so I am going to go by Ellen Rebekah henceforth…….
    I agree with Goldie:   Is this danger of leaving a relationship because it no longer makes you feel weak at the knees, maybe possibly overrated?
    Most marriages I know about that failed tanked cause somebody cheated or were seriously, unmedicated bi-polar, or were totally unresponsible, abusive etc.
    Starthrower68– is onto something when she says normal, average, comfortable is NOT EVER celebrated in our western culture. No, we must always be gunning for better, the best, the fancier, the bigger, the more opulent, ad nauseum. Me, as I age, I find myself trying to simplify my life. So, I had  been ok with “no butterflies” for years, not just with men, but my worklife. At some point you realize it takes too much energy/time/money/luck getting hired/fill in the blanks  to always be searching for that golden grail in every facet of life. About that time, maybe, if you’re lucky, you “go within” and seek your peace there.
    Then, on January 14, 2012 about noonish  I met HIM. He was tall and lean and walked towards me just like a cowboy I thought. lol…. And the butterflies began soon afterwards (took about a month for me)  for the first time in decades. Then lust.  Now, after 15 months, lust  only slightly mellowed.  Very slightly I might add.  But I tend slightly to be the type to put my beloved on a pedestal (maybe cause I learned the art of true appreciation/gratitude a while back) so am enjoying the butterflies right now very much!!! And so lately  I think of ways to keep feeling this magic, and of helping him continue to feel the magic.  We have spoken about our “magic” and I feel it each time he sends me a romantic text.
    Maybe if we are lucky PAST that three year* mark. Here’s hoping.
    PS Ruby 16: “that you can love your partner deeply, and lose the physical attraction for them that you used to have.” I occ. have heard of this, but imo that is not the sort of love I’d want from a man. Believe me, love them or not, that isn’t sustainable long-term. If you love them, truly love them, you find  a way to re-ignite the spark. Lose weight, learn to belly dance, somethin’!!!!
    *that three year mark only applies to the hoi polloi imo. There are couples who are each other’s true, true loves for life, who just glow with their love for each other. imho

  17. 17

    I agree with Evan here. Maybe its an incorrect way of thinking, but after being divorced I just dont think I can fall that deeply in love with another person again. Partly because of age (mid 40s just doesnt have the  open-mindedness and unbridled passion as 20s) and the skepticism that comes with “been there done that”.
    I admire folks who can be together for decades. But if you had that long relationship already and it failed, then the odds of it happening again are slim. So you just transition into George Clooney mode of short term gigs. Of course it becomes exponentially harder without his money and looks but consecutive short term relationships is a more likely scenario once you reach middle age.
    This is one of those times where I hope I am wrong, but realistically, long term relationships are usually (not always)   borne pre- middle age.

  18. 18
    Karl R

    Goldie asked: (#13)
    “Reading advice such as the NYT article, to stick it out when chemistry fades, has always puzzled me. Is this something people really do?”
    Goldie asked:  (#13)
    “I’m racking my brain trying to think of one time I heard anyone complain that their marriage is falling apart because they no longer have butterflies in the stomach, and I’m coming up with nothing.”
    More often people like this end up breaking up before the marriage.
    Ruby said: (#16)
    “You can try a million different positions, costumes, and sex toys, but sex still becomes predictable. Of course, the tradeoff is the knowledge that your partner loves you unconditionally, and you love them.”
    You’re overlooking another benefit. My wife and I aren’t trying to guess what will turn each other on. We have a few variations that we do, because those are the things that work best.
    Anna said: (#5)
    “If you want comfort and predictability, live with your brother or sister or just stay at your parents’ house. […] The passion and the heat make life thrilling and exciting and sex exalted”
    Think it through. If the choice is between doing our favorite three sex acts (again) or combining our 9th, 16th and 23rd favorite sex acts (none of which we’ve done recently), which do you think sounds more “thrilling and exciting”  to us?
    I’m willing to try new things, because I may discover that I like them. But most of the time I’d rather do predictable things that I already know that I’ll enjoy.

  19. 19

    John. 20  
    Im a fan of neuroscience. The brain is designed so that you can fall in love at any age so long as you are breathing. I think I just saw an article on MSN about a 97 year old that just fell in love and got married.
    In the 2 years after my divorce I couldn’t imagine falling in love again. You need time to heal and be open hearted also. Short term gigs may be part of the healing process. If depression is a problem that can be helped also.   

  20. 20

    Re 5 – Thrilling, exciting and exalted?
    i think   if someone wants that from a relationship maybe they are just a bit bored with their their life and are looking for an escape. Relationships are a part of life and that does include annoyance, boredom, tedium, predictability, routine as well as intimacy, joys, love.  
    it,s a relationship, not an extended drug trip from real life.  maybe we,re not supposed to feel elated all the time.  
    i know couples dealing with miscarriage, stillborn twins, terminal illnesses, Alzheimer’s, even just newborns. It,s not thrilling.   it would not exalt me at all to be sick,   tired and expected to excite someone.   Maybe I want to feel listless and indifferent for an evening. or a week. Two weeks might be pushing it.
    A cautionary tale is Madame Bovary. For one with a happy ending, sense and sensibility or far from the madding crowd.
    re chemistry and attraction, it means different things to different people it seems. but we would do well to ask ourselves if what we find attractive is actually compatible with a long term relationship.

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