We’re told that long-term relationships are something to aspire to.
‘Have you met anyone yet?,’ comes the enquiry at Christmas, birthdays, and just about any family gathering.
In the face of this normalisation and expectation to follow suit around long-term romance, many of us don’t stop to question: is this really what I want?
Often, single people are presented with only rose-tinted vision when privy to other people’s serious relationships.
But, dating someone long-term isn’t all smiles.
Yes, long-term love comes with so many benefits when it’s right: an extra leg to your support system, consistent affection, stability, someone to ‘do life with’, a person to share finances with, among plenty more.
This isn’t the full picture, though.
Relate counsellor, Holly Roberts, says: ‘Culturally in the UK long relationships are celebrated, which might have its roots based in the religious nature of marriage, privileging the notion of “till death us do part”.
‘There might be a misconception that the length of a relationship equates to the strength of a relationship. But quantity doesn’t always mean quality.
‘Suffering in a long-term relationship isn’t positive and it can be damaging to our mental health.
‘We all have different needs in relationships and it’s about working out what’s right for you.’
There are four common facets in particular Holly spots in clients.
These are the less-desirable sides to long-term relationships people rarely speak about.
They take constant work
A successful relationship shouldn’t feel like hard work, but it does require continuous effort.
Holly advises: ‘Take time to have regular check ins with each other to share what is working well and what you appreciate about them and your relationship, and also what isn’t working so well.
‘We all change over time, so it’s natural to expect our relationship to change too.
‘If we don’t put the work in to keep making sure it’s meeting both your emotional needs then you might find yourself in an unhappy relationship.’
You face many life challenges
While having someone on hand to support you through life’s challenges, being in a partnership means you’ll encounter more together while still having your own separate problems.
‘If you’re in a relationship over the space of 10 or 15 years then you’re likely to come across some big life events such as the birth of children and the death of loved ones,’ Holly says.
‘These can be tricky milestones to manage and take work to compassionately hold the joy and pain that they bring.
‘Counselling can support you to improve your communication and understanding of each other to help you better navigate the ups and downs of life.’
Love feels different after some time
No one likes to admit this, but long-term relationships don’t retain that initial rush and excitement found at the start.
Holly says: ‘The initial rush of love and excitement in the honeymoon phase tends to wear off after a while.
‘If you’re in a long-term relationship you may notice how the feelings you had at the beginning of a relationship feel a little more muted over time.
‘It’s important to be prepared for this so your expectations are managed.
‘Making time for shared experiences together – whether that’s an exercise class, a date night or a gardening project – brings a sense of novelty which can help to keep that initial flame burning.’
Sex can go stale
Holly says: ‘Long-term relationships allow for the sense of trust and safety to be built up to explore sex in a meaningful way.
‘But if you’re in a monogamous relationship the sex between you and your only partner could become a little “samey”.
‘Familiarity and knowing what you and your partner likes sexually can be comforting, but also could lead to sex feeling boring and maybe a bit routine.
‘It’s helpful if couples can communicate well about this and have the confidence to say they would like to try something new or they feel like things are stagnating.
‘Opening up the conversation will allow you both to find new ways of re-energising your sex life.’
You might lose your sense of self
This is a common issue, especially among people who get into long-term relationships at a young age.
‘When you spend so much time with your partner, it might become hard to remember who you are as an individual,’ Holly says.
‘People may always refer to you and your partner as one homogenous person rather than two people.
‘If you always do things together you may feel nervous about doing things on your own.
‘It can feel reassuring to have someone as your right hand person, but perhaps think about whether you’re using them as a safety blanket.
‘They may be doing this to you too, so talk to each other about your own individual desires and aspirations and gently carve a space for you to both be individuals in your own right.’
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