What Makes A Relationship Last?

How To Wear A Tunic Sweater
By Jess
14 Jul 2022

Craig and I have been together for 17 years this July. I think that’s longer than most marriages (for the record I googled it after I wrote this, the average marriage in the US is 8 years). We aren’t married (personal choice) but we’ve been in a committed relationship for a long time. The day we went to take these photos was actually our 17 year anniversary, which neither of us realized until after the fact, but it got me thinking about what makes a healthy and happy relationship work? And what makes a relationship last?

What Makes A Relationship Last?

Over the years we’ve gone through hard times together and we’ve been through great times together. For a whole host of reasons, the last year/few years have been particularly HARD. A hard pregnancy and postpartum, a baby right before Covid, losing our dog to cancer, endless illnesses, we barely left the house all winter, and then finally this spring all of us getting Covid. I know our situation is not unique.

It seems like it has been tough (relationship wise) for a lot of my friends (quite frankly ALL of my friends). Pandemic fatigue, the stress of parenting and work with the general state of the world. Focusing on my relationship has been the absolute farthest thing from my mind. I’ve been short-tempered, annoyed, and just generally burnt out. Craig too. A lot of the time we just felt out of sync.

I wish I could say there was some magic fix. There wasn’t. But one day recently I realized, things feel a little easier again.

Which leads me to the question, what makes a relationship last? And what is the key to a healthy and happy relationship?

It’s probably a bit different for everyone. I imagine any healthy relationship has ebbs and flows. Craig and I met when we were 20. I definitely didn’t know what I wanted in a life partner, and I certainly wasn’t looking for one. At the same time, when I met Craig, something just clicked.

I was with my grandfather recently, he’s 92, and he was married to my grandmother for 66 years. She passed away a month after Marin was born. They met his senior year of college as he was heading into the Marines. My grandmother was in nursing school. He said after their first date, that was it. I asked him what he thought was the key to their 66 year marriage. “When you know you know. And I just knew, and so did Helen,” he said. “We were always incredibly devoted to each other and our family,” he said.

They had 7 children. They worked as a team, prioritized spending time as a family, but also took opportunities to get away just the two of them when they could. Later in life they shared a love of golf, and had a strong group of friends that they spent a lot of time with. Mostly, they loved each other’s company, and as he shared stories and spoke of my grandmother while tears streamed down his cheeks, it was clear how much he misses her.

After we talked, I sat down to write what I thought were some of the elements of a lasting partnership and I found myself coming back to the following:

Trust

I once said in a conversation with someone who was struggling in their relationship, “if you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.” Trust is the foundation for everything else. If you are with someone you can trust, you feel safe, you can be yourself and you can speak your mind freely.

communication

No one is a mind reader. Communication is so important for any relationship to work. I think we’ve worked hard to learn one another’s communication styles and to be better at communicating. When we argue it’s usually because we’re not communicating well. I’ve learned that I have to share what I need and vice versa. And the same goes for being a good listener.

core values

Honestly the fact that at 20 years old I met someone who shared so many of my core values (without knowing it at the time) just feels like really good luck. Or maybe as my grandfather said it’s that gut feeling, when you know, you know. I don’t recall talking politics or fundamental beliefs when we met, but they form a huge part of our relationship and who we are as people. I can’t imagine being with someone that I did not align with on those things, especially now that we are raising a child together. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but to me, sharing core values with your partner is an essential part of a strong relationship.

teamwork

Every relationship is different, but a healthy one has to be a partnership. That won’t look the same for everyone, but it will take compromise and effort on both sides. We’ve both made sacrifices for one another and work to have an equal partnership. It’s not perfect but we both put in the effort to make it work.

maintain a sense of independence

Everyone needs different things from, and in their relationship, but to me maintaining a sense of independence is so important. Maybe it’s spending time with your friends, having your own hobbies or spending time alone. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own happiness. Maintaining a strong sense of self is so important.

show appreciation

Pretty simple right? I must confess I can be bad at this. It’s not that I am not appreciative, but I forget to say it. A simple thanks for cooking dinner this delicious meal or doing all the laundry goes a long way. Whether it’s saying thank you or stepping in to do a chore that you don’t normally do it’s a nice way to show your appreciation.

make time for you as a couple

It was a lot easier to do this when it was just the two of us. As soon as we had a baby EVERYONE said “don’t forget to make time for just the two of you.” To the point where I was rolling my eyes and getting a little bit annoyed. It can be really hard to do, and when we first had Marin there was also a global pandemic, alone time was pretty much off the table. We’ve had to get creative with what our alone time looks like, but we do prioritize it and it makes a big difference. When we make time just for us, there’s no shortage of great conversation and laughs, and I love that.

DON’T HOLD GRUDGES

Every relationship will have conflict. Having an argument with a partner is a normal part of a relationship. There’s no such thing as a couple that “never fights.” That’s ok. We are human beings with complex emotions, but we also have to be able to resolve those arguments and conflicts in a healthy way. Holding a grudge helps no one. You don’t have to know how to perfectly handle resolving conflicts or moving on after an argument. It takes work and practice. As long as you’re both willing to do it, that’s the key. My grandfather said, “never go to bed angry.” I’ll admit I’ve done that. I’m a work in progress.


A healthy, happy relationship requires work and commitment from both people. It’s not always simple or easy, life never is, but as my grandfather said, sometimes, when you know, you know. I feel lucky that 17 years ago, something told me I knew.

I’d love to hear, what do you think is the key to a happy lasting relationship?

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21 Comments

  1. Ashley wrote:

    Ooo I love this – happy 17 years! My husband and I are going to be together 10 years this year, married for 5.

    We’ve done so much, and actually just did a podcast with a friend on our relationship. The theme that really came through to us was that you have to be able to grow with each other. We started dating at 18, and have gone through a lot of different phases. But in every phase, even if the other person didn’t love the activity, we always supported each other. Whether is was training to run a 10k, changing jobs, starting to weight lift, garden, knit, blog, whatever — we were able to grow with each other!

    7.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes that’s so true. I think Craig and I have had the same, meeting young and growing into the people we are now together. Which has its own set of challenges but has also strengthened our relationship. Thanks for sharing Ashley.

      7.14.22 | Reply
  2. Leigh wrote:

    I’ve been with my boyfriend–whom I often call my partner–for seven years and neither of us are particularly interested in getting married, but we do talk about having children. Have you posted before about your decision not to get married? I’d love to read more about it. It’s very rare that I see/read about women in committed relationships who’ve made this choice; even one of my favorite anti-marriage writers (Jia Tolentino) recently got married because of some bureaucratic issue. I really appreciate you sharing this detail about your life–it helps to validate my own decision.

    7.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I don’t think I’ve ever written in length about it on here Leigh. It’s something I often consider doing and then chicken out. Not sure why because I don’t think it’s a big deal. You’ve given me a little push to consider talking about it on here!

      7.14.22 | Reply
    • Erica wrote:

      Hi Leigh! I have been with my partner for 12+ years. We are not married and have two kids together – almost 6 and 7 year old. There was a point in our relationship when I thought about getting married more often. I think I felt like others would give our relationship more legitimacy if we were married. The past couple of years I’ve rarely given it another thought – our newer friends assume we are married, which is fine. I generally love the life we’ve built together. If people ask why we aren’t married, my response is usually that we don’t have a good reason to get married. We aren’t religious. I was married before and don’t have the need for a traditional wedding. His parents are divorced so I think his view on marriage is somewhat shaped by that fact.

      Anyway, I just wanted to share my story since it sounds like you might be in a similar situation (unmarried, but considering kids).

      7.14.22 | Reply
  3. Allison wrote:

    I’ve been with my husband for 12 years, married for 4 and I agree with a lot of this. We were similarly lucky meeting each other young (18/19) and having extremely similar core values right off the bat. I think doing a lot of growing up together really helped us further align on our values and what we want out of life. One of the main things we’ve had to work on since the beginning of our relationship is communication it’s SO key to navigating all the big and little stuff. I don’t totally agree that there is no such thing as a couple that never fights – my husband and I have never fought. We have had disagreements obviously, but we never get heated/yell/storm off or whatever we just communicate and let each other know when we’re frustrated or need to cool off or need to end a conversation if it isn’t going anywhere. I always tell my friends that are dating that they’ll know when they find their person – your relationship may not always be perfectly easy but it shouldn’t be always hard.

    7.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s so interesting Allison I think we had a similar experience in meeting young and as we grew up, our values aligned. You’re right, “fight” probably wasn’t the right word choice, but my point was disagreements are totally normal. Sounds like you have a great and healthy way to deal with that which is awesome.

      7.14.22 | Reply
  4. Kelsey wrote:

    I agree with so much of this! I’m on the early end of a relationship, 3.5 years in and getting married next year, but all of these things are things we’ve already identified as reasons we work so well together. The #1 being we just love spending time together and have fun doing absolutely nothing together!

    I do disagree on the “don’t go to bed angry” piece. If we’ve been arguing in the evening, we’ve found we have better conversations when we go to sleep and let our emotions cool off and clear our heads a little. He tends to be hot headed and I tend to get panicky during conflict. Having some time to chill helps us both verbalize our feelings in a much healthier manner. But if we’re arguing in the morning, just some time apart will do. I think the key is consciously agreeing to set it aside and cool off and come back to it at a specific time and not just let it linger indefinitely.

    7.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s so awesome Kelsey. Great point, I think everyone is unique in how they deal with arguments or disagreements but it sounds like you have a great way of dealing with that as a couple.

      7.14.22 | Reply
  5. Bree wrote:

    Great post. My partner and I have been together for 12 years – we aren’t married (personal choice) we met when I was 21 and he was 27. We clicked, things were easy for us. Over the years societal pressures for me have been difficult ( not married ?? No kids???) people question us and I think we don’t get the acknowledgement we deserve. Married or not we are committed to one another and our friendship and relationship are who we are. We have both grown together and apart (positive ways) we are independent and dependent and have really learned how to best communicate and give each other space. While it hasn’t always been easy you’re right there are natural ebb and flows that you learn to navigate. We live in a small sq foot place and both work from home. We have created new boundaries for one another to help us navigate through Covid and beyond. We both share foundational beliefs(didn’t know or care when we met) but have unique and differing personalities. We both focus heavily on our health and well being and mtb together. It’s been fun thinking about our growth and I’ll continue to enjoy the ride with him

    7.14.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I can relate to that Bree and I’m sorry. Before we had a child together I felt like I had to constantly defend our relationship, because we also weren’t married. And then when we did have a kid I had to continue to defend our choice not to marry. I don’t really understand why anyone cares, to each their own. As women, there’s definitely so much pressure to get married and have babies, but I know plenty of couples who either don’t have kids or aren’t married are very happy and fulfilled. Very cool that you mountain bike together! Awesome hobby.

      7.14.22 | Reply
  6. Jennifer wrote:

    I think I’m the first long hauler to comment 🙂 I met my husband at 18 and we got married at 21. We are halfway through our 31st year together and nearly 29 of those married. We waited 7 years to have kids and they are both now off doing young adult things (college, grad school). The 21 years of actively parenting kids (while they lived at home) caused many ups and downs. However, now at 50 we feel like we are 21 again – with freedom to live our own schedules and do more activities together. It’s exciting and sometimes a little sad, but all the things you mentioned are still important. Communication, time apart and making time for one another are all critical – no matter how many years you are together!

    7.14.22 | Reply
    • Ashley wrote:

      Oh Jennifer this is so fun! My husband & waited to have kids until a bit later, but still had our first st 27 — we’re hoping to live a fabulous 50s life like you’re describing, and your story just sounds wonderful ❤️

      7.15.22 | Reply
      • Jess wrote:

        I agree Ashley! Love hearing from someone who’s been through it and is now rediscovering a new chapter with grown kids. Thanks for sharing Jennifer.

        7.15.22 | Reply
  7. Kelly wrote:

    “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” If you like the bed made every morning because you like a made bed to come home to or want to have an accomplishment early in the day like me, then do it. I promise you don’t do things just as they wish you did, so stop sweating the small things and start appreciating the things that matter, like showing up and supporting you. Those are bigger than the expectations you have about the little things.

    7.14.22 | Reply
  8. Laughlin wrote:

    Hi Jess! I agree with all of these and would add mutual respect as well. My husband and I have been together 8.5 years and we are a bit “unorthodox “ as well, we met when I was 21 and he was 39. Like your grandparents, we just knew. I would have been happy not to get married (I never thought I would, let alone at 23) but he’s in the military and it was a necessity and I’m glad we did. We have actually never had a fight and I hope it stays that way! Disagreements of course, but never an actual fight. When people ask we often say every relationship problem can be traced back to lack of or poor communication. We both made a conscious choice to sit down towards the beginning and go over what we value, what we expect, and what we want to learn from and do differently than our past relationships and our parents. Continuing to check in with each other is key.

    7.15.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes! I totally agree Laughlin. And you’re spot on with the communication part. Whenever we’re not in sync it’s because we’re not communicating well. Not always easy but good to know that it’s something we can always work on.

      7.15.22 | Reply
  9. Carolyn wrote:

    “Dont hold grudges.”
    Often I forget the details of a disagreement with my partner. I find family and friends to whom I have vented to will remember the details, sometimes bringing up a disagreement I can barely recall. Sometimes this makes be doubt myself – have I just swept things under the rug.

    Can venting to others be more damaging to a relationship? I might vent but don’t always share how things resolve so to them whatever was bothering me still exist so they still worry. Its as if they hold the “grudge” when I’ve moved on.
    Does this happen to others?

    7.15.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I don’t think it’s necessarily damaging. I think it’s pretty normal to vent to your friends about things. I know my friend group does it but I guess maybe it’s the “what” you’re venting about. If it’s cause for concern maybe there’s a reason. Always a good opportunity to speak to a therapist too because your conversations are confidential and you can vent without the need to rehash things you’ve moved on from.

      7.15.22 | Reply
  10. Mel wrote:

    In no particular order: communication, respect, playfulness, sex and friendship. We’ve been together 14 years, married 8, 2 kids and are incredibly happy overall but it was a journey to get here and for us we need those 5 things. We communicate openly and quickly (mad? dont stew just say what’s going on in your head. try to be objective in arguments and trust that they are coming from a good place). Respect, to each other and about each other. Ever notice how some couples ‘pick’ on their spouse around others? dont do that. Play. Laughter and play is incredible. It’s particularly important while fighting. Sex. Why has no one mentioned sex? It’s a pretty big component in relationships and a great contributor do better communication and play….If your sex life sucks and or your partner isn’t contributing let’s bring in our friend communication and work on it. Sex is the sometimes the frosting on the cake, and there are times it is the whole damn cake. Friendship – the good old fashioned this is my pal who I love to hang out with, and go exploring with, and watch netflix and dance in the kitchen and tell stories to.

    7.15.22 | Reply
  11. Lynn wrote:

    I found this article so real and so very comforting . I tend to go into a romantic fairytale relationship scenario that I had dreamed of when I was young and never quite got. It was like constantly reaching for a ring on the Merry Go Round. To me looking at Jess and Craig, it just looks like such a beautiful couple who have perfection .
    The 20 year old me was so naive . I was raised on the goal to marry and have kids like my parents and then friends . That was so eying thinking back. I would probably relate to Jess’s mom pretty well but she seems much more modern than my mom . She raised an amazing daughter.
    I fell madly in love with a very handsome guy on a blind date who had such a wonderful and loving family . I could not take my eyes off him in his khaki suit and blue shirt and matching tie. He was tan and had the whitest teeth and green eyes. By the end of that summer, we were engaged and he spent his last College year at Wharton while I was in Nursing School. The problem was that after we married that next June, I realized that I did not even really know him at all . We never talked about values or our dreams and he seemed to always be looking at other young women when I was told I was quite lovely. And , unfortunately they were attracted to him back . A sudden surprise pregnancy after 2 months freaked this immature boy/man out totally and suddenly I realized he wasn’t going to be my forever best friend or even be a good Dad. He remained unfaithful and he was never there for me in the ways that were critical. My point is that my young self didn’t realize that I deserved better, so much better than I ever got. My biggest mistake is staying . He took my confidence and made me feel I was “less than” and I would not make it alone raising two children . He was so wrong . Yes, he left me. Yes, I lost my beautiful farm in Vermont at Auction, but I got so much stronger and wiser . I worked a really good job. I paid my own rent with a little help from my loving parents . My son got a full scholarship to Rutgers and my daughter got the help she needed. I had many good friends . My point of all this is for those of you struggling with huge decisions . My forever person came many years later. He accepted me as is. He dried my tears and always asked how he could make me feel better. He fed my son when he was seriously ill and eventually when I sadly lost him.
    Now we are not young any longer. We watch movies . We walk or we bike . We read quietly and we hold hands. We take care of each other when either of us is sick . That’s a lot now because he had dementia. He knows me and he loves me and I just do the things he cannot do with him. I didn’t know myself at 20 . But I do know my worth now very well and so does my sweet husband of 19 years . It’s a solid kind of love now. It’s not the 20 year old dive in crazy attraction , but it’s still there when we reach for eachother’s hands during the night. Remember all that Jess said because it’s true and it’s important. It will take you through life and find the one that you just know will be your forever person . Thank you for reading this my friends.
    Lynn

    7.17.22 | Reply

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