Building an awesome and long-lasting intimate relationship in 2020 is no easy feat.
According to a longitudinal study conducted by Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, the risk of a relationship ending in its first two years is around 70%, while the UK Office for National Statistics puts the divorce rate at 42%.
While the above statistics may seem high, the rate of divorce in Western nations is showing a slow but downward trend, dropping several percentage points in the last 10 years.
At the same time, the decreasing number of couples divorcing directly correlates with the decreasing number of people getting married.
While changing societal expectations, the choice to prioritise travel, education and house-buying, alongside the choice-less aspect of not having found the right person to marry, will all be playing a part in marriage rates being at an all time low, there may be something else at play that isn’t being factored into the equation: our lack of education, knowledge and tools around how to build and sustain thriving long-term relationships.
I’m no expert when it comes to love but having been a keen observer of the relationships around me for the past 36 years, I’ve come to find that there are several key ingredients that make for an awesome intimate relationship.
1) Laugh and play together
Over the course of their 40 years together my parents have endured the death of their parents, the diagnosis of their youngest daughter with a life-limiting illness and then her death 25 years later, financial hardship, and numerous health issues. There is little chance they’d have endured all of that together and still be going strong if they weren’t able to laugh with each other.
As kids, we’re encouraged to laugh and play all the time but as we reach young adulthood things that were once so valued are replaced with indoctrination into a mentality that preaches the importance of hard work and responsibility.
All of a sudden life becomes a serious business.
But relationships can’t be serious all the time. Yes, you need to be able to face life’s inevitable challenges together but if you can’t laugh and play together through it all then how much fun is your life together going to be?
Relationships shouldn’t feel like a chore. They should be the light when things get dark.
So never ever lose your childlike spirit. Have Scrabble tournaments on rainy winter afternoons and chase each other down the beach on warm summer days.
Laugh together until your sides hurt and you worry you’re going to wet your pants.
Those are the moments that add bricks to your foundation that will ensure you’re strong enough to weather whatever life throws at you.
2) Pay attention to one another
We live in a world that is obsessed with doing at great expense to being and it is ruining our relationships.
It is now completely normal to see couples sitting across from one another in a restaurant both looking down at their phones. It makes me sad in a way that I don’t have the words for.
Awesome relationships don’t come easily. They require a lot of work and the majority of that work rests on your ability to be present with your partner.
I’m not just talking about listening when I say pay attention. I’m talking about picking up on non-verbal cues that your partner might not be okay and actively engaging with those.
I’m talking about when you’re out with friends and your partner is talking that you look at them attentively.
The thought of feeling like you’re hanging on their every word may sound ridiculous to you but bear with me because I want to share something important with you.
The one thing I’ve noticed recently about the couples I surround myself with is that when one of them is speaking in a group, the other one is looking at them and giving their words their full attention.
Watching them look at their partners with eyes that reflect love and respect is a beautiful thing to behold.
Because it’s rare. That sort of focused attention and presence has become so out of the ordinary that when you see it, it stands out like a sore thumb.
Giving your partner your presence is one of the most special gifts you could give and if you’re in a new relationship it will set you apart from almost everyone else.
3) Commit to your own personal growth
Building an awesome relationship with your partner requires that you show up every day and do your work.
Not their work. Your work.
The work of understanding your triggers, of understanding how past events and experiences have shaped you into who you are today, of understanding yourself.
You need to possess the capacity for self-reflection and a willingness to address the issues that arise when you look in the mirror — the mirror being your partner.
Too many people throw away good relationships before they have a chance to become great because they project all of their own pain and trauma onto their partner.
They see their partner as the problem rather than their hidden and unhealed wounds.
Because the problem is seen as isolated within their partner, it’s much easier to walk away.
But walking away from a relationship that is generally good and has the potential to be awesome shouldn’t be our first option. Rather what we need to be doing is getting curious about what’s being mirrored back to us about ourselves and committing to a path of personal growth.
If you’re both willing to own your stuff and work on learning and growing yourselves into the best versions of you then you’ve got yourselves some strong foundations to build on.
4) Believe you are worthy of an awesome relationship
I know that probably seems like a naff thing to say but you have to believe that you’re worthy of the thing that you want and that it’s entirely possible for you to have it.
If you think that all the good ones are taken or that all relationships eventually end up stale or unsatisfying then that’s what you’ll attract.
The reason why so many once great love stories turn sour is because people stop believing in themselves, each other and their relationship. They give up. They stop trying. They don’t believe their partnership is worth the effort.
Yes, you might not see that many awesome relationships out there but that’s only because none of us were ever taught how to build and sustain them. We’re all bumbling along blindfolded, bumping into one another, our wounds brushing up against theirs.
But just because you might not see them very often that doesn’t mean you can’t have one.
You deserve an awesome relationship and it’s completely doable for you to have just that.
But you must first believe that you are worthy of it.
If you’re willing to do the work of showing up every day, of paying attention to your partner, of committing to a path of personal growth and of believing that you deserve to have the love you want then an awesome relationship is yours for the building.
Oh, and if in amongst the work that comes with building an awesome relationship you find yourselves able to laugh and play together then you may find that building an awesome relationship doesn’t feel much like work at all.