Ready to Go Steady? What Is a Long-Term Relationship?

When you first start dating someone, you likely feel excited and nervous — each sighting of your new partner gives you sweaty palms. Five years later, you live together and see them every day. You care deeply about them, but at the same time, they've become a part of your life's routine and make you feel comfortable rather than nervous. 

What happens in between these two stages? And is a long-term relationship worth keeping once the butterflies fly away? 

What Is a Long-Term Relationship?

What's considered a long-term relationship depends on the eye of the beholder. Maybe you cross into long-term territory when it's "social media official," you meet each other's parents, or you say, "I love you." Whatever the line is, every relationship progresses naturally before it becomes considered long-term.

Stages of a Relationship

There are several models for the stages of a long-term relationship. What follows is a breakdown of the general progression of relationships:

Oxytocin and the Honeymoon Stage

The body's release of oxytocin dominates the first stage of a relationship. Oxytocin is a hormone released during a relationship's "honeymoon" phase, responsible for the heady, heart-racing feeling of first falling in love. 

The amount of oxytocin released in partners during the first part of their relationship may indicate the relationship's likelihood of lasting. Still, even for the happiest of couples, oxytocin levels tend to drop off after nine months to three years. 

Feeling Comfortable Around Each Other

Feeling Comfortable Around Each Other

As the body stops producing extra oxytocin, partners enter a more comfortable stage with each other. They stop putting upfronts and begin letting each other in on the deepest, darkest parts of themselves. 

It depends on the couple, but this is when partners will move in together, meet each other's families, and generally begin sharing everyday life.

At a Crossroads

While all this intimacy sounds excellent, this is often the point at which couples break up. After all, the rush of young love is gone. Partners may have suppressed bad or less attractive habits early in a relationship begin to come out of the woodwork.

‌Suddenly, your girlfriend leaves crusty dishes in the sink, or your boyfriend burps without apologizing. Even without these factors coming into play, the relationship may begin to feel "boring," leading one or both parties to leave for a rush of oxytocin elsewhere. 

If you find yourself in this relationship stage, it's time to decide whether you want to be in it for the long haul. It is the perfect time to take a step back and seriously think about your feelings.

Commitment 

The last stage we'll talk about here is the commitment stage. It can be marriage, but it doesn't have to be when partners make promises together and try to stick it out for the long haul. 

‌Even after the commitment stage, the relationship can continue to evolve. Partners may begin to feel weary of each other. Remaining together at this point still takes work.

When to Persevere 

There are certainly times when a long-term relationship is worth it. Depending on your aspirations and needs, having a partner who's always there to help can be worth losing the rush of new love. 

Here are a few signs that you may want to stay with your partner: 

You Enjoy the Rhythm of Your Life Together

long term relationship

‌You enjoy the rhythm you've found yourself in with your partner. You like giving them small gifts "just because" or doing small favors like making them tea. You want financial stability; having a partner can bring more than you like the excitement of being single. 

You Don't Want to Live Without Them.

When you're away from your partner, you count the days, hours, or minutes until you can see them again. 

You Can Imagine a Future Together

When you dream about your future, you imagine your partner in it. It is a sign that you want them in your life and is prepared to work with them to achieve a shared future. 

You Never Get Sick of Them

You fight and take time away from each other, but for the most part, you're happy to see your partner every day. You think they look cute when they've just woken up and had morning breath. 

When Is It Time to Leave a Relationship?

There can also be clear signs that it's time to end a relationship. These can apply even if you've already committed to someone, no matter how long you've been together. 

Toxic or Abusive Relationships

Let go of toxic or abusive relationships. Being single is always better than being with someone who would hurt you. If you need help with approaching this, check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline

They Aren't the Person You Fell in Love With

People change and grow. Often, people in relationships grow and change together. However, depending on life circumstances, people can also grow apart. If your partner has fundamentally changed and you no longer feel the same way about them, it's OK to end that relationship. 

You Can Imagine a Future Without Them

You have specific plans for the future and aren't sure how your partner would fit into them. Furthermore, you could see yourself without them in your life. 

The Desire Is Gone

If you find you're no longer attracted to your partner, it may be time to part ways. Desire and attraction can wax and wane in every relationship, but they shouldn't completely disappear. 

You Have Incompatible Goals

Of course, everyone has different life goals. However, when two people share a life, they agree or compromise on some plans.

Some of the stickier goals that can lead to a breakup include:

  • Children‌
  • Open versus closed relationship
  • ‌Location
  • ‌Lifestyle‌

Conclusion

If you've made a long-term commitment with your partner, it doesn't mean you get to stop working on your relationship. Every day should be filled with communication and small acts of care.

Deciding whether to commit to a long-term relationship is a difficult choice. Factors to consider are your goals in life, your compatibility with your partner, and your feelings when you're around them.

‌Even when you've committed to someone, remember that a long-term relationship requires work every day to stay healthy and fulfilling.

References:

 Why Is Oxytocin Known as the 'Love Hormone'? And 11 Other FAQs. (August 2018). Healthline. ‌

 Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples' interactive reciprocity. (August 2012). Psychoneuroendocrinology.‌

 How the chance of breaking up changes the longer your relationship lasts. (March 2016). The Washington Post. ‌

 The Fatigue of Long-Term Relationships. (August 2019). Psychology Today. ‌

 National Domestic Violence Hotline

 

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