The recipe for a lasting relationship

In the season of love, I examine what makes a relationship grow

I’ve always looked at romantic relationships as a friendship with a more intimate physical nature, and later down the line, a cohabitation, and life partnership aspect. When my friends are looking to get into the dating game, I tell them this: “Make friends with them and then go from there.” However, it’s not that simple. As relationships require both the connection established by friendship and the work it takes to maintain the connection.

In my examination of this belief, I have come to realize that such extra layers, that distinguish a romantic partnership and friendship, such as physical intimacy and life partnership might color the whole relationship. For instance, the expectation that your partnership will include cohabitation and long-term joint decision-making veers off the path of a regular friendship. There are many examples of healthy friendships in which people deeply care for each other yet disagree on ways to live life. There are much fewer examples of life partnerships that do the same. The other day, I said to my partner that we are together because we love each other, but that’s not why we are still together — it’s been the work we’ve put in, like frequent communication, that has led to our survival as a couple. I first made that comment offhand, but later I realized that it stemmed from a deeper belief of what I think makes our relationship work.

The biggest takeaway is that there are two things needed for our relationship to function: Love (or an emotional connection) and mutual hard work. It is not easy to adapt your lifestyles and worldviews and then mutually agree that you should spend a long-lasting amount of time together. I truly don’t think a healthy relationship can exist without love and hard work because, like I tell my partner, the reason we got together in the first place was the initial connection, but the reason we’ve stayed together is that we’ve worked hard to maintain it.

Hard work in relationships can mean many things, but it boils down to communication, introspection and empathy. For one, people have to talk to one another to establish boundaries and expectations regarding how they would like to be treated within the partnership. Nobody can read minds, as much as we would like to, so it’s important to communicate important feelings to your partner without bottling up emotions. Introspection is needed to deeply understand how you feel about your partner and then express that to them, along with recognizing where and how you could be a better partner and human. Finally, empathy is needed for the same reason introspection is — we are all flawed and we need to cut both ourselves and our partners some slack.

Some say that love is all you need. On a fundamental level, I couldn’t agree more. Yet, in a practical sense, a relationship could break apart while those in the relationship still love each other. Sometimes a true partnership just can’t be formed, for whatever reason — maybe logistically, or because of a disagreement on lifestyle choices.

Others say that hard work is the only thing needed to make a relationship work. By this logic, if a person works hard enough they can be with anyone, which of course isn’t true. While I recognize that effort is vital to a relationship, I think there must be a mutual connection between partners to create a long-lasting relationship.

Relationships are not easy and they take work, but they are worth it because of the love that is shared and the partnership that is cultivated. As the country music supergroup The Highwomen so eloquently says, “If we want a garden, we’re gonna have to sow some seeds.” If the garden is a relationship, let you and your partner be the carefully tending gardeners who work together to create the magic that is a beautiful relationship and grow the love that is already there.