Long-term relationships are hard work. But, sex psychologist, therapist, and University of Florida psychology professor Laurie Mintz, PhD, says she's found a few common threads between the long-term couples who thrive counseling. Keep reading for Dr. Mintz's top tips for long-term relationship health.
- Laurie Mintz, Ph.D, Dr. Laurie Mintz, Ph.D, is an author, public speaker, professor, sexual psychologist, and certified sex and relationship therapist based in Florida.
6 therapist-approved tips for long-term relationship health
1. Work through issues as soon as they arise
Dissecting relationship problems with your S.O. can be scary, but according to Dr. Mintz, allowing issues to fester because ignoring them is easier than dealing with them only makes them grow: “The sooner you talk about it, the better,” she says.
Dissecting relationship problems can be scary, but according to sex and relationship therapist Laurie Mintz, PhD, allowing issues to fester only makes them grow.
In fact, the shared ability to tackle problems before they become worse is one of the biggest hallmarks of a relationship that’s built to last, according to Dr. Mintz, author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters--And How to Get It and A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex. This ability is a sign of strong, effective communication between both parties and shows that both partners are comfortable enough to share their concerns with each other.
“That doesn't mean you're always happy,” Dr. Mintz caveats. “Real couples have real conflicts.” But being able work through issues in a respectful way, while actively listening, is a positive sign of a couple's resilience.
2. Make sex a priority
In the 1970s, psychologist Dorothy Tennov, PhD, coined the early phase of a romantic relationship as the “limerence phase." Marked by over-the-top infatuation, it typically lasts anywhere from 18 months to three years. After this period, says Dr. Mintz, it’s natural for couples to have less sex and physical intimacy.
While sexual dry spells and declined frequency among long-term couples is common, Dr. Mintz says the the happiest, longest-lasting couples make sex a priority. Aside from the numerous physical and mental health benefits of sex, research shows a positive correlation between sexual frequency and overall marital satisfaction.
For those juggling work, kids, and any other markers of a full life outside the scope of a romantic bond, making sex a priority might require putting it on your calendar. Scheduling sex might feel quite un-sexy, but according to Dr. Mintz, our idea of “spontaneous” sex actually involves a bit of planning. “Before you went out on a date, you washed your hair, you put on makeup, you put on clothes,” she points out. “That was not spontaneous. That was well-orchestrated.” Furthermore, scheduling sex dates gives both partners something to look forward to.
Dr. Mintz's best tip for initiative sex after a dry spell? Just do it: “It's like driving a car in the winter," she says. "You’ve got to scrape off the ice, and then you can have a nice drive.”
3. They accept their partner’s bids for connection
According to research from relationship psychologists John and Julie Gottman, the longest-lasting married couples regularly accept their partner’s bids for connection, or “units of emotional communication.” Common bids in relationships include—but aren’t limited to—sharing highlights from your day, sending funny videos over text, initiating a kiss, or voicing concerns about your relationship.
Turning toward our partner’s bids for affection instead of away from them shows that we deeply care about their feelings and are excited for the opportunity to connect with them, says Dr. Mintz. Negatively reacting to or blatantly ignoring our loved one’s bids for affection tells them that we don’t care—or respect—their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. “If your partner turns towards you, turn towards them,” she says.
4. They show love how their partner likes to receive it
Some folks in long-term relationships are lucky enough to express and receive love in the same way; for those who don't, it's easy to fall into a trap of not making your partner feel loved or not feeling loved by your partner. For instance, you might feel head-over-heels in love when your partner cleans out the car for you, but that doesn’t mean they feel the same way when you do it for them.
Filling your partner's cup means “giving them what they want, not what you want,” says Dr. Mintz. If you don’t already know how your partner feels valued and loved, simply ask them what you can do—or do more of—to make them feel adored.
5. They share a growth mindset
Do you believe people are in charge of their lives? Or do you believe that destiny decides it all?
If you subscribe to the first line of thought, you have what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” and that you’re in the driver’s seat of your life. You can change every facet of it, should you decide to. On the flip side, if folks have a fixed mindset about their relationship, they may be be less motivated to do the work required to maintain its healthy status.
A growth mindset renders conflicts and flaws as fixable issues that folks can overcome together rather than relationship-ending obstacles set out by the universe. And, says Dr. Mintz, it's an empowering mindset for long-term couples.
6. They try new things together
While sticking to a comfortable routine might be tempting, Dr. Mintz suggests switching things up a little for the longevity of your relationship. “The research shows that couples who try new things together do novel activities and end up feeling closer,” she says. So, consider taking a dance class, going rock climbing, or trying a new restaurant together.
Variety is the spice of life, after all, and that goes for sex, too, says Dr. Mintz. “Most couples get into a sexual routine,” she says, “but sometimes, even if it's orgasmic, it can get a little boring.”
Just as our sexual appetites change over time, our sexual interests and kinks change, too, she adds. This isn't to say you should try anything you’re uncomfortable with (please don't!), but be willing to explore and try new things in the bedroom. Asking your partner to play in new ways—and inviting them to share their fantasies—can be an exercise of trust and vulnerability. “Always communicate what you want,” adds Dr. Mintz, “and don't assume you [still] know how to push all their buttons.”
Above all, Dr. Mintz says that the longest-lasting couples hold a deep amount of respect for their partners and have a willingness to change for the better. Deciding that a relationship is worth fighting for—and doing the work necessary to breathe life into it—is what ensures a relationship’s longevity for years to come.
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