7 Secrets to a Long-Lasting Relationship

Whether you’re just starting a committed relationship or you’ve got 50 years under your belt, whether your song is "Thinking Out Loud or "Love Me Tender," whether your next anniversary is paper or diamond, we all need to tend to our relationships. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 7 science-backed secrets to making a relationship last.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #229

“Mawage” may have brought you together, but after the clergyman with the speech impediment instructs you to “tweasure your wuv,” what next? Married, co-habitating, or simply in it for the long haul, any committed relationship needs a few tools to make it through the years. This week, here are 7 science-backed secrets to make your long-term relationship feel more like a Bruno Mars flash mob and less like the theme song from Married with Children

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Secret #1: Be your own person.

Before sharing your life with another adult, it’s important to have spent some time adulting yourself. You don’t have to have your life cross-indexed and color-coded, but it is important to have separated in a healthy way from your family of origin. If your alarm clock is a phone call from mom or you don’t know how to do your own laundry, invest the time to get your life on solid footing before merging it with another human’s.

Secret #2: Be a team. 

Some problems seem unsolvable—a fundamental difference in parenting styles, incurable slobitude, or opposite values around money. But the least constructive approach to sticky problems is to blame each other and fight it out.

Rather than approaching a problem as you against your partner, approach it as the two of you against the problem.

Instead, try an approach called unified detachment. Unified detachment is a fundamental shift in perspective that joins you and your partner together against the problem. Rather than approaching a problem as you against your crazy, unreasonable partner, approach the situation as the two of you united against the problem. For example, “What should we do to save money for the future?” or “How can we work together to fight less?”

Secret #3: Outweigh the negatives with positives.

A classic study out of the University of Washington asked heterosexual newlywed couples to discuss a hot-button issue in their relationship for 15 minutes. The headline-making results found that divorce could be predicted from the first three minutes of the couples’ argument. The key, it turned out, was the balance of negative and positive interactions. 

In their discussions, spouses in stable relationships predictably displayed less negative affect—contempt, belligerence, anger, defensiveness, or whining—and more positive affect, like validation, affection, and humor. 

Interestingly, for the husbands...


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.