Sex & Relationships

The Honeymoon Phase Is Over. Now What?

Eight relationship experts share unspoken truths about long-term relationships.

Experts share surprising facts about long-term relationships.
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A few winters ago, I was sitting next to a good friend on a tiny couch in an even tinier studio apartment, watching lovesick teens pine after each other on Netflix’s holiday film Let It Snow. When Kiernan Shipka’s central will-they-won’t-they romance was finally resolved, sealed with a first kiss, my friend muttered under her breath, “Just wait, you’ll feel trapped as hell in five years.” I laughed, she laughed, we both laughed. At that point, I’d been with the same person for nearly four years, and she for seven or eight. So we were familiar with the short-lived honeymoon period, and how long-term relationships bring their own sets of challenges.

My friend and I weren’t unusual in our coupledom. We’re now in the midst of a madcap summer wedding season, with back-to-back events cannibalizing our weekends. It echoes a Statista survey published in 2019, which found that 25% of respondents between the ages of 18 to 29 were married. In long-term relationships, the work changes from, How do I make a meaningful connection with this person I like, to How do I maintain a meaningful connection with this person I’ve chosen.

"Long-term relationships will change you — either for better or for worse," says Jianny Adamo, a counselor and relationship coach at Fearless Love. "Love has the power to transform us, so hopefully we have chosen well and picked a partner who can grow with us. [Their] friends and family become our friends and family and vice versa, [and] their debts or assets will either take or give to our relationship."

And inevitably, every long-term couple will go through rough patches in their relationship. The key to making it last? Remembering that, no matter what, you and your partner are on the same team. Below, eight experts share helpful expectations about long-term coupledom.

1

Questioning Your Relationship Is Normal

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“Psychologists estimate that the intoxicating feeling of passionate love lasts from about 18 months to, at best, three years,” says Katie Lasson, a sexologist and relationship advisor for the adult sex shop Peaches and Screams. So when that high dissipates, it’s natural for some worries to creep in.

"Even if you’re deeply in love with your partner, it’s perfectly normal to occasionally question your relationship," adds Jonathan Bennett, a dating and relationships coach. "Everyone has doubts from time to time, whether it’s about the future of the relationship or if your partner truly is 'The One.' As long as the doubts aren’t lingering and constant, they're normal."

2

You'll Experience Temptation

Being in a relationship doesn't prevent you from being attracted to other people. In fact, having a crush while in a relationship is pretty common. "Even if you stay away from temptation, it can occasionally find you," Bennett says. "Social media pretty much guarantees you’re going to interact with people from your past and present who might not have the best of intentions. However, being aware of the temptation allows you to keep your guard up and fight it."

There are practical ways to combat this issue, says Lasson, who suggests experimenting with new couple outings, adventures, and date nights. Ultimately, it’s all about effort, and where that effort is being directed.

3

Long-Term Relationships Can Feel Boring

The dating cycle practically begets drama and next-day gossip sessions. While relationships can free you from those highs and lows, they can sometimes feel boring by comparison. "This isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Bennett says. “It’s important to realize that the excitement and raw passion of the early 'in love' phase will fade. Those who truly love each other, however, will work to find joy and happiness every day. When you achieve this, you’ll know your relationship is built to last."

But be careful not to rely solely on your partner for excitement. “One of the main reason that things start to go wrong in a long term-relationship is that one or both of the partners start to expect too much from each other,” says Tatyana Dyachenko, another sex and relationship expert at Peaches and Screams. “They start to rely on their partner to make them happy, [which] puts too much pressure on the relationship. No one can fill that role for you.”

4

It's OK To Be Vulnerable

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In the last decade, researcher and author Brené Brown has redefined vulnerability, positioning it as a power and tool for connection. But vulnerability can be scary — which is why her work feels revolutionary — because it requires sharing intimate, embarrassing, or personal stories with others. According to Barbara Winter, a psychologist and sexologist, vulnerability in a relationship is a road to total acceptance.

"[In a long-term partner], we see this separate individual, someone to whom we are not fused, who can value and love us regardless of our vulnerabilities, pains, and fears," Winter says. "While this may be present during the initial stages [of dating], it is more [developed] in long-term relationships."

5

You Have To Continue Growing — Separately

It's important for each person in a long-term relationship to have some independence from their partner. "While [your] partner may now be in the center of [your] world, their world is made of others and other pursuits," Winter says. "Some couples have difficulty navigating this fact [without it] being considered a betrayal."

Dyachenko agrees, urging both people to “practice self care regularly, and work on becoming the best versions of themselves that they can be.”

6

Forgiveness Is Key

"Forgiveness and the ability to let things go is crucial," says Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman, a life coach. "What I often see is that insults aren't forgiven, and pain is held on to. And so, when a fresh argument arises, it sits upon the previous unresolved pain and hurt. Couples that stay together for the long term have the ability to fully resolve, and then permanently put away, a dispute." His recommendation? “Yes, arguments will happen, but they need to be fully dealt with, and then forgotten about. This allows a couple to move forward daily with a fresh slate.”

Or, as Lasson puts it, “Say goodbye to your ego.”

7

Sexual Desire Changes Throughout A Relationship

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"Sexual desire waxes and wanes throughout our lives and relationships," says Rachel Needle, a psychologist and sex therapist. "Many couples struggle to keep passion alive in their relationship. Typically, at the beginning of a relationship, desire and passion are quite high. When people get comfortable in their relationships, and all of life’s other factors come into play, desire sometimes fizzles off. … You have to work at keeping the passion alive."

8

It's OK To Go To Bed Angry

The old adage that couples should never go to bed angry? Not all experts agree. "After a long day, you’re tired and extra cranky and this is not a good combination for effective conflict management," says Samantha Burns, a relationship counselor and dating coach. "Rather than rehashing the same points and escalating an argument, sometimes it’s best to just go to bed. You tend to have a clearer mind when you wake up, and in the calm of the morning, the issue may no longer feel like a big deal. You can work through it more rationally."

9

Your Partner's Cute Quirks Might Bug You Someday

Maybe they hog the blankets at night. Maybe they’re extremely particular about an exercise regimen. Be warned: These things you might find endearing on Day 1 could sour overtime. "I’m sure you’ve been told before that you can’t change someone and you have to accept him or her as is," Burns says. "This can be extremely challenging in a romantic relationship, when aspects of someone’s personality or lifestyle get under your skin."

Experts agree it's OK to be annoyed from time to time. Just try not to dwell on day-to-day irritations. In fact, Lasson recommends choosing positivity five times more often than negativity, while also leaving room for occasional slip ups.

Adds Burns, "Some long-term couples have an incredible ability to focus on the good. You can begin to do this with a daily gratitude practice in which you express appreciation for at least one thoughtful thing your partner did that day. This will slowly change your relationship dynamic because each of you will want to ensure you’ve done something sweet so your partner can genuinely thank you."

10

Arguments Are Normal

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When you're in a long-term relationship, arguing is inevitable. It doesn't matter whether it's a tiny squabble over the dishes or a serious disagreement. "How you repair the damage after a fight is actually more important than the content about which you’re arguing," Burns says.

She breaks down common habits: "Many couples have a dysfunctional dance in which one partner pursues the conflict in hopes of resolution, and when the other partner doesn’t respond, shuts down, or ignores the issue. The pursuer tends to yell, cry, or engage in other negative behaviors for attention. Learning how to change this dynamic, which involves listening skills, understanding and validating your partner’s emotional experiences, is a key to successful long-term relationships.

11

Yes, You Can Share A Bathroom & Have A Sex Life

"Many couples have an open-door policy when it comes to bathroom etiquette, and their sex lives are thriving," Burns says. "I'm not saying there’s a direct correlation between chatting with your partner as they go Number 2 and having toe-curling sex, but there is a level of comfort, intimacy, and acceptance that comes with sharing a bathroom. It shows that at your grossest or sexiest, your partner loves you all the same." However, every couple is different. To each their own.

Experts:

Jianny Adamo, LMHC, LPC, counselor and relationship coach at Fearless Love

Katie Lasson, sexologist and relationship advisor for Peaches and Screams

Jonathan Bennett, counselor, part-time professor, and owner of The Popular Man

Tatyana Dyachenko, sex and relationship expert at Peaches and Screams

Barbara Winter, Ph.D., psychologist and sexologist

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman, life coach and author

Rachel Needle, Psy.D., psychologist and sex therapist.

Samantha Burns, LMHC, relationship counselor and dating coach