What, specifically changes as your relationship goes on?
May 29, 2014 6:56 AM   Subscribe

OK people who have been in long term relationships (for our purposes 5 or more years, but the more years the better): How did/has your relationship change/d over time?

I am deeply in love with and devoted to my partner of 2+ years. We laugh a lot, share secrets, have hot sex, everything is great! Of course sometimes it's not great. We can get irritated. We have a bit harder of a time getting to that hot, sexy place than we first did, etc. And when we're really in a conflict, sometimes I feel despairing or overwhelmed. I get really insecure and fear she'll bail. This feels terrible!

So I'm wondering, for you, have intense feelings of insecurity lessened for you over time? Are you more secure? What happens, specifically, to sexual desire after 5 or 10 or 15 years? What gets harder? What gets easier? If you broke up after a long term relationship, were you taken by surprise? Relieved?

To summarize, what is easier, harder and different after many years in one relationship?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
One of the nicest things is when you can slow down on the reassurances. When my partner and I were first together, we were always sitting right next to (on top of) one another on the couch, constantly making sure we were next to one another in crowds, etc. Now there's the knowledge that he's there, even when he's not. If we spend the whole night in separate rooms, we're still together, but with space. Does that make sense?
posted by xingcat at 7:08 AM on May 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have to say that being married really helps with the whole, "I'm afraid she's going to bail." The full-on committment, when taken seriously, means that even if we're really annoyed with one another, that we're in it for the long haul.

We've been married for 13 years and I think part of why we're so happy together is that we know that we're a team, and that we promised to stick it out, even when it gets shitty. We don't fight and argue, but have rational discussions where we listen to each other's point of view and come to a mutually agreeable solution to an issue.

Having common goals really helps too, because we can say, "does this decision bring us in alignment with our goal?" So even if one person wants to spend and the other person wants to save, we can agree that the common goal overrides any short-term desire. Or we brainstorm to make it work.

I really think that if you can't commit to a legally binding partnership, that there's something in the back of your head that's telling you, "it's temporary."

But that's my opinion.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:25 AM on May 29, 2014 [14 favorites]

Married 20 years. Fights have lost intensity and frequency. We are both less selfish, less needy and more loving and giving.
posted by harrietthespy at 7:46 AM on May 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

It took my husband and I five years to really feel like a team. The feeling that someone completely and totally has your back against anything the world or other people will throw at you is amazing, and having been the child of a dysfunctional marriage not at all what I expected. I figured people just stayed together until they got bored and couldn't figure out why people got so upset when people cheated it's just sex. Now I know, that the violation of trust is so much more than just the sex, that surprised the hell out of me.

It also added to our motivation to resolve arguments. Where early in the marriage we'd both argue to win, now we both step back and go wait the team is not unified how can we get back on track as efficiently as possible. This has lead to improved communication and more removal of ego from the arguments. We still have them, they are just resolved with less stress and drama.

Getting to the hot sexy place can take a bit more organizing the longer you are together, strangely enough you start to go, well we can have great sex tomorrow and keep putting it off. This is something we are working on and making times for sex really does help. As does the odd weekend away where you can reconnect and go yeah we've still got it.

As Ruthless Bunny says common goals are really important. Where is your "team" headed and both being on the same page helps cut back disagreements, though it can take some negotiating and compromise. For example we are currently working on getting debt free and that solves a lot of the whole I want a PS4/kitchenaid you spent so much money on your hobby this month sort of arguments. Our team goal is debt free, after that we can buy those things for cash.

Just things I learnt in my relationship, most of which surprised me.
posted by wwax at 7:51 AM on May 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes, the insecurity has lessened over time, but I think Ruthless Bunny may be right - I'm married, as well, and I *know* that he's not going to bail, and neither am I. I don't know if that could only be achieved through marriage/some sort of legally binding commitment.

I definitely think that once the initial attraction and newness wears off, it can be more difficult to get to the hot, sexy place, as you put it. I find that even after 10 years, we're still exploring new things and new experiences, and I think that really helps overall. (Sexually and otherwise.) If you can incorporate new things and experiences into your lives - I think it keeps things fresh.

I agree with harrietthespy - fights have lost frequency and intensity. For the most part, we know where our "problem areas" are, and we've hashed them out.

What gets harder? For me, it's making the time we spend together special. Since we live together, and spend basically each weekend together, it's easy to fall in to habits, instead of really being present with each other.

I have broken up after a long term relationship - 6-7 years. It was very sad, but also something of a relief, as we'd been having problems/arguing for a while at that point.
posted by needlegrrl at 8:00 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

15 years into an unmarried partnership, I would say I feel exactly the same way Ruthless Bunny describes, despite the no legal binding. We are a team, we have made promises to stick things out, and we have a long history of actually sticking out and working through many shitty times. We've mostly figured out how to have the disagreements although we were never big fights to begin with, and how to support each other. There is no "it's temporary" voice here. There are many things to work on; there probably always will be. But we have our lives to work on them.

Part of that, I think, is that over the course of that long, being a team has meant very different things. I'm having a hard time answering your question because every few years I'd answer it quite differently. The nature of our being a team changes over time, with life circumstances and experience.

The last three or four years of our relationship have been strongly affected by major medical issues that our relationship of fifteen, ten, maybe even five years ago would not have been able to withstand. A lot of plans we had, our previous financial arrangements, and our understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses have shifted dramatically. We've gotten through it together because we are partners firmly committed to supporting and improving and witnessing each other's lives, but it's definitely changed things dramatically. Is some of that maybe just what would have happened anyway at 15 years? I don't know.

To try to answer your specific questions, for me at 15 years:

- I don't know that 'insecurity' describes my feelings at any point, but my tendency toward jealousy certainly lessened over time.

- I absolutely feel more secure emotionally in the relationship. Now, due to the medical stuff mentioned above, I feel less secure financially and in our plans for the future, because of outside forces. But I feel more secure about knowing that even with the ground shifting under our feet in some ways, we'll find a way to deal with it together as a pair.

- It does become harder to carve out 'special' time together, you can fall into a habit of taking each other for granted. It's good to check in with yourself and be aware of that. But what 'special' time is also becomes different. I can have a damn fine date running around Home Depot with my partner for an hour picking out bathroom tile and making fun of paint colors, at this point. In some ways I would have a lot more fun doing that, than getting dressed up for fancy dinner. But it's still fun to get dressed up for a fancy dinner once in a while, and it's easy to forget that.

- A lot gets easier simply by the development of shared language, habits, shorthand for thoughts and feelings. I don't know how to name specific things.

-The comfort and shared weight of history cannot be understated, here. We have been through so, so much together. Family losses, medical problems, job losses, dream jobs, buying the house, parts of the house falling apart, travel, cat deaths, raising kittens, thousands of late nights falling asleep giggling about puns, shared ire at the neighbors, projects we've succeeded and failed at together, that shirt of his I hate, the way I make food spicier than I actually like it because I know he'll love it, the way he never ever quite gets his head shaved properly and I'm the only person in the world who knows that one place he always skips and needs help with... Every year it's more, and deeper, and more impossible to describe to anyone else. And in those times when things have gotten really hard, if I indulge myself in a brief thought of "What if I left...?", the weight of history is certainly one of the things that keeps me staying. The thought of what it would take to reach this place with someone new - I can't imagine it. I can't imagine that I'd want to even try.
posted by Stacey at 8:07 AM on May 29, 2014 [24 favorites]

First marriage=8 years, second=ten years (ongoing), third=TBA.

Fights have gotten a lot shorter. It's almost like we have a shorthand/fast track to going, "Well, that was dumb, sorry." The flipside of that is that is can be easy, too easy, to let conversations go, but not really let the issue go. You still have to do the relationship work, but you evolve into ways to have it be less fraught with stress and tension and not necessarily a four-hour state of the union every time.
posted by Lardmitten at 8:35 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

We talk about poop now. In detail. (married 13 years)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

(To be clear, that is not how we get to the hot sexy place.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2014 [16 favorites]

After 14 years, we separated.

Got easier: dropping unimportant disagreements, calming and comforting one another, anticipating needs, compensating for weaknesses, feeling secure, speaking plainly, taking risks knowing that someone had your back, relationship talks, shopping and planning, acting as a team.

Got harder: spontaneity, finding new things to discuss, thrilling each other, returning to previous levels of excitement, having patience for persistent irritating differences, avoiding "you always" and "you never" sorts of thoughts.

Got weaker: sense of separateness, individuality, boundaries. Conception of how to function in the world without considering and consulting each other. Memory of who we were on our own vs. just in relation to one another.

Post separation: not a surprise, saw it coming, tried to stop it. Relieved only in that the painful part -- the unresolvable bits, the eventual breakdown -- is over. It was incredibly, incredibly painful. Nowadays we're at peace, trying to recover and return to life. Confusing overlay of feeling old and young, like I "returned" to the way I was living before the marriage, but "a lifetime later" experience-wise. Disorienting. Sad, very sad. Regularly fighting subconscious to convince it that this is reality. Seems like a dream; or like coming out of a dream. That boundary state where you can't tell which one has more reasonable logic.

Yes, we talked about poop. See above re: boundaries.
posted by ead at 10:00 AM on May 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

After 13 years, more than a decade married, talking through our problems and being less knee-jerk in our reactions has gotten easier and easier. We are so much better at expressing our needs, at expressing our feelings without blame or negating the other person's viewpoint, and I say this as someone who is presently dealing with a current rough patch. We appreciate each other more - I try to compliment him a lot - he tries to show me love in other ways, like picking up a surprise gift - and feel a stronger love for one another. We have lived through some crappy times and places together. Instead of bemoaning our lot in life, we feel a sense that we can roll with the punches together.

Now, let's walk back up to, shall we say, the poop deck, which I think bears some connection to the ask/guess conundrum. Sometimes shit is just "shit", and sometimes it's a proxy for "bullshit" - you know, the things you feel shame about, problems, etc. One of my friends, a guy who is a gentleman in every way, almost married a woman who was so embarrassed about her body functions, she pretended she didn't have any. She would disappear and then be really, weirdly cagey about where she had been. One evening, she admitted to him that she was terrified that he would hear her urinating, because she didn't want him to think she did urinate. Her embarrassment and reticence about this issue, turned out to be just one of many secrets and shames she was actually hiding from him. For other people, though, it would just mean that they have a higher need for privacy on this issue. I think the question comes down to whether shame, or compulsion, or any of those things are involved. Over time, though, this is definitely an area that can change a lot for couples. There are a few things (not all scatalogical) I would tell my husband that I would never share with even my closest friends, where I wouldn't have said that at the beginning of our marriage.

Some couples start out with the bathroom door open, and it stays open. Others find that the door swings open over time, or for certain topics or areas. Other people feel that the door needs to be closed, forever. Once you've nursed your partner through an illness that involves projectile vomiting, or I imagine, for some people it might be seeing their wife give birth, or taking care of their needs after an injury - it can change your thoughts about each other, but that doesn't mean your sense of independent self or boundaries are obliterated. You can find other ways of keeping the mystery and excitement alive (travel is a big one for us; we love it).

Every day, there are people who walk their husband or wife through chemo, or the after effects of a C-section, and are able to maintain a sense of dignity, and support. I think that this gets easier with time for some marriages, whereas some of us are "ask" marriages where things start out open.
posted by mitschlag at 12:57 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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