Long-term Relationships: 13 Challenges & How-to Overcome Them

Even the best relationships can become methodic to the point of boredom and hit major hurdles. Nothing is perfect and there are ways to get through the less than best times.
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long term relationship
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Being in love and having someone to share your life with is great. It gives you the opportunity to build a lasting bond on a solid foundation. You share experiences, have fun, and overcome obstacles. But, no matter how unpredictable life can be, eventually, all relationships get stale. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a couple, thruple, or polyamorous relationship, you may need to find ways to keep the excitement alive.

At some point relationship fatigue sets in or it feels like something is missing and you start to wonder if there might be something better out there. Arguments may even come more easily. It’s easy to get stuck in the abyss of imaging a perfect relationship or perfect life when day-to-day responsibilities wear you down. We see characters on TV or read about them in books, and even if we know that it’s fiction, we can’t help but get lost in the fantasy.

According to Dr. Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., there are some things we can do to keep the spark alive as the years tick on in a relationship. We need to be able to laugh, have new experiences, be generous with our love, and communicate openly. It’s also important to make sure either partner doesn’t lose themselves as individuals.

Common long-term relationship challenges and tips to work through them.

1. Questioning your relationship is normal.

Maybe life isn’t going exactly as planned or you’ve noticed a habit of your partners that drives you completely insane. Whatever it may be, at some point, we all question if this is really the person we are going to spend the rest of our life with. The pressure of a lifetime together is a lot. If find yourself questioning if your significant other is really "the one", try imaging a future without them. If that future looks bleak, you’ll know the doubt is worth pushing through. 

2. Settling into a routine that feels boring.

At the beginning of a relationship the unknown keeps the excitement alive, and as time goes on that uncertainty fades and you settle into a routine. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can get a bit dull. Combat relationship routine fatigue by trying new things together. This could be as simple as agreeing to try a new restaurant once or week or as extreme as going sky diving. Taking a trip can break the monotony too. Figure out the level of excitement that suits everybody and plan something to shake up the routine.

PoJoe visiting the pyramids in Mexico
PoJoe on Vacation

3. Allowing sex to become an afterthought.

Lack of sex and loss of intimacy are very real issues for a lot of people in relationships. Especially when day-to-day responsibilities take priority over everything else. Research suggests that the frequency of sexual activity decreases with declining health, biological aging, and habituation to sex. This relates significantly to the duration of the relationship.

Even for younger couples, sexual activity and satisfaction drop over time. Just like you carve out time in your day to shower and eat, you might have to plan time to get laid regularly.

If sex has become methodic or non-existent, try role-playing. It might be a little rough to get started, see the clip of Phil and Claire from Modern Family on their first role-playing date below, but the experience will breathe life into a mundane sex life if you let it.

4. Petty arguments can cause long-term harm.

Is it really worth repeating that the toilet seat is up for the 100th time? Probably not. Each person comes into a relationship with their own strengths and in a best-case scenario those strengths balance each other out. Everyone has personal habits and they don’t always make sense to other people so try to avoid ridiculing your partner for something they may be doing without even realizing it.

Habits are hard to build and even harder to break. Petty arguments can lead to heated words which could cause lasting harm. It’s a lot easier to let the little things go than to risk hurting the person you love.

“Maybe I’m an idiot, but you’re definitely an idiot so I guess we’re both married to idiots. At least we have that in common.”

– Me, having a petty marital argument with my husband.

5. Criticism is easy to come by so make compliments a priority.

It's easy to be critical of someone else when you’re living with them and while you may have the best of intentions or think you are helping them to see their flaws, real damage can be done to your significant other's morale and confidence. Criticism is going to happen because we just can’t help ourselves when we get comfortable with someone to remove our filter and point out the things we notice. Be aware of it, apologize if necessary, and make it a point to drop compliments regularly so your love knows just how great they are.  

6. Major conflicts will lead to trouble if they go unresolved.

It’s important to talk about the big issues as there are things that will put stress on any relationship. Common issues that can lead to major conflicts are clashing over how to handle finances, lack of trust, snooping, being on different levels, and differing opinions on hot button issues. Any disagreement that seems to come up repeatedly will lead to unresolved tension that can affect other areas of your relationship.

For example, you might not want to have a date night if you think your partner is spending too recklessly and in turn, they may see this as you not wanting to spend time with them.

Communication is key with any major dispute. Yell at each other if you have, bottling up anger will only lead to even bigger blowouts later and if you let it fester too long you may never want to let it go. Talk the issue to death, set aside time for it if you have to, just don’t let it sit unresolved. Be honest and open, and speak with “I” statements to convey how the situation makes you feel.

7. The silent treatment feels like winning, but really everybody loses.

The good old silent treatment. I don’t know who came up with this doosey or if it naturally occurred with evolution as people got tired of yelling about the same old nonsense, but it’s a recipe for disaster. When the yelling stops and an issue still hasn’t been resolved, the only course of action seems to be not speaking at all. Stonewalling never works. How long it lasts in any given situation depends on how stubborn the parties involved are. The silent treatment does damage to your relationship and can put other live-in family members in the awkward position of being in the middle.

My husband and I have gone down this road a few times, usually, the tension gets broken by us speaking to the dog with off-hand comments about one another (see #4 about petty arguments, lol). A better way to break the tension is with a smile, hug, or gentle touch. Eventually, you are going to speak to each other again so might as well get to it sooner rather than later.

8. Unwillingness to let go of things that happened in the past.

Everybody has a past, that past includes time before they were in a relationship and time spent in the relationship. We have all done things and some of those things we may just want to forget. If this sounds like the person you love, then stop bringing up those past issues. If the issue is something you previously dealt with in your relationship and has since resolved, then there is no point in dwelling on it.

You're hurting yourself by reliving the past pain and your partner by not allowing them to move on from the wrong. If something happened before your relationship, bringing it up could break the trust built as your partner will feel like opening up to you is only giving you ammo to put them down.

9. You should be growing together, not growing apart.

As a relationship progresses it will be natural for the people in the relationship to change and evolve. Growing together is part of the glue that holds a relationship together. Even if the changes are somewhat different, as long as all parties are on the same path forward, these slight changes won’t rock the boat.

Problems arise with changes when they start to divide that path forward with one partner feeling like they are being left behind. Watch out for potential forks in the road by communicating regularly about how things are going and where you see yourselves and the relationship headed.

10. It’s easy to take your love for granted when it seems so constant.

You feel safe, secure, and stable. If you have a busy life, making it to bed together each night may seem like enough, but not spending enough time together can weaken your bond over time. It’s important to carve out that one on one time to make sure your connection remains steadfast as the years tick on.

11. Spending too much time together will cause you to lose yourself.

Common interests keep love alive, however, this shouldn’t come at the price of a person’s individuality. One of the major red flags is not having friendships outside of your relationship. Make sure that you spend some time apart and doing things with other friends. This also gives you something new to talk about when you’re back together as you can regale your beau with tales of all the fun you had.

12. Temptation exists, and it’s what you do with that temptation that matters.

You may be in an open relationship so the ability to act on temptation is allowed. If you’re not, know that it is completely normal to be attracted to people outside of your relationship and what matters is that you don’t give in to those urges. You don’t have to tell your partner either which can lead to hurt feelings or feeling like they don’t stack up. Let the temptation pass and remind yourself that you have something much better than whatever a quick fling might give you.

13. Comparing your relationship to other people will only lead to disaster.

No two people are alike and by that same token, no two relationships are alike. It’s easy to look at someone else’s union from an outsider's perspective and view it as perfect, but that is rarely the case. There is plenty that you can’t see behind closed doors and social media is only giving you part of the story. It’s okay to ask other people in relationships for advice if you need it, but make sure to keep one-to-one comparisons out of it. If you want to compare anything, compare your relationship against itself over time.  

Here’s a guide from The Gottam Institute that touches on some of the issues mentioned above. The Four Horsemen refers to the most destructive behaviors that can destroy a long-term relationship.

Dr John Gottam's Four Horsemen - the destructive behaviors that can destroy marriages - and how to stop them.
Source: The Gottam Institute

Ways to make your long-term relationship a priority and keep your partner(s) from feeling neglected:

  • Make an effort to make your partner feel special even if it’s just a small gesture. Not everything has to be over the top, sometimes something as simple as refilling the toilet paper holder when your spouse usually does it can show them that you care.
PoJoe golfing on date night
PoJoe on Date Night
  • Schedule a regular date night. It doesn’t have to be every week, but regularly enough to get out and spend some time “dating”. Rekindle that early relationship excitement by planning a fun day or evening out once in a while.
  • Talk about your goals and work toward them together.
  • Be open to change as your love evolves and you learn new things. Grow together.
  • Communicate regularly, discuss things that are bugging you before they turn into bigger issues, and talk about things that are going well. Make sure to listen when it’s your partner’s turn to speak.
  • Respect each other.
  • Be willing to forgive. Some things take time to get over, but in order to move forward in a healthy way, you have to be willing to forgive your significant other for mistakes. Let's be clear, mistakes are something like bleaching your black clothes or breaking your favorite vase, and not things like cheating or abuse.
  • Not every moment is going to be happy so look for joy even when things get rough. Even if life isn’t going exactly as planned or if you’ve hit a rough patch in your relationship, try to find the happy moments and remember this too shall pass.
  • Have a lot of fun together!
PoJoe taking a picture in a pool underwater
PoJoe Goofing Off Under Water

Whatever your current relationship status may be, take the time to nurture that bond. Spend time checking in with each other and get excited about sharing new experiences together. Don’t forget to spend some time getting naked too! Sometimes that’s the best way to break the tension during a petty fight.

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Aspiring content marketer, writing to soothe my soul. Lover of dogs, fiction novels, and a good TV binge.

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