Once the butterflies of a new relationship begin to fade away, how do you tell if the person you’re with is really the person you should spend the rest of your life with? There are a variety of factors, and there are no easy “tests” to see just how long your potential staying power lasts, but there are some things you can look for that will help you gauge long-term compatibility.
1. Your values align.
“Having a conversation about values, such as family, spirituality, personal growth and health is crucial to make sure you and your significant other are on the same page for the long-term,” says Kara Lissy, LCSW and psychotherapist. You don’t have to agree on everything down to your favorite popcorn topper, but if any deep values are out of line, you may need to reconsider whether the relationship has the potential to last into the future, adds Lissy.
This could mean:
• You both want the same things. You know you both want kids and expect to split the child care equally. Or maybe you know you both want kids and he wants to take extended paternity leave. Maybe you’ve also agreed that you should each get 45 minutes to yourself to go to the gym every day, or you plan to buy a home and move to the suburbs in five years. You know you’re on the same page with things that matter most to you because you’ve discussed them.
• He works hard at his job, but you’re his priority. If you ask him to go to an event that’s important to you, he’s not afraid to step out of the office to accompany you. He’ll figure out a way to get his work done, just as you would do for him.
2. You can have healthy conflicts.
Disagreements and conflicts are not only to be expected in any long-term relationship, they can be proof that you’re in the right healthy relationship if you both handle things maturely. “It’s a healthy sign that communication is intact and both counterparts are expressing their feelings appropriately,” explains Lissy. Red flags would be repeated arguments about the same thing, resentment, or contempt — although Lissy adds that you shouldn’t worry too much if any of these sound familiar. “Couples therapy is a great tool for resolving these issues.”
This could mean:
• You trust him to run your errands for you. This may seem small, but a guy who can pick up that thing you forgot at the grocery store (without complaining) or grab the dry cleaning you keep neglecting is true marriage material.
• He’s receptive to feedback. There’s not much you’d change about him, but when you tell him something he did bothered you, he listens and makes an effort to be better. And you do the same for him.
• You can do things like travel together without fighting all the time. We’ve all seen (or been) that tragic couple fighting over where to get lunch at the airport so badly that one of them devolves into tears and puts her shades on indoors and lies across three seats in the terminal. You can do tedious things with your S.O. without all this fighting. It’s not that you won’t get annoyed with each other when your 18 hour flight is delayed overnight at the airport, but you both know it’s not the end of the world and will try to resolve it as a team.
3. You both have a healthy level of independence.
You don’t want to be codependent on each other to a degree where you lose your autonomy. If you or your partner need to rely or expect each other to take care of all their needs, this isn’t good. “In any partnership, there should be mutual support and care-taking,” says Lissy, but if that mutual support starts becoming unbalanced towards one partner and someone is constantly relying on their partner for all their self-esteem needs or to keep them calm, that could mean trouble down the line. What happens on the day that you can’t be there for them? “A self-assured partner is confident with themselves and can take of their own emotional needs.” Lissy explains.
This could mean:
• He feels totally comfortable as your plus-one in all situations. Work drinks that you already know will be stiff and awkward? No problem. Best friend’s birthday dinner where he knows you’ll probably be too busy to actually hang out with just him? Sounds great! He’s supportive and happy to be around you, and would never badger you to leave an event you brought him to, just because he’d rather be at home on the couch.
•You survived a long-distance relationship. It was hard and scary, but you love each other so much that you were able to make the necessary sacrifices to make it through with a singular goal in mind: living in the same place and being together when it was all over.
• You feel comfortable planning things six months—or a year—into the future. You’re not worried you’ll have to cancel plane tickets or say you won’t be needing a plus-one after all. You feel that confident in your relationship.
• He cares about your friends. If one of them is having a bad day, he suggests you go spend time with her or invite her to join the two of you for dinner. If he hasn’t heard someone’s name in a while, he asks how she’s doing. He doesn’t try to isolate you from your friends and instead makes sure that you get to spend enough time with them, even when it means you guys won’t see each other for a bit to do so.
4. You have good sexual chemistry.
If your partner is great on paper, but you lack a sexual spark or chemistry, this can be important down the line. You don’t want to feel guilty for the lack of sexual chemistry, and you don’t want your partner to feel guilty about the lack of chemistry either — especially if you’re spending the rest of your lives together! “Sexual chemistry and good sex are essential if you are with the one.” says David Bennet, certified counselor and relationship expert.
This could mean:
• He tells you, out of the blue, that you look hot. And it’s on the day you didn’t dry your hair or put on makeup or even change out of your T-shirt and sweatpants.
• Even though it’s been years, you still can’t wait to jump his bones after a long absence. Sure you already live together and you know sex is def on the table once you return from your work trip or girls’ vacay, but if you find yourself raring to go and getting antsy in the baggage claim because you can’t wait to reunite with your boo, you know it’s for real.
• He’s always complimenting you and telling you you look stunning when you try to get dressed up, and you do the same for him.
• You feel safe experimenting sexually with him or bringing up potentially awkward sex convos like discussing your kinks. You know he won’t judge you and you won’t judge him either.
5. They treat you with kindness and generosity
John Gottman, a v. famous relationship expert, found in his research that kindness and generosity were the two major traits that determined if a relationship would last. “If your partner has these traits and treats you accordingly, this person may be the one,” says Bennet.
This could mean:
• He always brags about you. If you get a promotion at work or even just win concert tickets, he can’t resist telling everyone you hang out with before you even think to mention it. Because he’s your biggest fan (arguably next to your mom).
• He makes sacrifices for you—and you’re happy to do the same for him. He’ll move cities to live with you if you get a new job or finish grad school. You’re happy to make the next move for one of his opportunities.
• Even after years together he still does little chivalrous things for you. Like open doors for you, or carry you to your doorstep when your feet hurt after wearing high heels all day and you just can’t bear to walk one more block.
• He plans activities that he knows you’ll enjoy. He doesn’t depend on you to be in charge of everything, and he remembers that you said you wanted to go to that new restaurant or museum exhibit.
6. You're open with each other and honest.
“One way I can tell a person is ultimately unhappy in their relationship is if they feel the need to hide a lot from their partners, including little things.” says Bennet. If you find yourself needing to hide or justify silly things like the fact that you bought a splurge item to treat yourself after a particularly rough week, that’s not great. If you guys can be totally open and honest about things and you don’t feel the need to hide anything from your boo, that’s a good sign.
This could mean:
• You can cry in front of him without feeling embarrassed. He knows when to worry and when you’re just caught up in a scene of a movie.
• He’s close with your family, and he’s made sure you’ve gotten to know his. He’ll call your dad or your grandma without any hesitation. It just makes sense that you’d go to his nephew’s birthday party, even if he’s not there. You trust him with your family and he trusts you with his.
• He lets you vent. Sometimes when something frustrates you, you just need to go over it again and again. He doesn’t get annoyed at this, and he dismisses your apologies. The only thing that bothers him about the situation is that you’re upset and he wishes you weren’t. You don’t feel like you have to edit down just how much your friend’s passive aggressive comment really got to you when talking to him. You know he’s not going to think you’re petty or judge you if you’re upset.
7. They feel like home.
If you can be completely yourself and not have to worry about butterflies of anxiety, take note of that. It’s not a feeling of butterflies, but a feeling of comfort, as you grow in the relationship, explains Ingrid Sthare, founder of Relationship Coaching and Coupling. “Butterflies are for the first initial dates and that’s great, but it should grow to a feeling of ease. Like swimming downstream. If it feels like an upstream swim, you’re not on the right track.”
This could mean:
• You feel no shame talking about how happy you are around friends. This isn’t a relationship you’re constantly troubleshooting with the group text or over brunch. When you talk about this guy, you’re talking about some great thing he did recently, or how nice your weekend away was. You’re in love, and you’re so damn happy about it!
• He’s your go-to person whenever you have a story to share, about work, about friends, about anything. You used to tell your parents and friends about all these things, but now you don’t call them quite as much as you used to. They don’t mind because they see how happy you are.
• He doesn’t try to change you. He knows you’re messier than him, that you always need a pet cat, and can’t cook to save your life, and all of that is all right by him.
• “I miss you” isn’t just a sweet thing you say. It’s a reality. Even if it hasn’t been that long (like, two hours) since you saw each other.
• You don’t like having a roommate and love having your own space, but you’d still prefer to live with him. You look forward to the end of the day, not because you’ll be done with work but because you’ll get to see him again.