Your love is in the details. If you're always waiting for some sweep-you-off-your-feet moment, or for your S.O. to surprise you with that Cartier Love bracelet that will finally prove the relationship's value, you'll probably end up disappointed. Those moments do happen, and they have their place, but as they say, a watched pot never boils. In our experience, most good relationships are based on a gradual, almost imperceptible development of trust, comfort, and togetherness that have nothing to do with your Ryan-Gosling-in-The Notebook fantasies. Chances are, when you look back, you'll have a clearer and more emotionally-charged memory of that random time you both lost it over some stupid joke when you were still half asleep one morning than the time you spent $200 on a "romantic" Valentine's Day dinner.
You're a better version of yourself. As un-romantic as it sounds, an important pillar of a really good relationship is realizing that yes, you could live without that person. Would it hurt if they went away? Would you be sad for a very long time? Would something serious be missing from your life? Yes. But the best kind of love isn't some engorged Platonic concept that sucks the life out of you and your significant other for its own benefit. Rather, it makes you a better, stronger, more wonderful version of yourself. It's for this reason that sometimes, when a great relationship ends — even bitterly — you can look back and honestly say to yourself that you don't regret a single moment, and that you as an individual person grew in a crucial way because of the time you spent together. Even if they don't last forever, those are always good relationships.
You fight fair. And you get over it. Recently, one of our editors was talking about how her husband abruptly hung up on her after a heated cross-country phone call. She was momentarily stunned. But she waited, and lo and behold, he called back soon after to sheepishly apologize and conclude the discussion, rationally. The absolute truth is that even the strongest relationships feature some periodic fighting, sometimes about petty things like an overflowing laundry basket, sometimes about serious stuff. The key isn't to avoid these arguments, but to know how to approach them in a mature and reasonable way...a way that nobody is going to regret a few hours later. The most successful partners we know take a moment — as insanely hard as it is! — to breathe and evaluate their respective positions in an argument, then communicate their feelings, so it can remain a (perhaps heated) discussion instead of turning into a raging, screaming, irreparably scarring experience.
Your sex is more about connection than copulation. Let's face it, great sex is important. But it sure isn't everything where a solid relationship is concerned. Sex is tricky. It's often loaded with issues of self worth, control, and our deepest inhibitions. And it takes a really special person to not only illuminate the darkest corners of yourself but to expose him or herself, too. A lot of couples put way too much unfair pressure on the quality of their sex lives — every day, partners have their ups and downs, but for some reason sex is always held to a higher standard. It's time to realize that your sex will ebb and flow just like everything else, and as long as you're still intimate and connecting about the various highs and lows of your life, you're probably in a good place. Maybe you're both under a lot of pressure at work; one of you is angling for a promotion, the other is facing a stressful deadline. It's likely that you might go a few weeks — or, gasp!, a few months — without a good romp, but that's no reason to feel deprived, emotionally or physically. As long as you're open and honest about your feelings and your needs, your sexy time will inevitably return.
You're both changing, and it's okay. First of all, any long-term relationship will bring change to your life, and if you're fighting that, it's probably a sign you're not ready for that level of commitment. No, you shouldn't give up the person you were before, but you shouldn't cling to it like a life raft, either (and the same goes for your partner). Once you've established that, there's another important kind of change to look out for, and it happens within the relationship itself. Like personalities, and pretty much everything else on Earth, things change over time. After six years, you probably won't have the same relationship you did after six months or six weeks. But that's not a bad thing. Since we as a culture have such an extreme tendency to romanticize early courtship, it's easy to think that if you've lost that particular lovin' feeling, you've lost it all together. That's just not true. Just as you shouldn't compare your relationship to others', you shouldn't compare it to past versions of itself. If you can look at your love as-is, in the moment, and feel good about it, then you're doing just fine.
You're happy more than you're sad or angry. This may sound ridiculously simple, but it's 100% true. If you've ever been the lucky confidant of a person who's in the midst of a bad relationship, you can identify the problem instinctively. They complain, they wonder over myriad 'what ifs', they say, 'I wish' a lot, and spend much of their time waging a debate about how things could always be better. What you want — and it's a bit harder to find — is the opposite of that. When you're in a fulfilling, happy, grounded relationship, you're mostly in a good mood. Sure, you'll have down days, and moments of frustration, and bouts of loneliness, even if you're coupled up. But mostly, you're excited about life, your future, and your future with this person. If you find that the majority of your time is spent on the dark side, well, then, you know what to do.
Illustrated by by Ammiel Mendoza