What Makes a Relationship Work in the Long Run?

 In Mental Health

As people date, move in together, get married, and have kids, one of the most common questions they ask is, “What makes a relationship work in the long run?” As a couples therapist, I love this question because it has been extensively studied, revealing attitudes, behaviours, and practices that help relationships not only survive but thrive over the years.


The Importance of Team Mentality

One of the most crucial beliefs you can hold in your partnership is that you and your partner are a team. I cannot stress how important this is! Transitioning from thinking as a single person to thinking as a unit can be challenging, but it’s essential to view things as “us” rather than “me” or “you.” The latter often leads to a “me against you” mindset. Just as many counselors encourage individual clients to start sentences with “I” to express their own feelings and needs, I encourage couples to start sentences with “we.”

Here are some examples:

  • We need to improve on keeping the house clean. How can we both brainstorm and contribute to finding a solution?”
  • We need to decide on whether/when/how our child is going to wear braces. With two brains, we’ll come up with the best plan for our family.”
  • We are stuck in an unhealthy dynamic. Let’s see how each of us can change positions and make this dynamic better.”

Building the “We” in Your Relationship: Peer-to-Peer Dynamics

One way to build the “we” aspect in your relationship is by having a “peer-to-peer relationship.” If you haven’t heard of this before, that’s okay—let me unpack it for you.

What is a Peer-to-Peer Relationship?

A “peer-to-peer” relationship means you are both equals. You love and respect each other as friends and equals, understanding that both of you will make mistakes and need time to grow.

A peer-to-peer relationship means you accept yourself and your partner as fellow human beings, each with their own set of strengths and limitations. In your “team plan,” aim to make the best out of each other’s strengths while considering each person’s limitations. For instance, in my family, I handle the taxes because I’m better with paperwork, but I need to finish the task within 24-36 hours, or I start to panic. My husband collects receipts and prepares meals on the day I tackle this annual beast. This demonstrates an agreement of labor division: I use my strengths, consider my limitations, and receive support from my husband.


How to Bring Up Conflict or Disagreement

When addressing conflict or disagreement, think of it as a team meeting where both partners present their perspectives. Start by clearly stating the issue and your feelings about it. Allow your partner to share their thoughts, and listen actively. This two-way communication helps both of you feel heard and understood. As hard as it can be, do your best to use kind words when you are upset; focus on your feelings and needs instead of jumping to conclusions about your partner.

So how do you have an equal relationship if you have different opinions? How do you resolve disagreements? In a true peer-to-peer relationship, there is no hierarchy about whose opinion gets a trump card. This means that any issue with differing opinions is open for discussion—whether it’s buying a house, having a child, purchasing a coffee maker, or deciding how often to take out the garbage.

For example, if you disagree on purchasing a new appliance, present your reasons for or against it, and listen to your partner’s viewpoint. Discuss the pros and cons together, aiming to reach a mutual decision. This approach not only resolves the immediate issue but also strengthens your connection by deepening your understanding of each other’s values and preferences.

By discussing conflicts openly and respectfully before making decisions, you can prevent misunderstandings and foster a stronger, more collaborative relationship. Remember, as a team, you are always growing. Your jobs, schedules, circle of friends, and even your ice-cream preferences may change over time. Keep your partner posted, be open to letting them see your growth, and invite them to grow with you.

But What If You Still Disagree?

If you still can’t reach an agreement, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to take a break and revisit the discussion later. Sometimes, giving each other space to reflect can provide new insights or solutions. If the disagreement persists, consider finding a compromise where both of you give a little to reach a middle ground. In some cases, agreeing to disagree and respecting each other’s viewpoints can be a healthy resolution, as long as both partners feel their opinions are valued and understood. The goal is to maintain respect and connection, even in the face of differing opinions.


Common Misconceptions About Peer-to-Peer Relationships

A peer-to-peer relationship does not mean you share house chores 50-50. This kind of division of labor can lead to power struggles and mutual supervision, creating a sense of mistrust. Instead, think about what you are free and willing to give to your partner. While acknowledgment and gratitude are important, remember you are not offering a service just to trade for something else.

Similarly, a peer-to-peer relationship does not mean you need to earn about the same amount of income. Some partners may feel less significant because they are stay-at-home parents or for other reasons do not make as much as their partners. Remember, you and your partner are a team, and your top role is to care for and support each other. You cannot be a stay-at-home parent without your partner’s paycheck, and your partner does not have a home to return to at the end of the day without you. Get the comparison out of your way of connecting with each other.


By fostering a team mentality and nurturing a peer-to-peer dynamic, you can build a strong, thriving relationship that stands the test of time. Remember, effective communication and mutual respect are the cornerstones of any successful partnership. If you find yourselves struggling with these concepts or facing persistent conflicts, consider booking a session with a couples therapist. Professional guidance can provide you with the tools and strategies needed to overcome challenges and strengthen your bond. Meanwhile, continue to practice open communication and teamwork at home. Your relationship is a journey, and every effort you put into it brings you closer together.

Interested in couples counselling? Book a free 15-minute consultation

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