Long-term relationships are increasingly rare. For many millennials, marriage is a relic from days-gone-by, and solid commitment is a second-date. Finding connection in the digital age is difficult when relationships can be fleeting and fickle. As I approach 30, my dating journey consists of multiple mid-term monogamous relationships — most of my friends are the same.

There are two sides to this evolving dynamic. On one hand there’s freedom from societal pressure to settle down and commit to an unfulfilling relationship; it is liberating. On the other hand, many promising relationships break down at the first sign of hardship.

How do we uncover where our relationship stands? How do we know when to liberate ourselves from obligation, or to work through problems?

The answers to these questions are unique to each relationship. However, there are 6 questions to ask yourself that can reveal deeper hidden truths, guide you to making decisions, and provide clarity on whether your relationship will stand the test of time.

1. What expectations do I have?

There’s a fine-line between “not settling” and “chasing perfect”. This line is dictated by our expectations. Having sky-high expectations about what your relationship should be is a way to add too much pressure and join the conveyor belt of always looking for the one

The reality is arguments happen, there will be conflict, there will be disagreements, there will be times when you aren’t feeling attracted to your partner.

Having realistic expectations gives you a clearer view of the relationship. Without fixed beliefs about what a relationship should be, you’re able to see the reality of the person in front of you.

I learnt the hard-way that my belief in “the one” was making each relationship destined to fail. Only when I let go of sky-high expectations did I mature in my approach to dating.

2. Are we compatible?

Compatibility comes in many forms. No relationship should be your number one source of fulfillment, and it’s normal to have areas of incompatibility. Still, it’s important to break down your areas of compatibility into negotiable and non-negotiable. There may be areas you know are deal breakers: such as sexual chemistry, spirituality, meaningful conversation or sense of humor.

But there are a host of incompatibilities that don’t mean things won’t work out. Not every box has to be ticked. Again, assess expectations in this regard. Whilst I used to look for 100% compatibility, now I look for 60% or 70% in a partner.

Right now, my non-negotiable compatibility includes monogamy, mutual spiritual support, emotional intimacy, and honesty. I’m independent and enjoy my own company, so it doesn’t bother me if I don’t share many social activities with a partner, and I’m content meeting a few times per week.

3. What is my motivation for this relationship?

If you’re in a relationship because it’s what you’ve always done or because it feels safe or familiar, then it’s worth assessing the motivating factors behind this. Life’s too short to be in a relationship with a sense of obligation, or simply because we fear being alone. Explore your motivation and see if you’re in a relationship to avoid or gain.

In the past I’ve entered relationships to avoid loneliness and gain companionship. But under the surface I realized I was afraid of being alone. When I worked on my codependency and developed a sense of self-compassion, I no longer felt I needed a relationship. My self-sufficiency freed me to choose a relationship because I wanted it, but didn’t need it.

Now, I look to relationships as gain only. I gain companionship, mutual understanding, emotional intimacy, fun, sexual fulfillment. I’m not using the relationship to avoid difficulties in life, such as an inability to handle my emotions, or a need for external validation. I take responsibility and find a healthy balance between self-regulation and emotional support.

4. Am I sexually satisfied?

I’ll be blunt. Romantic relationships are distinguished by sexual intimacy. Sex is important. This doesn’t mean earth-shattering intoxication or chemistry all day, every day, but it does mean a relationship where you feel comfortable sharing, exploring and expressing your sexuality. Life’s too short to be in a romantic relationship with zero sexual compatibility.

Are there times when this doesn’t matter? Of course! If sex really isn’t a big deal to you and you value emotional intimacy and security and find that in a partner who equally doesn’t value sex, it can work. But this isn’t about ever-lasting lust and excitement. It’s about a level of comfort in satisfying each other’s needs and cultivating a trusting space of loving intimacy; the kind that doesn’t diminish over time. 

This requires an honest look at your level of sexual satisfaction. It’s highly unlikely to find a partner with exactly the same sex drive, and that’s fine. The key is clear communication, and finding a mutual mid-point that works for both of you.

5. What do I want to create?

The decline in social expectations offers the chance to build unique, unconventional relationships. Rather than allowing unquestioned cultural norms to dictate the relationship, ask yourself what you’d like to create.

Exploring grey areas with openness and honesty is liberating in itself, and you’d be surprised just how much conditioning exists around what romance really means. There will be areas you think you want, only to realize it’s “how things are” and your natural needs are different.

As I mentioned earlier, my relationships leave room for independence and spiritual growth. I no longer chase chemical highs that come with meeting someone new. For me, monogamy is a deal breaker when cultivating emotional and physical intimacy with someone. This form of monogamy and independence is unconventional. We’re exclusive yet there aren’t expectations around regular sleepovers, daily contact, or living together.

This works for me. What works for you will be different. So ask yourself what you genuinely, authentically want to create. Write a list in your journal. Reflect on what feels natural. You might be surprised at what you discover. The next step is exploring how to create something from authentic foundations with your partner — this in itself will show areas of compatibility.

6. Do I see myself in this relationship in five years’ time?

I’m going to turn this question on its head and say: it doesn’t matter if you don’t see yourself in your current relationship in five years’ time. None of us know how life plays out.

Some relationships last a lifetime when originally both people thought it wouldn’t work. Others paint vivid futures together only for things to rapidly fall apart. The future is uncertain and no relationship is future-proof.

So instead of viewing a relationship in terms of longevity, ask yourself: am I nourished by this relationship in the present? Am I growing and learning, about myself, about my partner, about how to relate? 

An ex of mine sent me an article recently about how to define “success” in relationships. Ultimately if we are learning and growing then the relationship is a success — whether it lasted 10 years, 10 months, or 10 weeks. Getting to know someone, sharing hopes, dreams, fears, and the human experience is beautiful in its own right. To experience this is a blessing.

So regardless of how you answer these questions, know nothing has been wasted. But by gaining clarity on what you want, you’ll get the most from your current relationship, and make the most of each moment. The rest will take care of itself.

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