The 5 Keys To A Long-Lasting Relationship

There are not many aspects of life more challenging, and more rewarding, than maintaining a successful long-term relationship. Through time, struggle, and compassion, you and your partner can forge a deep and lasting union—a combining of two lives into one. That’s why I often describe a relationship as “a journey from me to us.” But forming a consistently happy relationship requires ongoing attention and effort, especially if it is going to last for a lifetime. Each partner must learn to give and take, so that you can grow and change together. All of us can all use as much help and guidance as we can find along the way.

Here are 5 tips that you may find helpful as you progress in your own journey from me to us:

1. Talk about money, and do it early.

One of the worst mistakes that a couple can make is to avoid discussing money. This includes how you deal with your shared expenses (whether you’re living together or not) and your general financial philosophy (are you a saver or a spender?). And if you aren’t clear about money early in your relationship, a conflict is sure to bite you later. After two years of marriage one couple I knew bought a home. It was then, for the first time, that the wife discovered her husband’s credit history was terrible, and even though she had an excellent job they could not qualify for the loan. To avoid an unpleasant surprise later, talk about money early.

2. Be clear about your core values.

Each of us has core values – issues which are important and which we will not compromise. For example, perhaps you would not live with a partner who either smokes or abuses alcohol. If you don’t agree on a fundamental issue, such as whether or not to have children, it’s important to know this sooner rather than later. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but you certainly need to know as soon as possible the important issues on which you have a serious difference of opinion or values. And you then need to develop a plan to deal with those differences. But don’t expect your partner to change their position on a core value.

3. “Yes” is the best word.

Over the course of your relationship, you will receive thousands of requests from your partner for everything from attending a friend’s wedding to picking up a few groceries on your way home. I’ve found that in any relationship, but especially in a long-term relationship, it’s helpful to say “yes” whenever you can. Your partner wants to feel valued, just as you do. When you say “yes” quickly, and often, your partner will be happier with your relationship and will most likely respond by saying “yes” to you more frequently.

4. Learn how to say “no.”

In order to say “yes” with a full heart, you also have to be comfortable in saying “no” when the need arises. “I would love to help you out, but I can’t do that today” is a lot better than, “You know I’m super busy and you should have known better than to even ask.” It’s also better to say “no” than to say “yes” and fail to perform.

“Yes” is best, but “no,” when necessary, is equally important.

5. It’s a Movie, Not a Snapshot.

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture during a moment of emotional strain and conflict. But this is exactly the time during which you need to remember that a relationship is more like a movie than a snapshot. A relationship is a series of events and memories, like a movie, not just one instant in time like a snapshot. And just as in a movie, a high point will often follow the low. It’s important to keep this perspective in mind during a time of stress, and remind yourself that this is just one of many moments that make up your relationship and there are new and positive experiences just up ahead.

The 80% Rule For Relationships

Perfection is impossible, so stop expecting it from your relationships.

Expecting perfection can be problematic in life, particularly when it comes to romantic relationships. Whether you’re single and always looking for the perfect mate or in a relationship and expecting your partner to be everything you dreamed they would be, obsessing about the possibility of perfection can leave you perpetually unsatisfied and get in the way of your own happiness. That’s why, years ago, I developed a simple philosophy that I call the “80% Solution.”

When I start to feel dissatisfied with some dimension of a relationship, whether it’s at work, with a friend, or especially at home, I mentally list all of the strengths and weaknesses of that person. Then I compare my evaluation to my vision of perfection.

If the picture adds up to at least 80% of my ideal, then I will go with it and not spend a single second thinking about alternatives. If the “score” is between 60% and 79%, then I might start looking. Below 60%—it’s time to make a change . . . the sooner the better. Is your spouse or partner perfect? Not if you’ve lived with him or her for more than a few days. The proper question isn’t, “Is he or she perfect?” The useful question is: “Is he or she good enough, and are we compatible?” And if he or she is good enough, then I say magnify his or her positives and minimize their less important negatives. My wife Daveen and I are by no means perfect, but we have been together now for 35 years.

Despite the fact that I grew up with the idea that my “one and only” was somewhere out there, and that my only task was to find her, I now believe that in this world there are at least ten thousand women with whom I could be perfectly happy. But I have no idea where Daveen falls on the list of potential great wives. Is she number one? Unlikely. Number ten thousand? Unlikely. She is almost certainly somewhere in between the top and the bottom. I will never know Daveen’s exact ranking because it is impossible for me to meet, know, and compare each of those ten thousand possibilities. So I need to have a better method of deciding when I should stop looking for the perfect, and enthusiastically embrace the 80%.

Now in any relationship, it takes two to tango, so you need to apply the 80% Solution to yourself as well. Are you at or above 80% of your ideal for yourself? Think about it. You can’t very well eliminate yourself from your life, so if you’re not quite there yet, your task here is to bring your own score up to 80%. You can do this in two ways: lower your expectations or improve yourself. Either route has its own challenges, but if you do it, I’m confident that you’ll be much more satisfied with yourself, your relationships, and your life.

The 80% rule works. Granted, this method is entirely subjective, but what in your life isn’t? Your 80% might not be my 80%, but it is your 80% and that is what is important to you. Maybe you are more particular than I am and will only settle for a score of 90% (Good luck with that!). Maybe you’re more laid back than I am, and 70% is fine for you. No problem. Maybe you prefer a different score for different situations. Live it up, create your own matrix. The important point is to pick a standard, and live with it, or them.

What do you think of the 80% Solution? ALAN FOX is the author of The New York Times bestseller PEOPLE TOOLS: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity. Visit