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  • Writer's pictureDonna McMillan

The secret to a long-lasting relationship

Asian couple smiling and embracing on beach

When we see a couple who has been together for decades, one of the questions we might ask is, “What’s your secret?” They usually respond with something wise or meaningful, or something humorous. But really, what is the secret? What are the couples doing to stay together in a healthy relationship over several decades?

We tend to come up with our own ideas of what a healthy relationship looks like, yet holding on to these reasons could be our downfall. When things aren’t going well, common themes are:

We don’t have anything in common
I love them but I am not in love with them
We have changed too much
We are growing in different directions
We fight too much

These reasons are all completely valid, but they aren’t the only pieces of the puzzle. When it comes to long lasting relationships, there are several ways to measure how well a couple is doing. And most importantly? These measures are based on solid research conducted over 40 years by psychologist John Gottman.

John Gottman studied 3000 couples in their labs and in the couples homes, and discovered what the couples that were doing well that stayed together long term, in comparison to the couples who were not doing well who ended up separating. Based on this research he came up with the Sound Relationship House.

Having an understanding of the different levels of the house can help us understand how we are going in our own relationship.

Sound Relationship House John Gottman

Build Love Maps

How well do you know each other’s inner world? Do you know each other’s closest friends? Your childhood history? Your day to day lives? This level is all about the friendship you have with each other. Most notably, it is the foundation of the house which signifies that friendship is at the core of our relationship with our partner.

Share Fondness and Admiration

How often are you both expressing your appreciation and awe for one another? Even though you might feel appreciation, how regularly are you both verbally expressing your gratitude and admiration for each other?

Turn Towards

Turning towards is measured by bids of connection. Bids of connection is any way that we reach out to our partner, whether that’s starting a conversation, a hug or a kiss, or a text to say we are thinking of them. How often are you and your partner turning towards instead of away from each other?

The Positive Perspective

When we are in the positive perspective of the relationship, it is like the sun is shining on the relationship and we see things mostly in the positive. For example, if we are in the positive perspective and our partner is late to pick us up from work, we can easily brush this off as a human mistake and move on. Conversely, if we are in the negative perspective it is like a dark cloud is over our relationship and we mainly see the negative aspects. For instance, in the negative perspective if our partner does something nice such as bring us our tea in the morning, we might not be as grateful as we are still annoyed at the disappointing things they did the day before.

Manage Conflict

How do you and your partner navigate conflict? Do you have open discussions where you can both talk freely? Or are you both engaging in behaviours such as criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling or contempt?

Make Life Dreams Come True

How well does the relationship support your individual dreams? Are you both willing to support each other’s individual pursuits? And when needed, can you work as a team to help achieve these dreams?

Create Shared Meaning

This symbolises the shared meaning you create as a couple. What rituals of connection do you have? Such as how do you spend Friday night together or how do you greet each other hello? Or what are your values and beliefs in life? Do they align? And if they don’t, do you respect each other’s differences?

Trust & Commitment

The 2 walls of the house are what holds this house together. How much do you trust each other to have each other’s back, or be there when everything falls to pieces? And how committed are you to one another?

When we reflect on what makes a relationship work, we are able to figure out how to fix the things that are going wrong. Doing this takes time and patience. Relationship counselling can help guide you both through the process of understanding where your strengths and challenges are in the Sound Relationship House. It is through this process, that you can learn skills on how to improve the areas that are challenges.

Sometimes it can help to look at the relationship as Relationship 2.0 We don’t want to forget the original version of our relationship, and we can appreciate it had some great moments. But there are also parts that weren't going well and that need improvement. Relationship 2.0 can take all the wonderful parts from your original relationship, but also be a better version of the areas we were getting stuck. Through making improvements and sticking to them, we can be that couple decades down the track where people will be asking us, “What’s your secret?” And we’ll be able to tell them all about it.

Elderly caucasian couple smiling with arms linked, male holding binoculars


Sound relationship house theory and relationship and marriage education ... (2011) Sound Relationship House Theory and Relationship and Marriage Education. Available at: (Accessed: April 19, 2023).


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