If you’re wondering about whether your relationship will last—and just as important, whether it is a good bet for your health and happiness (that “your” is plural) I propose three tests. Each one requires thinking about time.
1. How do you feel about the time you spend after sex, the after-glow? Do you end the experience craving more sex, more conversation, more something because you’re still vaguely dissatisfied, despite an orgasm? Or are you feeling cuddly and close, even if the orgasm was mild or didn’t happen? And how does your partner feel? If you are having sex at night before bed, do you tend to fall asleep touching in some way?
Most people are conscious of feeling after-glow for maybe a half hour. But sexual satisfaction may actually linger for up to 48 hours, according to a recent study. The same study found that couples who experienced stronger afterglows after the sex they had over a two-week period were happier in their relationships six months later.
To evaluate your likely future, you might focus more on how you both feel after sex for the next couple of days rather than the intensity in bed.
2. Do you manage time well as a pair? If you have trouble organizing schedules, getting places on time, or often feel rushed or restless with your partner, pay attention.
Your attitude towards time may come out in the mantras you each adopt. Do you or your partner say “I’m just living in the present” or “Follow your heart”? Those two attitudes, fashionable these days, are both votes not to think about the future.
“Living in the present” has a Zen-shine, suggesting “mindfulness.” But it’s also a convenient excuse when you’re being irresponsible, neglecting the future.
“Follow your heart” also suggests a short-term mindset. Feelings are immediate, thinking projects forward to, “Um, what are the likely consequences of following my heart?”.
If you tend to stress out about the future and berate yourself over your past, those two mantras could be a good antidote. If you’re irresponsible in important ways, “living in the present” and “following your heart” aren’t the best mantras.
I believe that happy couples find a balance. A happy go lucky person could go well with a big planner—if they see the dynamic and respect the yin yang.
3. Do you inspire each other to live up to your values? It may not be as obvious as going to church together and discussing the sermon. Values come up in talks about problems at work, gossip about friends, or post-movie analysis.
I respect people who take care of their health, finances and relationships. They have problems—everyone does—but they shoulder them. Tell me about how you lost weight after that heart attack or cut your expenses and I feel glowy.
If you are inspired to be your best self with your partner—and your partner wants to show you his good character—you are most likely to demonstrate that good character when things get tough and stay together for good reasons.
Complex relationships aren’t going to be all utility (you get material advantages), all fun or all virtue. An ex of mine told me he was having hot sex with his new girlfriend who drank alot. Then he said, “I want to show her that I’m not just another shallow guy.”
That told me it could last. Both fun and virtue were at play, keeping him in the relationship. It’s an easy bet that if it was only about the fun it wouldn’t make them happy in the long run.
You might see a pattern here. These tests require shifts in how you think about time. After-glow is measured in days. The old “head/heart” debate becomes a question of time perspective. Bonding over virtue means keeping your eye on your life as a whole, as if you were at the end of the novel, thinking back. The question of who you want to spend your time with—a day, a month, or decades—is in the end, a question of time.