We've been socialized to swoon over flowers, chocolates, and other romantic gestures. "But romance only takes a relationship so far," says Toni Coleman, psychotherapist and relationship coach. "Successful relationships happen when we choose with our heads as well as our hearts. In fact, what we might consider unromantic initially can become a major turn-on and provide much of the glue that holds a relationship together through time and the many challenges that couples face."
With that in mind, here are seven signs you're in the right relationship—no flowers and chocolate necessary!
1. Your partner does things you enjoy (and he or she doesn't).
If your partner does things you and you alone dig, happily and without protest, you've struck relationship gold. Why? Because "while going to a play or watching every episode of Scandal might not be their cup of tea, they do it anyway because being with you and seeing your enjoyment matters more than the specific activity," says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. "It's also a sign that they don't expect the relationship to be all about them."
2. Your partner shares your work ethic.
According to Coleman, having a partner with a very different attitude toward the value and importance of work can leave you as the only responsible person in your partnership. And that's not a situation you'll want to be in forever. "Imagine carrying all the weight for chores, child care, household management, and the handling of finances," she says. "Not only does this lead to burnout, it also contributes to feelings of resentment and a loss of affection and respect."
3. Your partner pitches in to do whatever needs to be done.
And there's no back talk about how you haven't tied up and taken out the trash yourself in two months. "It may be your turn to do something, but they do it because they can and want to," says Doares. "This shows a generosity of spirit and a willingness to be part of the team. It also shows maturity in not holding to strict interpretations of rules or expectations."
4. Your partner follows through—in a timely manner.
There's nothing worse than nagging your partner to fulfill a promise he or she made weeks ago. "This leaves you with the belief that your needs are a low priority for your partner," Coleman warns. "Your relationship will be one of two independent people taking care of their own needs and bean counting—which is an intimacy killer." On the flip side, someone who follows through, quickly and without reminders, is likely a reliable life partner.
5. Your partner stands up for you to his or her family.
You want to get along with the family who could become your future in-laws. But sometimes that just doesn't happen. In this situation, a guy or gal who stands up for you is a keeper. "Being married means putting each other first, before anyone else," explains Doares. "One of the biggest challenges to a marriage is the inability of one partner to develop appropriate boundaries with other important people in their life. They take up differences with you in private, but to the outside world, they have your back."
6. Your partner challenges you intellectually.
Says Coleman, "On the surface, choosing someone who turns you on intellectually may sound very unromantic." But dig a little deeper and you may find that "over time, this is the person who will keep it interesting and ensure that your relationship never gets boring," she says.
7. Your partner openly and consistently communicates with you, even when it's tough.
Says Doares, "Being in a committed relationship requires the ability to work together, which requires the ability to share thoughts, feelings, expectations, and concerns." That kind of quality communication goes far beyond saying "I love you," she says. "Being able to talk about hard stuff—finances, sex, running a household, hurt feelings—is they key to having a happy, healthy relationship that will last," Doares says.
Yes, every relationship needs a little romance. But remember: "Romantic gestures can steal the focus away from the qualities that are necessary to sustain a loving relationship for the long term," says Doares. "Romance is important, but it needs to be seen as the icing on a cake that you want to eat anyway."