Getting married is a huge milestone in a relationship, but there’s a lot more to love and building a partnership than saying “I do.”
Below, relationship experts share seven overlooked accomplishments that are just as meaningful as marrying your partner.
1. When you recover from your first big disillusionment.
When you’re in the early stages of a relationship, you tend to look at your partner — and the budding relationship itself — through rose-colored glasses. Your bond becomes even stronger the moment you realize and accept that your partner may not live up to your idealized version of them, said Gal Szekely, founder of the Couples Center for therapy in Northern California.
“Initially, you have dreams and fantasies about the other person fulfilling all of your needs. Eventually, you realize that your partner is not perfect,” he said. “Learning to be in relationship with the real person and settling for reality rather than a fantasy is an important milestone in any relationship.”
2. When you survive a crisis together.
You know you’re well matched when you lend each other stability during a rough patch in your lives, said Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist based in Sherman Oaks, California. You may not know how you’re going to get through your big move across the country or your parents’ gray divorce, but you’re glad your partner is at your side.
“It’s a sign of true partnership when a couple can survive their world being turned upside down and thrown into chaos,” Goldstein said. “When you endure a crisis and adjust accordingly, that’s a milestone that makes you so much more connected.”
3. When you accept that the relationship isn’t always a 50/50 split.
We like to imagine that a relationship is always 50/50 and that each partner will be equally committed to carrying the relationship. But there will absolutely be moments when one of you is forced to give a little more than your fair share, in the wake of an unexpected illness, for example, or if one of you loses your job.
Those moments will test your relationship and strengthen it, said Heather Gray, a therapist and executive coach based in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
“When you have taken care of someone or have let that person take care of you for a while, that’s real intimacy,” she said. “That’s when you know you are a team in this thing called life.”
4. When you can laugh during sex.
Real talk: Sex isn’t always sexy. Sometimes it’s just plain awkward. You’ve reached a high point in your relationship when you can laugh about your secret fantasies or anything unexpected that happens in bed, Szekely said.
“When you and your partner are able to talk about sex, be open about your needs and fantasies and even laugh about what happens during sex, your intimate life can continue to evolve,” he said.
5. When you genuinely apologize for hurting each other.
When you’re in a relationship with someone, you’re bound to hurt each other emotionally ― sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. What matters is how you recover: It’s a huge deal when your partner is able to take ownership for their mistakes and offer a genuine apology, Gray said. (And no, “Sorry if you interpreted it that way” doesn’t count.)
“When you do get into the thick of it and argue, do you still feel loved? Respected? Seen? When you express your hurt, it’s so important that your partner validates that, takes responsibility without blame and works to earn your trust again,” she explained.
6. When you create something or accomplish a big task together.
Whether it’s purchasing your first home or house training your new adopted pup, it’s a huge relationship win when you accomplish something as a team, said a Amy Kipp, a couples and family therapist in San Antonio.
“Working through the ups and downs of a big project helps you hone your communication skills,” she said “The sense of accomplishment and teamwork that results from a challenging shared experience strengthens a couple’s bond.”
7. When you’ve seen each other at your worst and still love each other.
They honeymoon phase of a relationship is easy. It’s when you’ve seen your partner at their most stressed out and miserable and you still want to be with them that you know it’s real love, Gray said.
“You want to see who your person is when life hits them, when they’ve been knocked down,” she said. “When they fall, do they get back up? Do they take you down with them? Do they let you in? How they treat you when they’re at their worst is more important than how they treat you when trying to make a first impression.”