8 Things You Didn't Know About Staying in Love

Navigating a relationship can sometimes feel like driving to an unknown destination without a GPS: perplexing, frustrating, and even scary. And while you don’t want to take the mystery out of your romantic life entirely (after all, occasional surprises keep things hot and spicy), learning important facts about what makes unions tick (and tank) can help you avoid trouble. Experts analyzed recent dating trends to define a whole new set of relationship rules to guide you along. Some of them may indicate that your romance is on rocky ground, while others can prove it’s totally rock solid.

1. Spending time apart strengthens your bond.
Sure, it's important to hang out with your guy. But experts now know that it's almost as important not to hang out with him every so often. "When you take time away from each other, it gives you both the opportunity to collect new thoughts, new stories, and new ideas to share,” says Jennifer Oikle, PhD, dating coach for Coupling Connection. But the benefits extend beyond having novel tidbits of conversation. “When you’re with someone in the moment, you’re not really spending time thinking about them,” says Debbie Magids, PhD, coauthor of All the Good Ones Aren’t Taken. “When you’re distanced, you really think about the person and yearn for them, and you look forward to seeing them again.”

2. Your inkling that something is wrong in the relationship is probably right.
By nature of being a woman, you have a keen intuition, so you’ll feel any kind of distancing on a visceral level pretty quickly. And unless you’re an overly suspicious or insecure person — you know who you are! — you should always trust your gut. Example: He’s incommunicado. Before the days of e-mailing, texting, IMing, and Facebooking, if you didn’t hear from your boyfriend for a day or two, it wasn’t the end of the world (or your relationship). But now that communication is so easy and instant, it’s usually a sign he’s not fully invested.

“When a guy wants to break up, he’ll often start to create space,” says Oikle. In other words, he’ll stop calling quite as much, it will take him a bit longer to return your texts or e-mails, and he’ll sometimes be “too busy” to hang out. “For the record, if a guy is into you, he’ll never be too busy,” says Paul Coleman, PsyD, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Intimacy.

If the pattern continues, confront your man about his behavior in a direct yet nonaccusatory way, saying something like “You haven’t called me, and I’m thinking that means you’re having second thoughts about us.” If he doesn’t give you a clear answer, well, let’s just say he’s giving you a clear answer.

3. If a man has a history of cheating on his girlfriends, he’ll probably cheat on you too.
Sometimes a guy cheats on his partner because there is an emotional or sexual void in the relationship. But more often than not, philandering is indicative of something wrong with him. According to Jay Carter, PsyD, author of Nasty Men, many guys two-time because they love the thrill of the chase, they need to feed their ego, or they have a hard time turning down sex when the opportunity presents itself.

All those factors contribute to serial straying, “which is why men who cheat once usually cheat again,” says Oikle. (A recent MSNBC.com survey found that men are twice as likely as women are to cheat more than once.) So if your guy cheated on his last girlfriend with you, don’t necessarily write it off as an isolated incident and assume he won’t have his cake and eat it too again.

4. He wants to think he’s taking care of you.
Despite the fact that many women are outpacing men on the college level and in the workplace, “lots of guys still derive their feelings of masculinity and self-worth by being of value to the person they love,” says Allen Berger, PhD, author of Love Secrets Revealed. “And they feel most valuable when they’re doing things for that person.” So even though you’re an independent chic who can support herself, it may benefit your relationship if you step back once in a while and let him step up — even if it’s just to do something as simple as pay for dinner. Think of it this way: Letting him care for you shows you care for him.

5. If a guy tells you that he’s not ready for a relationship, take his word for it.
Believe it or not, men really hate to disappoint women. So if he’s “gotten up the guts to actually cross the threshold and tell you that he’s not ready for a relationship, he means business,” says Oikle. There could be a variety of explanations for his antirelationship position (he has commitment issues, he wants to hook up with other people, he doesn’t see you as girlfriend material), but in the end, the result is the same: He’s doesn’t desire to be your boyfriend. End of story.

And no, he won’t change his mind when he gets to know you a little better. “Once a guy decides how he sees a girl in his life, it’s hard to break out of that thinking,” says Coleman. Warning: If you stick around after he’s told you this, he will likely take it as a sign that you’re cool with the casual, nonexclusive nature of your relationship. So make sure you are.

6. Sex can get better as a relationship progresses.
People used to think settling down meant saying sayonara to sex...or at least fantastic sex. But research has found that young married couples are more satisfied with their sex lives than their single counterparts are. Here’s why: “For roughly the first 6 to 18 months of a relationship, sex is running mostly on testosterone and dopamine, which means you are superhorny and want to have sex all the time with this person,” explains sex therapist Barbara Keesling, PhD, author of Men in Bed. After that point, sex does change — often becoming even better. Because you’ve gotten to know and trust each other, the act becomes substantially more intimate and erotic.

Familiarity definitely has its perks. Couples who have been together for a long time have probably learned how to please each other and are more comfortable sharing their fantasies and desires and trying out new positions to keep things hot. And foreplay — often bypassed during the early days of hurried, rip-your-clothes-off-and-go-straight-to-intercourse sessions — becomes a major focus.

7. You won’t regret breaking up with a guy you’re feeling unsure about.
Nowadays, women may be impulsive about sleeping with guys but not dumping them. “In fact, a lot of women will try really hard to fit a square peg into a round hole because they want the relationship to work so bad,” explains Magids. “It’s only after a tremendous amount of thought and effort that they finally give up on it.”

In part, women go through that painstaking process because they fear they’ll end up kicking themselves for ending a relationship too soon. But a new study from Northwestern University found that even in the short term, people aren’t as upset as they thought they’d be after a breakup. So if you sense you’re with the wrong person, don’t fret so much about walking away to find a better match.

8. You will always be the one to initiate a relationship talk.
Unlike women, who are conditioned to take the pulse of a relationship from time to time, men don’t contemplate the state of your union until something’s wrong. And even then, they want to work it out in their mind, whereas women want to talk it out.

When you go to initiate a relationship talk, bear in mind that men are uncomfortable with the unknown and paranoid that you’ll end up in tears. So don’t ambush him or it’ll feel to him like going to the principal’s office or being pulled over by a cop: surprising and nerve-racking, says Coleman.

To put him at ease, try what Oikle calls a compliment sandwich: Start with something positive, work in the concern, and end with something positive. For example, if you’re trying to gauge if a new guy sees your relationship as serious, say “I really like you a lot. Are you thinking this is a long-term thing? We’ve been having so much fun that I hope you do!” That will be much easier for him to digest than “Hey, am I your girlfriend or what?” Or if you want to broach the subject of moving in with a dude you’ve been dating for a while, try “I think we have an amazing relationship, and I’m ready to take the next step and move in together. Think of how much sex we’d have living under the same roof!”

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