Happily ever after is a convenient ending for fairy tales, but in real life, it can sometimes sound like a very long time—even when you’re totally in love with your S.O. And that makes sense: “Human beings aren’t genetically meant to be with one person forever,” says Danielle Dowling, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based relationship expert and life coach. “Biologically, we’re wired for survival, and survival occurs through mating."
But we’ve certainly evolved past caveman days, and now we can focus on thriving—not just surviving—which includes opting into a permanent partnership with someone who inspires and challenges you, she explains. That doesn’t mean the feeling of forever is always going to feel natural, though. So here are three ways to beat your fear of commitment, whether you’re single or partnered up.
1. 'Fess Up
By speaking up, you subconsciously pave the way toward settling down. “Once your fears or doubts are on the table, you can explore the fear. Is it being disappointed or let down? Is it eventually ending up alone? Once you pinpoint the ‘why,’ you can tackle it,” Dowling explains. Since these topics can be tough to bring up, use the headlines as inspiration. For example, talking about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” can help you bring up some of your own worries, like what would happen if you and your guy lost the spark 10 years from now. These convos may feel uncomfortable, but they could lead to a stronger bond. A 2012 Kansas State University study found that couples who talked about relationship doubts had stronger marriages than those who didn’t. [Tweet this tip!]
2. Find Relationship Role Models
Whether it’s your grandparents holding hands under the table or Romeo and Juliet, examples of couples in love will help you realize that true and forever love is out there—even if you haven’t experienced it, explains Lisa Shield, a dating and relationship coach in Los Angeles. “The more good relationship role models you have in your life, the more open you’ll be to the concept." Already coupled up? Make it a point to hang out with happy couples as much as possible rather than your always-arguing roommate and her boyfriend. A 2013 Brown University study found that couples were 75 percent more likely to divorce if one of their friends did, suggesting that others' relationships have the power to influence your own partnership.
3. Don’t Think in Endpoints
In our culture, it’s easy to see happily ever after as the goal of a relationship, but that perspective can make you lose out on a lot of awesome moments along the way. “You can be ambivalent about forever and grow into the idea of marriage and permanent partnership,” Dowling says. Of course, that doesn’t mean you and your guy shouldn’t ever talk about timelines, like whether or not you want marriage and kids in the future. But as long as you’re both on the same page about major life goals, then it’s fine to take each day as it comes.