Tips to Write & Roleplay Believable Successful Long-Term Relationships
...Whether you're looking to write a couple who genuinely looks like they're headed for eternal romance or looking for a few pointers on playing ships in a roleplay. (And while this was written for romantic relationships in mind, pretty much everything applies to platonic relationships and friendships, too.)
Table of Contents
- The characters need to communicate with each other.
- The characters need to respect each other’s wants and wishes - as well as their own wants and wishes.
- The characters need to be aware and sensitive to each others’ emotional needs and boundaries.
- The characters need to have things in common - but they need to be the right things.
- One shouldn’t hate or resent a major, definitive trait of the other.
The characters need to communicate with each other.
Many characters do little more than cast longing gazes and twiddle their hair in the direction of their Intended Love Interest. They make no attempt to engage their ILI in any meaningful conversation, even when the ILI offers up conversation hooks.
Now, people tend to have what you might call a flirting event horizon - a critical point where when the flirting reaches a certain level, internal klaxons go off warning someone looking for something potentially substantial (romantic or not) to DISENGAGE AND ABORT. How much it takes varies from person to person, but as a general rule someone who does absolutely nothing but flirt is going to set them ringing at full throttle. The reason’s pretty simple - someone who only flirts and never engages in any meaningful conversations is probably just looking for an ego-boost or is just stringing the other person along.
Likewise, if Person A tries to shift the conversation to something xe finds interesting and the Person B only continues with flirtations and come-ons, then that’s a pretty decent indicator that Person B isn’t looking for a substantial relationship.
Another problem is when characters created to be love interests don’t do anything but hem and haw and look shyly away whenever the other character so much as looks at them, let alone tries to talk to them. Pray tell me, gentle readers - how are these characters supposed to bond and form a relationship when they can’t even communicate in the first place?
The characters need to respect each other’s wants and wishes - as well as their own wants and wishes.
It’s a frighteningly common thing for characters who are intended to be shipped with another to ignore the wants and desires of the target of their affections in the name of “persistence.” For example, if Todd is in a foul mood and says he doesn’t want to go dancing right now, Jordan will persist in trying to drag Todd out to the dance floor, never mind how much or how hard Todd protests. Actually asking Todd what he wants to do? Pfah!
Now, imagine yourself in Todd’s shoes - you’re in a bad mood and suddenly someone comes along and decides you’re going to have ~FUN!!!~ by… oh, pick anything you really don’t like doing. Ask yourself - is there any way in heck that doing it longer will make you start liking it? No? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! Oh, wait. Nothing’s wrong. You’re a normal human being. The above scenario is basically a “beatings will continue until morale improves” situation, and with few exceptions do beatings do anything to improve anyone's morale.
What’s more, if Jordan can’t take no for an answer now, how can Todd expect Jordan to take no for an answer when the activity in question is… oh, sex? Admittedly this is a worst-case scenario, but a partner being unable or unwilling to communicate, negotiate, and compromise early on in the relationship is a red flag of major trouble to come.
On the flip side of the coin, some characters will never disagree with anything the other partner says. In real life, if a couple never disagrees with each other, that means that one of them isn't being honest and is just giving in to what the other wants. While this may put off disagreements in the short-term, in the long-term it's going to make that person very, very unhappy as xe'll constantly see xir own dreams and goals unfulfilled at the expense of xir partner's, leading to frustration, bitterness, resentment, and lots of repressed emotions.
The characters need to be aware and sensitive to each others’ emotional needs and boundaries.
Everyone has their own individual sore spots, traumas, and insecurities, and a healthy couple will know and respect that there are some subjects that you handle with care and that there are some lines you don’t cross at all, even if said couple bickers like the proverbial old married couple most of the time.
As an example of Doin’ It Wrong, in one RP a character whom we’ll call Jean repeatedly insisted that my character’s (whom we’ll call Rob) breakup with his girlfriend wasn’t really that bad and that he didn’t really love her and that he was basically whining about a blow to his ego, even though Rob made it clear that he was heavily emotionally invested in the relationship and that he’d taken it hard. Jean and Rob, who were supposed to be best friends, didn’t stay best friends for long.
In another example of Doin’ It Wrong, one OC created to be paired with Loki (we’ll call her Anna) was apparently remarkably thick. Anna was a jotun, her backstory being that Odin had also taken her from Jotunheim. Anna was convinced that if she could make Loki come to terms with being a frost giant, she could make him all right again and have him back to what he was like before he found out he was a frost giant. Loki’s attempt to explain that it was a whole lot more complicated than just being a frost giant (eg, that part of the problem was that he’d learned he’d been lied to his entire life by his own father, and that wasn’t something you just got over, and that he had a lot of other issues in general that had nothing to do with being a frost giant at all) went in one ear and out the other - an indication that Anna probably didn’t really care about his feelings at all.
The characters need to have things in common - but they need to be the right things.
Most people generally realize that having things in common is a key ingredient to forming a relationship. Unfortunately, some of the traits they give their characters would in reality make rather spurious bonding material.
Shared traumas and nearly-identical tragedies are a pretty common go-to, the general idea usually being that the other character will finally have someone who at long last understands them. Now sure, it sure can be satisfying to vent to someone who can comprehend where you’re coming from. You can have your feelings validated and feel just a little less alone in the universe. But as a person I know described his personal experiences:
“A shared experience of being oppressed is a rather lousy basis for a friendship as compared to, I dunno, a love of banana Runts. Reason being, you're going to have some really depressing conversations. On the other hand, there's something truly special when you realize that someone who's almost nothing like you likes exactly the same obscure candy.”
In other words, just having nasty things in common isn’t going to cut it by a long shot - your characters need some positive things in common, too. Things they can form happy memories over. Things that can move them forward, rather than stall them or even move them backward.
The other most commonly used trait-in-common is power or skill level. Character has ice powers? Xe’ll totes fall in love with someone who has equal or stronger ice powers than xir! Character is a biologist? Totally would fall in love with a genius biologist, yeah! Or so the logic goes.
Here’s a thought exercise: pick one of your better skills. Now imagine a stranger you know nothing about except for the fact that xe has that same skill, only xe’s better at it. Now, if applicable, imagine someone who does your job, only better. Do you feel a sudden, overwhelming urge to date these hypothetical people? Now imagine that they rub their skills in your face and make a point of one-upping you, as many OCs are wont to do with their intended love interests. Sound like someone you’d jump into a relationship with?
By and far, the most questionable traits people try to match are flaws. EG, Thomas is a grumpy recluse with next to no social skills, so the writer creates Jodi, who is also a grumpy recluse with next to no social skills. In reality, this particular set of flaws are primed to push these characters apart, not draw them together - each will just irritate the other, and since neither one of them particularly likes people they’ll both likely end up shuffling off to do something else instead.
One shouldn’t hate or resent a major, definitive trait of the other.
A hypothetical scenario representing too many actual cases: two shipper-roleplayers are playing canon characters Lex and Cam in what’s supposed to be a steady, stable relationship. Canon has established that Lex is rather childish at times, watching Saturday morning cartoons whenever possible and eating odd things like ketchup-and-banana sandwiches.
And so Lex’s player has Lex watching Scooby-Doo one morning while eating a turkey-and-marshmallow salad. Cue Cam’s player having Cam come in to make disparaging comments about what Lex chooses to watch on TV and proceed to gripe about the disgusting food. After awhile it becomes clear that Cam will not be placated until Lex starts behaving how Cam thinks Lex “should” behave. It might even come to an ultimatum between turning off the cartoons or sleeping on the couch.
At this point the question must be asked: if Cam’s player saw this as being such a point of contention for Cam, why is the player shipping them in the first place? Why would Cam get involved with someone as disgusting as Lex, anyway? Why would Lex get involved with someone as cranky and uptight as Cam? If Cam can’t tolerate a major aspect of Lex’s character by the time they’re in a steady relationship, then they were never a compatible couple in the first place.
If you liked this, you might also be interested in:
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Basic Tips To Write Healthy Relationships
More Tips For Portraying Believable, Functional, & Healthy Relationships
Yet More Tips To Portray Believable & Healthy Friendships & Romances
Things To Avoid When Writing Romance Novels
Couple Development Questions
Tips To End Canon Ships Better & More Believably
So You Want To Have An Attractive Character?
Common Problems In Roleplaying Characters