05/20/2010 08:08 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Secret of Long-term Relationships

I've been married for nearly 30 years to my wife. I had no idea what the secret is to vibrant long-term relationships, or even if there was a secret, but I was interested in exploring this issue. So I asked a group of some of my closest friends, who were gathered in our living room for a marriage re-commitment ceremony: what is the secret to your success? These were friends who had accompanied me and my wife on our relationship journey. Many of these people had been friends even before I met my wife.

There were some terrific and heartfelt answers to this question-- ranging from the humorous to the sweetly romantic to the, well, impossible--but one answer stands out. It was from the wife of a couple that has also been married for about 30 years. She and her husband are both teachers, both long-term Zen students and teachers of Zen. Without hesitating, she looked at her husband and said, "The secret of long-term relationships is to constantly lower your standards."

Everyone laughed. And yet, this answer seemed serious and right to the point.

The way that I heard her answer is that the secret of long-term relationships is just to love; just love without comparing, without expecting, without measuring. Just love. See what happens.

Constantly lowering your standards, in this context, means to forget standards completely: yours and even your spouse's. Perhaps to forget all standards--the constant and calculated measurements of who you are and what you need--usually partial at best, anyway, and almost always some kind of one-sided, inaccurate story. Just let go. As soon as we apply standards, there is always something better, someone better, and a self-defeating sense of disappointment sets in.

In my leadership development practice, working with teams, and in all relationships that I witness or am a part of, I've noticed that whenever people go down the road of identifying right and wrong, of who did (or did not do) or said what to whom first, it always leads to the same place: to deciding about standards, and that leads away from intimacy, from understanding, from the opening up feeling of acceptance, and from love.

So if there is a secret to long-term relationships - just love. Forget about your standards. How? Just love.