We investigate the feedbacks between surface processes and tectonics in an extensional setting by coupling a 2-D geodynamical model with a landscape evolution law. Focusing on the evolution of a single normal fault, we show that surface processes significantly enhance the amount of horizontal extension a fault can accommodate before being abandoned in favor of a new fault. In simulations with very slow erosion rates, a 15 km- thick brittle layer extends via a succession of crosscutting short-lived faults (heave < 5 km). By contrast, when erosion rates are comparable to the regional extension velocity deformation is accommodated on long-lived faults (heave >10 km). Using simple scaling arguments, we quantify the effect of surface mass removal on the force balance acting on a growing normal fault. This leads us to propose that the major range-bounding normal faults observed in many continental rifts owe their large offsets to erosional and depositional processes.