Ahhh, yes – “couple”ship! Defining the state of our togetherness or our separateness from one another is of universal interest.. “Are you married?” is what people soon inquire after meeting a new person. Most of us have been half of a couple at least once. Those relationships lasting a year or more may be considered long-term. We may assume that long-term means that it’s a fulfilling and successful love story.
However, as many couples know, this assumption is not necessarily true. It may mean instead that you endure together despite significant difficulties and disappointments. If you struggle with a pattern of frustration over communication glitches or wishing you had more intimacy, it may be time to get some help.
- Your relationship is more Kramer v. Kramer instead of Love Story.
- You haven’t secretly planned a surprise for your sweetheart since the year …uh…19???
- You can’t remember initiating something your partner enjoys … unconditionally…with no strings (expectations) attached.
- You would be afraid to know what grade your partner would give the marriage. (A+, ..C-,…F?)
Myth: Maybe I am just not lucky at love.
Many of us have been part of a couple multiple times and the roller coaster emotions of being in love and falling out of love is painfully familiar. Many find this frightening, and yes, even mysterious or just a matter of luck. Some assume there is nothing much to be done about it.
Is it luck? Okay, perhaps there is an element of luck, but, our culture tends to value and teach intellect and logic over emotion and intuition. From the beginning of childhood development, the emphasis is on developing intellect, independence, competitiveness and productivity. These are aimed at and apply to our outer selves and are clearly valued (especially to males) over understanding our inner life and intuitive skills (more often promoted and accepted in females).
Inner life? Men may be groaning, “Is this more psychobabble?” If you prefer to think of it that way, yes. Your inner life is what connects you to your partner, emotionally and physically. You know – intimacy – inner feelings, and emotions. Don’t forget, our desires for sex and romance are primarily located between our ears.
If you have an awareness of feelings (starting with your own) and cultivate an ability to identify and express them to your partner, you have the key to experiencing what you have always wanted: understanding and being understood. Women, if you can promote this (patiently), you will have the loving response you want and dream about.
Myth: The mark of a healthy relationship is the absence of conflict; happy couples don’t fight.
John Gottman, a psychologist, mathematician and author (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail), studied conflict in couples to determine the role it plays in the marriage. He found that arguing, even frequent arguing, does not lead to divorce. Similarity in opinion does not safeguard against divorce or break-up.
“Couples who initially had complaints about each other’s attitudes were among the most stable marriages as the years went on,” he says. The real key, according to Gottman, is how couples work out their differences. Conflicts are inevitable but balance between negative and positive interactions is the best predictor of a happy couple.
Myth: I shouldn’t have to work at this; if it’s right, it should come naturally.
We often mistake the attraction and lust phase of relationship for love. At this stage we idealize our partners. Everything our beloved does is okay, or , at least not that big a deal. We expect we will almost always have these feelings. We also tend to expect that finding our ‘soul-mate’, getting married, having children (for some), and achieving some successful financial status is all that is needed to make us happy.
In Keeping the Love You Find, author Harville Hendrix stresses the importance of making a commitment to having a “conscious relationship”. He focuses on getting out of the second phase of relationship, otherwise known as the power struggle (which most of us recognize), and into a conscious or real love. That means specifically targeting your partner’s needs and intentionally deciding to meet those needs.
It’s about stretching ourselves, really extending ourselves into behaviors that are difficult and uncomfortable at first in order to meet our partner’s need, not our own…and, not what we think our partner should want. Oh, by the way, it must be unconditional, too. None of that “If I do that… then you should do what I want…” stuff!
Does your relationship meet the “conscious” criteria?
Can you say that your relationship can be described by the following attributes?
- Separate but equal attitudes
- Dialogue, not debate, is the core of your communication
- There are no exits (drugs, affairs, alcohol, excessive time away, etc.)
- There is little or no criticism
- Anger is expressed by appointment only, and
each accepts full responsibility for all aspects of themselves
- Each develops what is missing in themselves
- There is no rigid social code of gender or sexual expectations; rather, sharing is decided by natural interests and strengths
Would you get a passing grade in your relationship?
How would you rate your coupleship on a grading scale from A+ ( A Love Story) to F ( An Armed Camp)? How do you think your partner would grade it? *If you rate your relationship less than a “B” or cannot remember when it ever felt like an “A”, you may want to consider consulting someone who has expertise in interpersonal and emotional skills such as a psychotherapist or licensed marriage counselor.