To be happy together, we need to build and maintain loving connections with our partner. The stronger these connections are, the more lasting our love will be. Love and romance are nurtured as much by small, everyday things as by grand gestures—and sometimes more so. A patient recently explained to me that he had taken his wife on many wonderful vacations, so he couldn’t understand why she complained about feeling unloved. But listening to her, we found that it was his condescending attitude, controlling behavior, and constant anger that made her feel so bad. So it didn’t matter what he did; his behavior took away all the love he intended for her.
Here are some basic building blocks for loving connection—concepts to work with as a couple in your everyday world.
- Boundaries: Understanding what is acceptable and what is not is vital for love to grow. We need to take time to outline what our boundaries are so we can live within them. Boundaries are created by our feelings about what does or doesn’t feel good.
- Consideration: To be considerate about the things that are important to your mate is essential for harmony. Helping out, remembering important events and agreements, and doing things your partner wants are small gestures that can have a large effect over time.
- Fairness: Being fair helps keep a relationship balanced. Sharing household chores, vacations, spending, friends, and responsibilities toward relatives create more harmony and positive feelings.
- Tolerance: Our ability to tolerate our partner’s foibles and flaws is important for lasting peace. Tolerance for differences in feelings, ways of doing things, parenting styles, and the other opposing views that all couples have is a key component of creating love.
- Responsibility: Being able to own our part of a problem is essential for conflict resolution. One of the main reasons for divorce is the inability of one partner or the other to accept responsibility for difficulties in the relationship.
- Support: Support takes many forms, from helping your partner fulfill dreams and aspirations to providing care when he or she is sick or defeated. It sends a message that you believe in your partner and you are on his or her side.
- Making time for sex or affection or both: When couples actively create space and time for sex and affection, they will feel more contented more of the time. Physical and emotional contentment is what supports monogamy.
- The ability to bear ambivalence: This is the act of staying even when everything in you wants to split. Being angry, turned off, and ready to run, yet staying, listening, and fighting hard during tough times is an essential skill for long-term relationships.
Roadblocks to Love
Just as there are methods and means for creating love, there are defensive processes that can obstruct it. Let’s take a look at some of
the main love-killers.
- Globalization: “Everybody does that.” Globalization essentially obscures the truth. If someone doesn’t want to admit that he or she has some responsibility in the problem, globalization is a perfect distraction.
- Blame-shifting: “And you do the same thing but worse.” Another excellent way to shift the blame away from yourself and back onto the other person.
- Victimhood: “I’m so good to you, and you treat me so badly.” The victim is always innocent and good. This is an emotional double whammy. “Not only are you picking on me but you should feel guilty because I am so good.”
- Gaslighting: “I was just kidding; can’t you take a joke?” “Noise? What noise?” This process is more insidious because it is an effort to make the other person feel crazy in order to gain power and control.
- Entitlement: “You’re the one who made me angry. You deserve it.” Entitlement is like a free pass to behave however you want to because you are the aggrieved party. This kind of behavior is a surefire defense because nothing gets through.
- Denial: “I’m not angry.” Denial is an emotional way to slam the door on any form of communication about what went wrong.
- Displacement: “Just because you had a bad day at work, don’t take it out on me.” Displacement happens more than most people know or understand. It’s important to tell our partner when we think this is going on.
- Guilt: “I work my ass off to give you everything and you can’t even make me some tea.” Guilt is often part of playing the victim, but it can also be used as a control mechanism.
- Shame/Blame: “You’re a human slug. You never do anything.” This process is essentially infantile because there is no empathy or compassion in it. Infants and children are not expected to be compassionate, but adults are.
- Stonewalling: “This is the way I am; take it or leave it.” Stonewalling is exactly that: it shuts down communication. Another form of stonewalling is simply to say nothing.
- Projection: “You think I’m stupid, don’t you?” This process is very common because most people are not in touch with how insecure they feel, so what they experience feels like it is coming from the other person when it is really coming from within.
- Devaluation: “You really could lose some of that extra weight.” Devaluation is a defense against caring and needing anyone. The less others mean to us, the less we need them.
This article is a section from Dr. Bill Cloke’s book: Happy Together: Creating a Lifetime of Connection, Commitment, and Intimacy.
Tags: Couples psychotherapy relationship advice relationships