A paradox about sustaining loving attachment: for a long-term relationship we need to find enough similarities with our partner – either culturally, socially or emotionally – to make a connection, yet we need enough difference to stop the relationship stagnating.
In addition, a challenge is that everybody has their own definition of love.
This book was written by a relationship counsellor who realised he was hearing ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you.’ People who say this may describe each other as best friends, or say that their relationship was more like that of a brother and sister, except most were still having sex. Frequently there is a lack of arguments, when someone cannot truly voice their feelings, the relationship will cool down. There is also a tendency for two partners to grow more like each other. At times the catalyst for those with partners who had fallen out of love had recently had a life-changing experience.
The two main culprits are neglecting physical intimacy and not allowing each other to be different enough. When there is so much pressure to be everything to each other, to share friends and even tastes, there is little room to be an individual as well as one half of a couple.
Intimacy is made up of three main components: vulnerability, good verbal communication and physical closeness (of which sex is probably only 30 per cent). Get these key ingredients balanced and you will always feel both loved and desired.
These are the seven steps mentioned:
5. Take responsibility
Ask yourself one question – have you been criticising rather than complaining?
In general, complaints use ‘I’ while criticism uses ‘you’. For example, a complaint would be, ‘I wanted us to go to bed at the same time.’ Voiced as a criticism it would be, ‘You didn’t come to bed on time.’
A further paradox of love is that we all need to be loved. The more we love someone, the more important his or her love becomes and the more frightened we are of losing it. So we worry that if we do not do what our partner wants he or she will reject us. But how do we deal with different tastes, standards and attitudes?
Every relationship faces this problem, partly because no two people are alike but mainly because we are programmed to choose a partner who makes up for the qualities we lack. In the best-case scenario these differences are catalysts for growth rather than estrangement. However, difference can become so threatening that a couple use strategies, often unconsciously, to protect themselves from the pain. These strategies include: attempting to control your partner; pretending to be indifferent to the difference; fitting in with your partner and subsuming your personality into theirs. Nobody sets out to be
controlling or a doormat they just get frightened. So the central paradox is that almost everything we do is to protect us from pain, but most of the pain we feel comes from this protective behaviour.
Use positive reinforcement to ‘train’ your partner:
1 Think back over the past twenty-four hours. How many times did you criticise your partner’s behaviour or nasty habits? How often did you praise them? Which came out on top, positives or negatives?
2 Stop giving negative attention. Instead of complaining wait for the behaviour that you wish to encourage.
3 Positive reinforcement is built around gratitude and compliments. Don’t overlook this as nobody can have too many of either.
4 Don’t take anything for granted.
Put this into action, think about your complaints about your partner, write down the top three and turn them into positive requests: what you want rather than what you don’t want. If you can’t find a concrete goal, ask yourself: How will I know when this goal has been achieved?
Social psychologists argue that only 10 per cent of communication is verbal, but somehow we expect our partners to trust our words rather than our behaviour. In the rush of day-to-day living it is easy to buy off a partner with ‘of course I love you’ rather than take the time to show it or act thoughtfully.
Many couples arrive at counselling with one partner complaining about being taken for granted, whilst the partner looks back mystified.
Successful couples continue to take both small risks (like upsetting their partner) and bigger ones (like
one partner retraining and meeting a lot of new people) while, by contrast, ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you’ couples prefer to play safe.
Be cautious about over-analysing, you may fall into three main patterns: the angry, who end up blaming other people; the self-critical, who blame themselves; and the swamped, who become overwhelmed and are prone to becoming depressed.
It is important to understanding the relationship (the past), concentrate on changing things for the better (the future) but also focus on the present, which might be the next few days. People who are stuck thinking about the past risk developing depression, those who set off with their eyes fixed only on the future may crash and burn. If you live in the moment you are unlikely to develop many problems unless you adopt a hedonistic desire to feel good today and become trapped in pointless pleasure-seeking.
Remember overtime your relationship will change; here are approximate steps.
- Blending – Year 1 to 18 months
- Nesting – Year 2 to 3
- Self-affirming – Year 3 or 4
Up to this point couples have always stressed their similarities, perhaps encouraging a partner to join in with a favourite hobby or even giving something up to spend more time together. However, during self-affirming a couple has to feel confident enough to enjoy separate activities, to remember that there exists an ‘I’ as well as a ‘we’.
- Collaborating – Year 5 to 15
- Adapting – Year 15 to 25
These couples are busy adapting to the changes thrown at them rather than dealing with internal changes within the relationship.
- Renewing – Twenty Five Years plus
Older couples are often the most romantic and the closest. Closeness at stage one was based on the
promise of a future together. Now the bond is based on the reality of a lifetime together. Renewing partners stop looking outside the relationship and focus all their attention inwardly.
Here are 12 steps for the Road to Intimacy’; take them ideally as a couple but you can lead by example and create a knock-on effect.
1 Validate each other. Compliment or congratulate your partner.
2 Grab opportunities to talk.
3 Set aside quality talking time – thinking your goals / where you are heading
4 Confide a secret.
5 Touch your partner. Reintroduce casual touching into your relationship.
6 Share food out of the same bowl
7 Set the scene. Take a long hard look at your bedroom. Is it a passion-killer?
Make the room warm enough, the lighting kind (candles are a good tip) and lock the door.
Finally, add a sound system to set the mood and to prevent worries about being overheard.
8 Slow down your lovemaking. Intimacy needs time.
9 Find new erogenous zones.
10 Skip intercourse.
11 Make initiation a shared responsibility.
12 Experiment. Try bringing something new into your relationship.
On the one hand, a couple needs to have worked hard to remove the obstacles to love: anger, hurt, cynicism and impossible expectations. Yet on the other hand, a couple needs to step back and let go.