Will your relationship last a lifetime? Will you and your partner enjoy each other’s company and have a deep and intimate connection, emotionally and sexually for as long as you both shall live?
That is what we promise when we say, “I do.” Yet the divorce rate hovers around 50% and it’s estimated that 60% of men and 40% of women will have an affair during the lifetime of their marriage. It certainly doesn’t appear that an overwhelming percentage of married couples are in matrimonial bliss.
What does it take to create a relationship of like, love, and lust that will last till death do us part? Having seen thousands of couples over our 23 years in practice together, Bob (my husband) and I think we have the answer. These are our nine pieces of wisdom:
1. Stay awake. The busyness of our everyday lives—going to work, parenting kids, paying the bills, caring for parents, advancing in our careers—takes a tremendous toll on our time, energy, and attention. No wonder it’s not uncommon for couples to drift along and forget that, for their marriage to thrive, it too needs time, energy, and attention. We often see couples who seem like they have been sleeping through their marriage and unintentionally or unconsciously have drifted to the point of no return.
Other couples believe, “If you really love your partner, you shouldn’t have to work at your relationship.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Bob and I do this for a living and we still work at our relationship every day.
The reality is that for a relationship to be passionate, loving, and connected over a lifetime, two people must consciously be aware of and attend to their partnership; intimate relationships are a direct result of our loving thoughts, words, and actions. You and your partner do have the ability to consciously co-create the marriage you want.
Take the reins, understand that successful relationships require work and stay awake.
2. Own your part. Most often, in a couple’s first appointment, each person presents what the partner is doing wrong. Blame abounds, as each one states his or her case, expecting the therapist to determine who is right (and, therefore, who is wrong). Eyes are looking outward. Remember when one finger is pointing out, three are pointing back at you.
When it comes to relationships, the words, actions, and behaviors of each partner interact to determine the quality of their relationship. No matter what the circumstance, each person is accountable for some part of it. It certainly is important to let your partner know what you want him/her to do, or not do, in order to enhance your connection. And it is vital for you to recognize the part you play in creating the state of the relationship at any moment. Turn your eyes inward. To be part of the solution, you must identify your part of the problem.
Step up and ask yourself, “What am I contributing to the problem, and what can I change that will positively affect the relationship?”
3. Believe in growth. The beliefs a person has about human nature and relationships can have a huge impact on the fate of the partnership. Do you believe that if two people are devoted to working on their relationship, they can change their own thoughts and behaviors? You cannot change a person’s personality, but people can change actions, thoughts, and emotions. People can grow.
Do you believe that relationships can grow and evolve over time, based upon each partner’s actions and communication? We have witnessed many couples change dynamics, patterns, and habits, making them a more successful partnership.
Believing that people and relationships can grow, is vital to a relationship that lasts a lifetime. Keep your eyes open to your partnership’s potential.
4. Communicate. There is no skill more important to a relationship’s chance of achieving success over a lifetime than communication; making the time and space to have ongoing dialogue and practice active listening, speaking up, and being genuine are the keys to good communication.
Often we see couples who don’t respect their partners’ thoughts and feelings. No matter what the issue, it’s vital to make room for each partner’s opinions, views, and feelings. Forget about being right; focus on understanding your partner’s point of view and having him/her understand yours. You don’t have to agree with your partner’s point of view; the act of hearing it, acknowledging it, and respecting it is what’s important. Only then can you problem solve as a team.
Studies have shown that successful relationships have a balance of power and influence; act as a team no matter what the issue.
When conflict arises, turn arguments into disagreements. Arguments are defined as “a disagreement in which different views are expressed, often angrily.” Disagreements are: “having or expressing a different opinion and failing to agree about something.” The difference is that arguing is filled with emotion, usually anger, while disagreeing is not. When couples argue and emotions are high, they are unable to hear each other or solve problems.
Turn an argument into a disagreement—when each partner takes responsibility for his/her own strong emotions, the couple can create a habit of taking a break, soothing their own emotions, and coming back to the discussion.
5. Stay “in touch.” Some couples drift apart and don’t realize it until a crisis occurs, for example, one partner has fallen out of love with the other, and/or one person has an affair. Being awake and aware is part of the answer. You can stay connected by making a habit of talking about the relationship—ask your partner how he/she is feeling about the connection, emotionally and sexually. Talk about what’s going well and what you would like more/less of. Then act on that conversation. Don’t assume everything is okay.
Stay in touch on the levels of head, heart, and hormones by talking, regularly doing acts of love, and connecting erotically/sexually.
6. Build connections. It’s estimated that the average couple spends just 11 minutes a day together. Most likely, this is when couples are raising kids. Studies have consistently shown that marital satisfaction plunges after the birth of the first child. When children become the center of focus, and time and energy are spread thin, neglecting the relationship may become the new norm. By the time an empty nest arrives, couples may have nothing left in common.
It’s up to you to continually build connections over a lifetime, finding new ways to relate and enjoy each other’s company—just the two of you. Whether it’s talking about the news, taking dancing lessons, going to the symphony, riding bikes, taking up a cause, watching movies, every couple needs to do activities that they enjoy together.
Work as a team to decide what activities will nurture your connection. What experiences do you like to share and enjoy together? Carve out time to do those things; a strong marriage is the best gift you can give your children.
7. Do something different. All couples get into daily habits—work, commute home, watch TV, go to bed. Routine can create feelings of boredom, leading to relationships stagnation. So break up the routine.
Change it up. Be creative. Take a day off together. Go out for appetizers and drinks during the week. Spend a weekend, or even just one night, at a bed and breakfast. Seek out a new adventure that will add excitement and sparks to your marriage.
8. Turn toward your partner. There will be times in a lifetime relationship where you will feel disconnected, lonely, even unloved. There is no perfect relationship, only the relationship that is perfect for you. Be aware when you are having these feelings and communicate them to your partner. Bring it home to the relationship; do not start talking about your marital unhappiness with someone else—especially someone of the opposite sex, creating temptation and setting up potential jealousy.
The true test of a marriage is how people respond during the bad times. In vulnerable times, consciously turn toward your partner, and, if needed, seek the help of a competent marital therapist.
9. Persevere. In the millennium, life moves fast, attention spans are limited, responses are quick, immediate gratification is expected, patience is at an all time low. Having a lifetime relationship that is happy, healthy, and connected requires commitment, devotion, patience, and perseverance. It can only be co-created by two people who work hard and weather many storms. The rewards of sharing a lifetime together are tremendous.
Each of us has an innate drive, when problems arise, to move towards the problem or to move away. In relationships that achieve a lifetime of like, love, and lust, both partners embrace the problems and persevere.
Why do we strive to stay married for a lifetime? In the movie Shall We Dance (2004) with Susan Sarandon, there is a conversation between Sarandon’s character and a private investigator she’s hired to find out if her husband is having an affair. Sarandon says to the investigator, “All these promises that we make and we break… Why is it, do you think, that people get married?” The investigator replies: “Passion.” She responds, “No…[It’s] because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet. I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it. All of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.'”
We look for another to love and to cherish so we don’t walk through life alone. To fully enjoy life, each of us needs to love and to be loved.
© Copyright 2011 by By Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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