The Secret to Enduring Love

“Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

— Mandy Len Catron

____________________________________________________________________________________________

What is the secret to enduring love? I thought this was a fitting blog post for February. However, as I started to research this, I realized that for this article to hold any power, to be truly authentic and real, I would have to write about myself, to make this personal.

I have been married for thirty years, and in relationship with Jeff, from friends to lovers, for over forty. I guess that gives me some credentials for enduring love. But it is not straightforward, not a simple dance. After thirty years of marriage, Jeff and I are now once again in therapy; this time working within the model of EFT, Emotionally Focused Therapy. We are reading “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson in an effort to overcome some really hard patterns we have developed.

Even after all this time, we still rub against each other’s raw spots. Dr. Johnson defines raw spots this way: “A hypersensitivity formed by moments in a person’s past or current relationships when an attachment need has been repeatedly neglected, ignored, or dismissed.”

After so long, you’d think that we would have figured out each other’s raw spots and avoid them. But we seem to pick at them, like a scab, before it can ever heal.

I like this quote:

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
― Marilyn Monroe

… not that I’m comparing myself to Marilyn Monroe, I promise. But I can relate to it. The problem I face though is, how do we deal with relationship problems, when we are at our worst, when it seems like love is falling through the cracks…

Richard Bach proclaims: the opposite of loneliness is not togetherness, it’s intimacy. So how do we hold on to that intimacy, even in the face of dealing with raw spots and fear of loneliness?

One of my biggest raw spots is fear of abandonment. My father left our family when I was 12 and my mother died when I was 16. I absolutely have a massive fear of abandonment… and my husband keeps leaving! He is about to leave again, this time to work in Bangladesh. For at least six months, perhaps up to a year.

Another quote from Bach, this one from one of his books that I love The Bridge Across Forever:I’m here not because I am supposed to be here, or because I’m trapped here, but because I’d rather be with you than anywhere else in the world.”

I want this to be true for Jeff; I want him to stay by my side because there is nowhere else he’d rather be. Unfortunately though, one of Jeff’s biggest drivers and passions in his life is to be of service and to work with people who are in the most need. This time he is off to work at a refugee camp. And I love him for it, I really do… and I struggle with not wanting him to leave. These two emotions co-exist in me. I love the man I married who has such high ideals and has a willingness to go through self-sacrifice to serve. And I hate the fact that he keeps leaving… I want to be enough to make him stay.

Every time Jeff leaves to work in another country, I feel a sense of abandonment, my attachment needs rubbed raw.

“Attachment needs are our human desires for acceptance, belonging, comfort when we hurt, and safety to be ourselves. From the cradle to the grave we all long to feel understood and accepted by those we love.”

 So we are doing more work, reading and holding each other, and trying to heal some of the raw spots. We are working to keep making our relationship more secure. Dr. Johnson explains “in insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” So in order to keep securing our relationship, we explore these vulnerabilities and work together with hope they will heal a bit more before we scratch at the scab.

I envision us growing old together, hopefully another thirty years. I believe we will. But I know it will continue to take work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to end this post by altering Mandy Len Catron’s quote I used in the beginning of this article slightly:

We’re in love because we make the choice to be, everyday, even when it is hard.

And I want to close with a TED Talk by Mandy Len Catron: Falling In Love is the Easy Part.

And if you are so inclined to explore the 36 questions that Catron talks about, here’s the link.

I’d love to hear your secret to enduring love. And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

Is Love All You Need?

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
― Anaïs Nin

_______________________________________________________________________________

 

I was sitting in the seat of the car, looking out the window, pouting. The day was not going as I had planned it in my head. He should have known! He must have known how I wanted it to be, after all we were married and he should know . . . he should be able to read my mind . . .

Lennon and McCartney tell us that Love is All You Need. But in the case of romantic love, is that true?

Alain de Botton describes why we created and still live by the inaccurate, and often disastrous image of romantic love in his NYT article: “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”

In the past, people married for practical reasons, but in the 1800s, we replaced practicality with the romantic version of love:

“For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.”

Romantic Love tells us that we all have a soul mate out there and it is our task to find our one true soul mate, and we will know when we find him or her because we will have that very special feeling. Botton describes this search for romantic love in his very entertaining talk “On Love” from ‘The School of Life.’

We are led to believe that when we find our soul mate, we will never be lonely again, that person will understand us completely and practically be able to read our mind. (flashback to me in the car pouting) We will feel completely understood and loved. This love shall be one long romantic holiday . . .

 

The reality is though that what we are looking for when we fall in love is familiarity. We are not necessarily drawn to people who will make us happy, we are drawn to people who will feel familiar.

“What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.”

Botton adds:

“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

For a relationship to last, we need more than that out-dated version of romantic love. So what do we need to make a lasting relationship? Well for one thing, we definitely need good communication. The day out with my husband would have turned out a lot differently if I had communicated my vision for the day instead of assuming that my husband should just know.

But aside from good communication, science is showing us that lasting relationships come down to two things: kindness and generosity.

In Atlantic Magazine’s article ‘Masters of Love’, psychologists John and Julie Gottman describe their work. Together they have studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. From the data they gathered, they were able to separate the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.

The masters felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. Whereas the disasters were in a state of ‘fight or flight’ even when they were not fighting. It’s not that the masters had a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird. The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that. People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper.”

Gottman explains that masters have a habit of mind in which they scan the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes. And it’s not just scanning the environment, it’s also scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or wrong; criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.

The Gottmans have found that contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them will eventually kill the love in the relationship. On the other hand, kindness glues couples together. Kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated. Kindness makes us feel loved.

So if we are looking to live happily ever after together, we need to ditch the antiquated version of romantic love and move forward in the spirit of kindness and generosity.

I’d like to close this post with the video by Alaine de Botton that I mentioned above.  It is well worth the watch, both amusing and insightful.

 

Let me know your thoughts on romantic love and what makes a relationship withstand the test of time.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.