ANYONE can have a long-term relationship. But time, of course, is no guarantee of quality.
We all know couples that have clocked up the years in what seem to be pretty joyless relationships.
And the answer to why some people stay together is often much less about love and much more about the fear of being alone, of pain and displacement or the agony of having to start all over again.
But some people really do seem to find lasting love and contentment. And if that’s what you’re looking for, here are four traps for new players to look out for along the way.
In the early 90s, couples therapist and researcher John Gottman made a huge splash with studies that demonstrated that couples who separated had certain behaviours in common.
And these four behaviours were not only indicators of unhappiness; if they were present in a couples’ way of being with each other, they were a reliable predictor of separation and divorce.
So if you’re in a relationship and some or all of these four things are happening, then it’s time to wake up to the possibility that your relationship has a use by date.
If you’re single and looking for lasting love, watch out for any of this action. It’s a red card. Walk directly off the field.
A great killer of long-term love is when we criticise our lovers for who they are, rather than what they do. For example, “You’re such an airhead, You have no feelings, You only ever think about yourself.”
When we can’t own our part in messing things up and we try to dump it all on our partner, then we’re on the road to ruin.
If we’re responding to difficult arguments by shutting down and tuning out, then we’re driving our relationships down a dead-end street.
This is a stone cold love killer. If this is happening in your relationship, then you’re close to walking out the door or being left flat. This is the greatest predictor of relationship breakdown of them all. This is the eye rolling, name-calling and belittling dance. It’s ugly. You know what this looks like.
Wouldn’t it would be great if I could just give you this list and you could simply avoid behaving like a troll or ending up with one? All would be well. True lasting love would be yours.
I really wish this list would do the trick, but like all things in love, it’s much harder work than that. The problem with romantic relationships is that they can test our ability to behave well to the very limit. At times we’re so hurt, so angry or so sad that we need to be Olympic athletes in the sport of managing our feelings in order to treat our partners with respect.
But if you want to light a slow burner with your box of matches, you’ll need to make friends with your feelings. You’ll need to own them as yours and value them enough that you have space to hear your partner over their clamouring.
Regulating our emotions is a hard-earned skill. Many of us grew up in families where feelings were either fired like ground to air missiles or buried like radioactive waste, so we’re minus the ability to hold onto ourselves when we’re under stress.
If you watch a toddler learning to manage her feelings you can see how hard it is and how much help she needs. She needs to be told what she might be feeling. “You’re angry we need to leave the park now.” And she sometimes needs help to know what she wants. “I think you’re hungry too. Have some of this sandwich when you’re ready.” And sometimes she can’t control her impulses and she needs to be held for her own safety. “I’m going to hold onto you. That dog/power point/road is dangerous”.
If you didn’t have such a caring introduction to understanding and managing your feelings, if instead you were told to shut up, have a biscuit, go to your room or worse, then you may be a bit behind in your emotional learning. Maybe the people in your life when you were small raged or dealt out the silent treatment, leaving you with unresolved pain and some pretty poor emotional role modelling.
This means you’ll have some extra work to do to find and sustain lasting love. This is not your partner’s fault, but it might feel like it. Don’t be fooled.
Your emotions are yours, and unlike most staff meetings, they’re there for a purpose. Every psychological problem, from anxiety to complicated grief, includes some difficulty with recognising and managing feelings.
So if you’re prone to emotional storms or long periods in the feeling freezer when you love someone, take the time to come to your own emotional rescue. Then the lists will make sense to you. Then you’ll be able to take more care with what you do and say when you love someone. Because in the end, true lasting love is about what we do, not just about what we feel.
Zoe Krupka is a psychotherapist with experience in relationship counselling.
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