August 14, 2008

Keeping Love Alive and Thriving


Maintaining a relationship is about give and take. -------------- ------ In the relationship section of your local book shops you will find numerous sources of advice on "how to keep your love alive." It's also likely there will be as many different approaches as there are authors.

Some suggest you learn to communicate better; some guide you on how to argue, while others will help you to avoid arguments. Others will be clear about the importance of developing one's self.

By self, we mean the distinct and special person that is uniquely you. So, you might read that a strong sense of self is vital in creating a rewarding partnership.

There will be those who emphasize the importance of developing your own interests and hobbies, while others may encourage you to do more things together.

All will have some wisdom - and yes, at times a self-help book will make good sense to you. However, at other times you'll feel more frustrated than ever and want to toss it into the recycling bin.

The reality is there isn't one right answer for everyone. One reason is many people, perhaps most, form a permanent relationship when they still have a lot of growing, learning and maturing to do. Each person, being at a unique stage of his or her life, will make different sense of that advice.

John Gottman in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, explodes some myths about what makes a happy marriage, maintaining the key to happiness isn't about having a "normal" personality, but in finding someone with whom you mesh.

For example if one of you has a problem with authority, and hate having a boss it would be disastrous if you ended up with an authoritarian partner. Marriage will work, however, if you settle for a partner who respects your voice and opinion and doesn't try to boss you around.

And we'd all probably agree that doing things together certainly helps - but not if you keep a tally of who has done what for whom. Happy partners do not keep a tally on activities in the relationship - they do it because they feel positive about their spouse and about being together.

And what is the overall opinion about fighting? Some avoid it, some fight a lot and some "talk it out". Couples simply have different styles of expressing conflict and no one style of conflict is better than another - as long as that style works for both people in the relationship.

The bottom line is that some arguments simply cannot be resolved. What eventually enables a couple to move on is the way they can honour and respect each other's differences.

Perhaps this is the moment to dispel the myth that men and women are from different planets! Recent validated research by Dr Cordelia Fine of Melbourne University has found that men and women are more alike than they are different - "78 percent of gender diffferences are non-existant or small."

The law of the jungle myth proposes that a man's purpose is to procreate and he is therefore ill suited to monogamy, while his mate is, and looks for the one provider who will best help her tend to the offspring.

However, scotching of this mythical difference is underscored by figures quoted in Mr Gottman's book, as he points out the frequency of extramarital affairs has skyrocketed since women have been able to work outside the home while continuing to nurture children.

What we DO know, however, is that affairs are NOT the cause of divorce. On the contrary it is the other way around. An unhappy marriage will send one or both partners looking for intimate connections outside marriage.

So, getting back to what keeps love alive, it appears there is, after all, some consensus amongst most relationship specialists. It is the quality of the friendship a couple has, that will determine whether there is satisfaction with the sex, romance and passion in their lives. And at the core of this is a mutual respect for, and enjoyment of, each other's company.

What do you do together that enhances a friendship? How do you attempt to respectfully repair a rift or argument? How do you respond to your partner's different view of politics, hobby or friends? How kind are you to each other? How much fun do you have together?

By far the most destructive element that can creep into a relationship is fear. It can prevent us from enjoying sexual intimacy in a love relationship. Sex, after all, is adult play. And can we play, when we are fearful?

A strong sense of self will enable us to grapple with our fears, and help us reduce those which eclipses our sexual selves, and the friendship and respect we offer our partner.

(c) 2008 Evening Standard; Palmerston North, New Zealand. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.