We all labour under the sad misconceptions of "romantic love." The implication is that we ought to "live happily ever after," but that's just not realistic. Or healthy.
In the flush of new love, it seems you are one, but of course you aren't. You have your own interests and background and a full gamut of needs. One person cannot possibly fulfill all of these. In short, we expect too much from our partner.
Top 12 tips for enduring love
- Cheerfully accept your partner's limitations and your own. Don't expect that one person to meet all your needs (30 per cent tops!). Nurture your inner sense of security, your constant place from which to engage the world. And, in the process, take responsibility for all your needs and find ways (and other people) to meet them.
- Make time for each other. Develop everyday habits, like eating together every evening, or talking for 20 minutes before going to sleep. Go on a date at least once a week and talk about yourselves, your desires, fears, frustrations, joys. Between dates, connect physically at least once a day. This doesn't necessarily mean having sex, it could be a kiss, a caress, a hug or holding hands. These "pleasure points" allow couples to feel connected throughout the week, instead of pleasure-pressuring their date-night, weekends or vacations.
- Find and nurture the interests you share: gardening, music, cooking, whatever. Make time for the pleasure of a shared passion, which will bring you closer.
- Divide and share domestic tasks equally and do them willingly and without complaint. Many a relationship has succumbed to the tyranny of the dust bunny.
- Keep the sexual motor running. Sexual intimacy allows you to put aside stressors and reinforce the emotional connection. Don't talk your desire to death; make time to do it. Add some play to playing around. This can be as simple as buying a pair of lace panties, or as elaborate as meeting your partner at a bar and pretending to be strangers. Be inventive and surprising, and have fun.
- Apologize sincerely when the situation merits it. The corollary to this is to forgive what you can. Psychologist Robert Enright described four stages of forgiveness: uncover your anger or hurt and acknowledge it to yourself; decide how you want to forgive your partner; try to understand what motivated them to act in such a way (e.g., stress, guilt, resentment); and, finally, look deeper and try to find the redemptive meaning in the experience.
- Don't go to bed angry. I remember reading this in a Dear Abby column as a child and even then it made sense. Going to bed angry allows the issue to fester and grow in importance. Instead, communicate well and as positively as possible, then, at least, you'll fight with less friction. Keep your sense of humour. Also keep in mind that communication doesn't only involve speech: write a note, or give a big hug.
- Be nice. Treat your partner with the same courtesy you treat your closest friends. John Gottman, a psychology professor at the University of Washington can predict which marriages will dissolve based solely on the number of kind and unkind interactions. When the ratio falls below five-to-one, he sounds the death knell.
- Be grateful. Think of things you appreciate in your partner. There's a human tendency to focus on what's not there instead of what is there: if only he would do the dishes, forgetting that he's spent the last month building a fabulous deck. If only she would lose 10 pounds, then I'd get my sex drive back; forgetting that she has a wonderful verbal repartee. Remember that feelings of love travel in cycles: sometimes you're on a high, other times not. This is normal and natural.
- Be an active listener. Engaged, not doing a Sudoku at the same time. Listen, wait until they've had their say, then ask questions: how's he doing, feeling; what her plans are; what his problems are. Make useful comments, or offer empathy or sympathy. Ask for elaboration. Be interested.
- Performance appraisals. Review how you're doing on a regular basis (once per month works well). Begin with what's working best, and then, get down to the prickly issues. Set goals and review progress at the next session. Use this as a time to not only tell your partner what you need, but also how you can succeed individually and as a couple.
- Celebrate the big and the small stuff. A garden plan finished, a promotion, a finished work project -- marking life's successes builds intimacy. Don't forget to ask for details of why this makes them happy; it will help you understand them better and, at the same time, allow them to understand themselves.
Barbara Sibbald (www.barbarasibbald.com) is a two-time novelist, editor at a leading health journal, and an award-winning freelance journalist. The above is an excerpt from The Book of Love: Guidance in Affairs of the Heart, a novel (General Store Publishing House), soon to be out in e-book format.