Tools for Couples Happiness — 01 August 2005
A Loving relationship requires maintenance and repairs

A love relationship exists in an ever-changing state. The myth about maintaining the euphoria of the infatuation, if you are lucky enough or well matched is just that – a myth. All relationships encounter negative thoughts, feelings and actions, which are normal and predictable, non-preventable, but repairable. With realistic expectations, solid information and some tools, maintenance of the love connection is easy and rewarding.

Evolving from being strangers to committed partners develops in a five-step sequence. First comes the initial noticing of each other. The Attention includes the first eye contact and nonverbal attraction. This is followed by Conversation, the early verbal testing of interest for future contact. The follow up phone conversation usually starts the phase of Play, the sharing of mutually enjoyable activities and fun. As emotional closeness begins to be established, Touch is the next step. Couples engage in pleasurable physical and sensual contact. As love blossoms and friendship intensifies, the Bonding precedes the life commitment.

Once couples are bonded and committed, they assume that the previous steps are already a permanent part of the relationship. They may believe that they already know how to notice, communicate, play, touch, love and cherish each other. Actually, the earlier steps were only the easy introduction to love, which requires greater efforts once life’s demands intervene.

Maintaining intimate connection for life requires investing ongoing energy in each of these areas. Greater attention must be paid to intensifying, rather than assuming that love will flourish on its own.

The need for attention must go far beyond eye contact. It requires ongoing respect, validation, consideration, inclusion, participation and appreciation.
Conversations must evolve into deep communication with effective listening, understanding, empathizing, sharing and supporting each other.
Play requires greater creativity and variety to be rewarding to both mates.
Touch should be practiced and perfected to a higher level of sensuality, sexual pleasures and ecstasy. The bonding entails intensifying the positive feelings for one another, exercising loving behaviors and strengthening the friendship with deep trust, respect, sharing and interdependency.

Doing all this, while attending to jobs, children, and life demands, is not easy. When couples get distracted from tending to any of these aspects, their deep connection weakens and may be in need of repair.

The repair formula is relatively simple once the couple has been able to identify the area in need of improvement. Unfortunately, many individuals become dissatisfied, but fail to communicate it appropriately to the mate. They may suffer in silence, while continuing to notice all their partners’ continued violations, they may express their discontent by complaining, blaming, accusing or demanding, they may talk to other people about their unhappiness, they may avoid the partner and become more and more estranged within their relationship.

None of these options are helpful or effective in solving the relationship difficulty, they only serve to widen the gap and aggravate the rift between mates.

Repair techniques require : an attitude of good will, trust in the partner’s ability and interest in resolving the issue, and a blameless presentation. The discontented mate needs to present the problem in neutral, non-accusatory language as a relationship issue. For example, ”I would like us to be better able to manage our finances, so that we can both buy what we need and yet stay within our budget,” is the problem solving formula as compared to “You spend too much money”. “I would like for us to discuss our sex life so we can both be pleased with it”, as compared to: “I don’t know why we are not having sex anymore, you must be frigid.”

When the problem is stated in a non-threatening way- the mate is likely to be responsive and willing to help solve the issue. Each mate speaks and listens with appreciation of the other’s perspective and then offers one suggestion. The partners alternately offer options until an option is acceptable to both of them. The new behavior is chosen for a short trial period and a review is scheduled for a designated time. If the review reveals that both mates are pleased, then this repair has been successful. If one or both are not pleased, further adjustments can be suggested and tried again.

If this method seems somewhat businesslike, it is because it removes the emotional components and the opportunity for criticism and fights. The mates are equal consultants on a seemingly “EXTERNAL” difficulty that is of concern to both. It is jointly assessed as to not violate their boundaries or dignity.

Most relationship issues can be resolved in this method. The few that elude couples may need to be facilitated by a third, trained party.

Couples are encouraged to be attentive to their level of satisfaction with their relationship on an ongoing basis. As is true for maintenance of other operating systems, maintenance should occur on a recommended schedule. It is also known that it is much easier to repair problems in their early presentation than after they have festered for a while.

• Treat your relationship as a cherished, evolving, interactive system that requires vigilance, maintenance and some repairs.
• The need for repair does not imply that the relationship is other than good. It honors both mates and helps secure a healthy union. Absence of a need for improvement is a sign of stagnation.
• Review the areas of your connection: attention, communication, play, touch, and bonded friendship, to determine your level of satisfaction with each of them.
• Have a problem solving discussion with your partner. Do not assign fault, attribute motivations or state loss of hope. Express your emotions about the issue but stay neutral and cooperative about the repair options.
• A relationship that is attended to, well maintained and repaired, provides many years of blissful operation.

July 24, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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