Tools for Couples Happiness — 14 November 2004
Does a happy relationship require “hard” work?

Everyone wants to have a happy relationship. Everyone desires to be loved and appreciated. Everyone yearns to be in a committed connection with someone he or she loves. If these are universal desires why are many people not able to achieve these goals?

The answer is that between desire and achievement there must be some effort.

Children often “wish” for their needs to be met in a magical way without having to invest energy to achieve it. Similarly, many adults yearn for success that is going to be bestowed upon them without having to work for it.

People dream of losing weight overnight, advancing in their career straight to the top, acing a presentation with little or no preparation and becoming rich by winning the lottery. This kind of magical thinking stems from the equally unrealistic notion that if we are special enough, we should be rewarded just for wanting something. Wouldn’t that be a different world if these wishes actually came true?

When it comes to relationships, in addition to our childlike hopes, we also ascribe to some unfortunate myths. I often hear couples say: “It should not be that hard to have a good relationship” or “If we have to work at it, maybe it is not a good match” or “Some people have an easy, happy relationship, why doesn’t it happen to us?” It is clear that these pairs assume that they have not been blessed by the gods, as the happy couples were.

Needless to say, there are no select people chosen for relationship ease and bliss. Most couples can achieve the desired happiness, if they are willing to do the necessary work to earn it. Why should a relationship just occur with ease any more than flowers should grow without water or food, knowledge be gained without study, or houses emerge without planning or building?

We accept that products and services require various processes to be created. We spend our working hours in developing products, services, knowledge and wisdom. We are aware of the time and difficulty that is involved in our work life. Why do we deal with our relationships differently?

Probably, because of love. We tend to think that the existence of love, that made the early phase of the relationship so delightful, will continue to assure us a smooth connection. It is true that love is the fertile ground upon which relationships can grow and succeed. However, it, too, requires nurturing. Most couples begin to take their love for granted after a while and abandon cultivating this precious emotion and keeping it alive.

Love is not a commodity that once acquired is there to serve you for life. It is an emotion that requires a process to be repeatedly recreated.
Love will serve you well if you do not sit idly, hoping for it to grow without your attention. Most people take a reactive stance in their relationship. They become passive about courting their partners and when their mates become disenchanted they feel defeated. You must take a proactive role of fueling the fire of love and passion and not allowing the flame to be extinguished.

Good relationships require time, attention, planning, designing and executing the activities that lead to the intimacy and happiness we crave. Without the necessary efforts to keep the love alive, the relationship will wilt.

It does not, however, require hard work. It takes a basic uncompromising commitment to make the partner and the relationship as the primary focus of your life. This commitment formulates your loving attitudes and accompanying behaviors.

The hardest “work” required for a happy relationship is maintaining the focus of attention on the partner and not on you. Once this deep commitment is established, the energy needed for creating a happy relationship flows easily.

Commitment means that:
• Your connection to your partner is your most important life endeavor.
• Your partner’s happiness, needs and wishes get considered first and foremost, prior to your own.
• All other life demands are secondary and get considered within the context of what is best for the relationship. For example, If you are offered a wonderful promotion that may take you to another city, your first consideration should not be:” Would I love to have this job? ” But, “How will this change impact my partner?”
• Your first thought every morning should be about how to improve your partner’s day.
• Your last thought every night should question how well you executed your loving intentions towards your mate today.

Loving attitude means:
• You have the highest regard for your mate.
• You view your partner as a precious being.

• You cherish his or her good qualities and accept the less attractive ones.
• You attribute positive intentions to your mate’s words and actions.
• You feel blessed to be with your partner.

When you are committed and honor your partner, it is easy to do the following:

• You speak, act and behave with kindness, respect and consideration toward your partner.
• You help your partner physically and emotionally.
• You communicate well by being a good listener, accepting your mate’s positions and emotions.
• You act as your partner’s best friend.
• You are the best partner you can be and report to yourself your daily progress.

Once you decide that your relationship matters more than anything else in your life, your attitudes and behaviors will easily follow. When you choose to be a loving partner, it is not hard to be attentive, kind and caring toward your partner. It may no longer seem like “work”, but as a natural behavior toward a happy life for you and your partner.

Nov. 7, 2004

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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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