Attention — 15 March 2009
Monitor the state of your union

Most people are very aware of their standing in regard to their jobs. They are also vigilant about the state of their finances, particularly during hard economic times. They pay close attention to their children’s health, academic, and social development. Many keep close tabs of their tasks, chores, home, and even their social calendar. Yet, the attention they pay to their love relationship is often scanty, at best.

Frequently, couples seeking marital help recite the history of their difficulties with vague approximations. “We’ve had problems for a long time”. “ I can’t even remember the last time we had fun together”. “We have not been close for years”. “I don’t even know how it all started falling apart”. Though they both agree that their relationship has been declining for a long time, they are unclear about the process or causes that led to this sad state.

Why do competent people, who carefully monitor many aspects of their lives, neglect keeping close track of the state of their love relationship? The common answer is,” We’re too busy”. Though this response is accurate, it fails to explain why the relationship gets relegated to the last place in their attention providing priorities.

One explanation is that adulthood is gauged by one’s capacity for acting responsibly and being autonomous and self- sufficient. To attain this status, adults concentrate on the ever-growing life demands as they become more and more distanced from their own needs. It is natural to do what “has to be done” rather than what feels personally rewarding.

Another explanation posits that work, children, home, and even social connections have survival value, and thus feel compelling and urgent. Couples do what is right for others ahead of what is right for themselves.

The belief that being good parents requires great sacrifices may be another cause for personal need-deferment. Concurrently, there is also great pride and satisfaction in knowing that their children’s every need is addressed. Being loving parents and available to family and friends helps adults confirm their worth as caring and sensitive people.

What many couples fail to consider is that their unit is the core of stability, security, safety, worthiness and well-being of themselves, their children and others. When the state of the couple’s union is not regularly monitored, addressed and strengthened, not only does their relationship deteriorate, but also their positive impact in all areas of their lives is gravely hampered.

Irvin D. Yalom, in his new book “Staring At The Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death”, expounds on Heidegger, the German philosopher’s two ways of being: the “everyday” mode and the “being” mode. Yalom clarifies these differences with this profound explanation: “When absorbed in the everyday mode, you turn toward such evanescent distractions as physical appearance, style, possessions, or prestige”. In the being mode, he explains: “ You are prompted to grapple with your fundamental human responsibility to construct an authentic life of engagement, connectivity, meaning, and self-fulfillment.”

What a succinct direction for life and relationships.

• Understand that your love union is the solid foundation for all your individual and mutual life’s undertakings.
• Avoid relegating your partnership to the last priority- it may become a costly error for both of you, your children, family and your life course.
• Accept that being busy is not a sign of distinction- being connected is.
• Disavow the pride of self-abandonment for the sake of your children or family- it actually hurts everyone.
• Actively monitor your emotional love connection. A weakening of your union requires immediate repair to preserve your individual and team potency.
• Make your couple time and attention your primary daily priority. You will discover that through your connected union your busy life will be eased, your children and family will continue to thrive, and your life will be more fulfilling and meaningful.

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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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