Respect your partner’s primacy in your life

When couples in distress come to therapy, some present their ongoing uncertainty about being loved, respected, honored or even about their ability to sustain the interest of the mate. This stance of dubious significance collides with their original experience of having possessed a unique essence, nature, beauty and appeal to the mate during their courtship and having been chosen to share their lives forever. This felt disappointment is painful or even devastating to most partners. How can loving pairs maintain their love and spare themselves the pain of self-doubt and felt rejection?

Courtship is a blessed state of mutual excitement in which both individuals feel uniquely valued, respected, loved and chosen above all others whom their beloved had previously considered. This blissful state of “being the one and only” elevates each mate to a euphoric state. “I found my intended and he/she found me and we are slated to live and love until death do us part!!!” A shared nirvana!

The Roman philosopher, Lucius Apuleius, is credited with the statement, “Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.” Perhaps the second half of the phrase may explain some mates’ roving eyes, and the irresistible temptation to be adored anew by an unfamiliar, appealing individual.

The excitement of being selected by our beloved is intoxicating for a while. For some individuals when the “newness” fades and withdrawal replaces words of adulation, one or both partners may become disenchanted and open to being tempted by another’s flirtatious gazes.

When a life-partner, husband or wife becomes fascinated by another person who is new, flattering, playful and enjoyable, the spouse may feel threatened and insecure about his/her mate’s attention to this individual. Any exceptional attention to another may evoke the mate’s uneasiness. We are all “in Love” with being loved, but must not indulge in another’s attention while our mate cringes.

Dr. Susan M. Johnson the creator of “Emotionally Focused Therapy” advocates dealing with couple’s conflicts by “looking at a strain in the relationships through the lens of attachment insecurity and separation distress. Humans respond in predictable sequences: Anger first which is a response to fear about loss of contact with one’s attachment figure, that may be followed by depression and despair.” Though not stated, jealousy, fear of abandonment, hurt and anger are additional common responses to witnessing or learning about a spouse’s extra attention to another person.

It behooves you to:

  • Be supportive of your mate’s admirer by affirming his/her compliment. Say to the stranger, “You are a man of great taste by complimenting my wife for her good looks.”
  • Be kind to your partner when he/she affirms another’s talents, beauty or charm. Say, “I agree. He/she is, indeed, very funny.”
  • Abstain from feeling threatened or compromised if your mate extends a compliment to another individual.
  • Practice being attentive to your mate in public and in private situations.
  • Make sure your partner knows that he/she matters to you above all others.





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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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