Being the best partner — 20 September 2010
Train yourself to be a consistent lover

If feeling loved is a major factor in couples’ happiness, and if being in a happy love relationship is a universal goal, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would be highly motivated to learn and practice loving our partner more consistently? Many people do so initially, but do not sustain their skills for the duration of a long-term relationship.

Dr. Helen Fisher notes that being loving, attentive, other-centered, caring and admiring of a partner comes naturally during the infatuation stage with the activation of brain chemicals such as dopamine. As time progresses there is a reduction in this “love hormone” and an increase in oxytocin, which is the “attachment hormone”.

Beyond the physiological explanations, people tend to become complacent about practicing their learned and effective loving behaviors.

Walter J. Freeman, in “Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate,” affirms the need to practice learned skills to gain results. “In neurodynamics, learning is defined as a directed change in an intentional structure that accompanies neuroactivity. There is no other way to distinguish it from the hypertrophy of a muscle under weight training.”

Freedman adds, “In the behaviorist view a system learns by changing its response upon repeated presentations of the same stimulus to elicit a reflex response. If the response strengthens, the system is sensitized; if it gets weaker the system is desensitized,” that means habituated.

We need to learn what works and repeat it long enough until it becomes a behavioral habit. Stephen Grossberg of Boston University concurs, “Reinforcement helps to focus attention upon and organize learning of those environmental events and contingencies that have predicted behavioral success in the past.”

Though it is said that “practice makes perfect,” we allow ourselves to assume that the knowledge of loving the partner is sufficient to sustain his/her comfort for life. I recall a husband’s response to his wife’s complaint that he no longer tells her that she is pretty. He retorted, “I told you that 20 years ago when we first married. Nothing has changed, so why do I need to repeat it?”

Practicing loving behaviors is a must – from meeting our mate to meeting our maker. Relaxing our expressions of appreciation, courtship, caring, admiration, loving acts, affection, passion, support and true friendship, are grave errors of neglect that may reduce the happiness quotient within your relationship.

• Remember that you already have all the skills needed to attract, give and receive love and practice your commitment to your beloved, as you did during courtship.
• Recognize that love is reciprocal. If you feel less than thrilled about the love you receive, assess your own loving conduct.
• Practice loving behaviors on a daily basis. The repetition of providing attention, communication, teamwork and intimacy makes them habitual and comforting.
• Know that feeling loved is the greatest aphrodisiac. Help your partner feel valued and desired. It is likely to promote reciprocity and create a blissful relationship.

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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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