One of the worst things we can do for the well-being of a relationship is pretend that we know exactly how to make it work. Under that illusion, we’re likely to conclude that our partners are unable or unwilling to do what we “know” would make our relationships succeed.
In reality, there’s no way that any of us could know how to make modern intimate relationships work. Biology has not prepared us for love’s special challenges in our rapidly changing culture. Tradition is hopelessly outdated—the old socialized roles and norms have broken down almost completely, especially with the advent of social media. And pop-psychology gives little more than platitudes or oversimplified and contradictory advice or “communication techniques” that are so unnatural, you’ll just end up resenting each other for failing to do them consistently.
Let’s here and now relieve ourselves of the awful burden of having to defend an ego that’s unrealistically inflated when it comes to love relationships. Let's all admit that we all don't know jack when it comes to truly making a modern intimate relationship work.
Now that you no longer have to defend egotistical preconceptions of how relationships should be, you’re free to learn how to love the unique person with whom you want to share your life. The most loving thing you can say to your partner is: "Teach me how to love you, and I will teach you how to love me.”
The simple suggestion below will almost certainly improve your relationship.
Ask your partner: What can I do to make you feel loved? Write down the response. (Example: Surprise me now and then by cooking dinner.)
Assuming that your partner responds with something you can do, say: This will make it easier for me to do what will make you feel loved. (Example: Show me that you’re pleased when I cook dinner.) In the reptilian brain under stress, we actually make it hard for our partners to love us, just like toddlers, though adorable most of the time, are a bit harder to love during a temper tantrum.
Compile a list of things your partner would like you to do to make him or her feel loved, along with what your partner can do to make it easier for you to do those things.
Tell your partner: I feel loved when you... (Example: Greet me with a hug when I come home.) How can I make it easier for you to do this? Write your partner’s response. (Example: Show appreciation when you hug me.) Compile a list of things you would like your partner to do to make you feel loved and what you can do to make it easier for him/her to do those things.
If your relationship has been dominated by the Reptilian/Toddler brain (where all of your arguments can be reduced to the toddler’s favorite two words, “Mine!” or “No!”), the level of automatic reactivity between you won’t disappear overnight. It takes about twenty-one days of practice to develop Adult brain habits of improving, appreciating, connecting, and protecting whenever you feel the urge to blame, deny, or avoid.
Your best chance of getting the relationship you both want is for each of you to commit to choosing to Listen and Love, regardless of whether you feel that your partner is changing. This will give you room to recover from lapses while developing new habits. Again remember: Love is a Choice that we have to make everyday. Choose to Listen to your partner when they tell you how they preferred to be loved.
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