Staying in Love part 2
We often think of romantic love as being some mysterious state we fall into or out of as if we have no control over it at all. Most people think of a passionate loving relationship as something that happens between 2 relative strangers, but seldom as a relationship that endures between people, especially if they are married to each other. However, sustained romantic love is possible, but it is a relationship that will not happen by itself. Being in love is a way of interacting. If you keep interacting in appropriate ways with each other, feelings of love are triggered. However, it takes conscious effort and commitment to maintain and intensify the spark of feeling that characterises the dating stage of relationships . Previously I emphasised the need for intimacy-the close bond that makes it safe and enjoyable to share one’s deepest thoughts and feelings and to know that your partner is there to support and accept you and vice versa. Intimacy can only survive in an atmosphere of respect, support and safety, as well as a mutual hunger to know each other better and to take delight in each other. Trust is critical in this aspect of the relationship. Now we will talk about another aspect of staying in love and that is nurture.
When you think of how the child is different to an adult, what comes to mind? Most people think of children as vulnerable. They have a lot of needs they cannot meet by themselves. Some of these needs are for food , clothing, shelter and other tangible things, but they also need safety, love, security, companionship and so on. Now, do these needs go away? No they don’t . They are universal human needs. We just move from relying on our parents to meet them to meeting them in other ways. So our needs are not childish . They are human needs. We are made to be connected with others. So in our close relationships, we meet each other’s needs for nurture. One of the tough aspects of nurture is that we need to be other-centred, whereas intimacy requires we are we-centred. Sharing thoughts and feelings with someone who is accepting and kind towards us is usually a really pleasant experience. But taking the time and making the effort to do things for someone else requires a lot of selflessness, that is usually a lot harder to master.
We all have emotional needs. However, we place varying degrees of emphasis on these needs. Some are more important to us than others. To the extent that your mate meets your emotional needs, you feel satisfied with the relationship.
One way of looking at it is this. Imagine you and your partner each have a “love bank.” Imagine it is possible to make deposits into your love bank with your partner. In this case your partner will feel positive towards you. Imagine also that you can make withdrawals from your love bank. This is when you do things that kill your partner’s affection for you. Some examples of withdrawals could be when you give in to an angry outburst, or when you display some habit you know really annoys your partner. Such things are like withdrawing love from your account. If the love bank becomes empty or goes into the red, the relationship is in trouble and the experience of being in love is killed. If the balance in the love bank is high enough and you are making deposits into the love bank, your partner feels positive and loving towards you. One of the ways you make deposits into your account in the love bank is by nurturing your partner and meeting your mate’s emotional needs.
As you get to know your partner, you will be able to figure out what his or her emotional needs are. It is also important to meet your partner’s most valued needs. We often assume our partner needs and wants the same things as we do. Dr Harley has described the most common emotional needs as follows:
• Affection. This is the non-sexual expression of caring through words, cards, hugs, kisses, being courteous and showing care.
• Sexual fulfilment. This is a sexual relationship that is satisfying and enjoyable to both partners
• Intimate conversation. This is the ability to talk about feelings, fears, needs, plans dreams and feelings as well as topics of personal importance.
• Recreational companionship. This is sharing activities and hobbies together and enjoying leisure time together.
• Honesty and openness. This involves the truthful disclosure of plans, activities, contacts with other people, expression of positive and negative feelings and revealing of plans as well as honesty about how money and time is spent. This is really important in building trust in the relationship. Honesty deepens intimacy. At the same time, it protects the relationship, because an affair can only survive in an atmosphere of secrecy and by creating a double life. You can see how important trust and safety is in the relationship to allow honesty to be part of the interaction. So part of nurture is never punishing your partner with a fit of rage of violence if something is revealed.
• Physical attractiveness. When you go out on a date early on, you both probably made and effort to look your best. This should continue in the long term. Make your partner proud to have you by his or her side by being groomed and looking as attractive as you can.
• Financial support. This involves provision of the financial resources to maintain your household. Obviously, a big deal breaker can be financial irresponsibility in a relationship, because it affects every aspect of your life together.
• Domestic support. This includes assistance with household tasks and caring for the home and children in a way that create an home that is a haven and refuge from stress. When you offer domestic support, you avoid taking your partner for granted.
• Family commitment. This is the ability to provide for the moral and educational development of the children and family unit.
• Admiration. This is being shown respect and appreciation.
The more you engage in meeting your mates most important emotional needs, the more you trigger feelings of affection and love towards you. Obviously, there needs to be a commitment that you will do this for each other, not allowing an outsider to meet one’s needs Many relationships are shipwrecked when a person of the opposite sex meets your mate’ s emotional needs, or someone else starts to build up an account in your love bank because they are meeting your needs, and your needs are not being met by your partner. If this is happening, take action! Be honest with your partner. Avoid allowing someone other than your mate to meet your needs by telling them about your personal feelings and problems. Start working on the relationship with your partner as soon as possible.
Nurturing involves a commitment to your mate. This means that other relationships and other things have lesser priority, including your career, your house, your parents, your hobbies and even your children. Creeping separateness is the great enemy of romantic love. It is estimated a couple need to give each other as much as fifteen hours per week of undivided attention to build the romance in marriage.
I would like to remind women in particular about some rules in communication, although of course these things apply equally to men and women :
Never repeat to anyone anything your mate tells you in confidence.
Give your mate total undivided attention when he speaks to you about his inner self. This may not be as easy for him as it is for you.
Do not interrupt or jump to conclusions.
Acknowledge you understand, even if you disagree. Reflect back what you heard. Don’t let disagreement sound like disapproval.
When you share thoughts, avoid blaming him. If either of you becomes defensive the communication is shattered.
Nurture involves doing kind things for your mate. It may seem trivial to you, but perhaps your partner likes his or her coffee a certain way or being accompanied to the doctor. It may seem unimportant to you , but nurture is kindness in action. Saying “thank you” or “ I love you” are ways of nurturing. Building your partner up with encouraging or admiring words is a way of nurturing. Being forgiving is nurturing. Nurturing entails strengthening your partner and bringing peace (as opposed to fault finding and criticism. ) Treat your partner as a VIP at home and in the presence of others.
The more you find ways to share your lives, the less lonely you feel. Sharing may involve actually being together during leisure or activities, but also involves talking about the things you do separately, such as individual hobbies and perhaps your work. A great way of sharing is to do a special project together or develop some interest in common. Plan for a date together. Set goals together. Treat your partner as your best friend.
Show affection by touching-holding hands, hugging often, sitting close, going to bed at the same time and cuddling,
Remember, nurturing in a relationship can be pleasant and delightful, but at some point it may become a necessity. A time may come when you are ill or incapacitated, unable to care for yourself. Terminal illness, emotional collapse or a serious accident may come your way and then we need a partner who can nurture us when we cannot care for ourselves. Almost all wedding vows include the promise to cherish each other in the best and worst circumstances. The higher your balance is in your partner’s love bank, the more likely it is that he or she will have enough cherished memories to draw on even in these trying and difficult times. Whether or not we can count on each other in a crisis often depends on how graciously we are caring for each other now on a daily basis. The way we handle minor crises now-a warm hug, a reassuring word, a helping hand or a willingness to meet our mate’s important emotional needs now prove what kind of marriage partners we really are. Trust is the feeling that your mate will be there for you no matter what. Loyalty is the assurance your mate won’t change, even if things are tough. Both are essential ingredients of sustained romantic love.
References :Harley WF &. Chalmers JH 1998. Surviving an Affair. Revel. Michigan.
Wheat Ed 1989. Secret choices. Zondervan . Michigan .
Compiled by DR. B.L. WADE
Olive Branch 37 Wordsworth Avenue Farrarmere Benoni
Tel: 072 122 4766 / 011 849-7473.
Dr Barbara Wade is an accredited member of Saaswipp (the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice) and practices in the field of individual and family therapy, as well as specializing in all forms of trauma