"It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages."
Charlie and Jan fell in love one summer when they were working together at a camp for special needs kids. They shared the same values and wanted to do something with their lives that was meaningful. They began living together very soon into their relationship. We can guess what is coming next. As their differences arose the verbal battles ensued. They came from divorced families and witnessed a lot of fighting between their parents as children. They had no skills in conflict resolution so their arguments escalated into full on wars about who was right and who did what to whom. It was an endless cycle. They were exhausted. They didn't know the first thing about how to get along let alone how to love.
What Charlie and Jan didn't know was that after their romance ebbed and real life took over they needed to know how to keep their love alive and even how to create it. Love actually is not a given and just because people fall madly in love doesn't mean they are going to keep it or that it can't be killed off. All love, it turns out, has to be made, crafted and maintained. Not unlike a garden that requires tending or a fire that needs another log to keep burning, it's a living thing. When people grow up in families that don't nurture love and who demonstrate all the worst characteristics of human behavior they have nothing to go on as adults.
So, what kills love and what keeps it alive? Now there's a complicated question for any couple in today's world. Wow. I will take a stab at it and hopefully something compelling will come out of it. So here goes.
What kills love?
• John Gottman (The author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) studied 12,000 couples and found what he identified as the four horsemen of the apocalypse as to what causes divorce. They are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stone Walling. Even though these behaviors are destructive they are in some ways intuitive so many couples go there.
• The need to be right. This is a tried and true killer. Whenever someone needs to be right then the other person has to be wrong. These arguments are circular and they go on both people drop with exhaustion or someone walks out. Never a good idea. "It's better to be kind than to be right" is the watchword.
• Revenge or tit for tat. Getting back at your partner for something they did wrong by hurting them is only going to bring on misery and there is no good outcome. It creates a war zone of distrust and emotional disconnect is the result.
• Bringing up the past or other people into the conversation never works. It takes away the real center of what the disagreement is about and causes the other person to be defensive or worse.
• Screaming, swearing, name calling and physical altercations are a complete no no. Here is where things can get completely out of hand and for sure no good can come from it.
What Creates Love?
• Compassion, Understanding, Respect and Empathy create connections and is where love is created. These behaviors build safety and security in a relationship. The comfort and serenity that emanates from these processes and allows for an atmosphere of caring and kindness which then produces loving feelings.
• Probably the most important skill that couples can develop is how to effectively listen to their partner. Acknowledgement and validation are the cornerstones of good communication. The ability to truly get what your partner is telling you does not mean you have to agree, it means you hear what they are saying. First emphasize, then acknowledge, then try out solutions, then make an effort and then give feedback. It's the only way.
• Finding commonality. Creating mutual interests, time to be together and having fun is a really wonderful way to generate love.
• Never underestimate the value of a good sense of humor.
• Take time to cuddle, care for and about your partner.
• It's important to learn about who you are, what is important to you, what you want and need and be able to ask for it and talk about what that is.
• Be willing to make some accommodations and even sacrifices when necessary for the sake of your relationship. Being emotionally generous and giving is always exceedingly helpful so your partner feels like they matter to you.
The saying "Treat friends like family and family like friends" holds true in relationships. We all crave being seen, appreciated, cherished and understood. What kills love is anger and hate, what creates it is loving kindness.