In my book, Love Tips and Trips for Gay and Lesbian Relationships, I have identified 50 Ways to Keep Your Lover. My post last Friday offered strategies 4-6, this week I am sharing strategies 7-9. Look for three more strategies next Friday!
50 Ways to Keep Your Lover: # 7-9
7. Learn the Stages of Relationship Development. You can save yourself a lot of struggle and strife by simply learning what is natural and healthy in the development of a relationship, and what is not.
There are three key stages of which you should be aware.
Although there are several different perspectives on relationship development, they all follow a similar path. The stages I am sharing are those developed by Harville Hendrix in his best selling book, Getting the Love You Want.
Romantic Stage. We all know and love this stage. This is the part of your relationship where you feel passionately attracted to your newfound love. It is during this time that you are likely to spend every minute thinking about him or her and longing to be near him or her while being also chemically assisted in this phase of relationship development. If you want to know more about this, just read the fascinating book by Helen Fisher entitled, Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.
Because of these chemicals, you often have more energy and can operate on much less sleep than usual. Your senses are alive and heightened so that everything tastes better, feels better, smells better, sounds better and as a result, is better. I bet if you sit for a minute you can remember foods, songs, scents and even visuals of times in your life when you were falling in love, whether you still nurture that particular love or not.
The entire purpose of this stage is to bring two people together for the purpose of committing. Your natural body chemistry responds to your attractions by flooding you with feel-good chemicals, long enough for you to decide that committing is a good idea!
Power Struggle. As time progresses and the chemicals fade, so too does our extreme focus on all of the ways we are similar to our partner. In fact, this stage marks the onset of exactly the opposite behavior - an intense examination of all of the many ways we are different. In the Power Struggle stage, our differences naturally emerge and become the primary focus of our attention. When these differences emerge, and our commitment is in place, the power struggle is on. The commitment allows us to disagree. Prior to an agreement to be a couple, we are busy securing the relationship.
Ironically, we often pick a partner that has a difficult time meeting our needs. When the fantasy of our perfect partner begins to falter, we fight to regain what we believed we once had – to regain the illusion of the perfect fit, the perfect match without the presence of unique and valuable differences.
Over time, we begin to see qualities in our partner that we can’t bear. We are even irritated by qualities that we once admired. When this occurs, it is safe to say that our OLD HURTS are effectively reactivated. Once our Old Hurts (our original pain) are reactivated, we stop responding in the present and often regress to coping mechanisms we used as a child. These coping responses are typically very primitive and include basic old brain responses such as fight, flight, freeze, hide, and submit.
Real Love. When you arrive at a place in your relationship where you look at one another with respect and admiration without the need to change this or that about your partner; when you really accept who he is, inside and out, without judgment; and you realize that he is doing, feeling the same as you do, then you have arrived at the most amazing place ever, called real love.
Real love is about helping your partner become the best version of himself while accepting, loving, supporting, and celebrating who he is along the way.
8. Recognize Unsolvable Problems. Well-known relationship researcher John Gottman, author of “The Relationship Cure” among other books, suggests that 69% of all relationship conflicts are irresolvable. The difference between couples who succeed and those who don’t is their ability to accept these differences without consistently butting heads.
My partner loves antiques, an eclectic and busy sort of style of decoration, whereas I enjoy contemporary, clean lines, and a less cluttered style. This is not resolvable. We are who we are. We can either butt heads for an eternity, or accept our differences and find a middle ground that works for us.
9. Receive Love. It is surprisingly difficult to receive love. Try an experiment; out of the blue, come up with a list of things you love about your partner and share them with her. Say to her when she’s least expecting it, “Have I told you how much I love you lately?” And don’t stop there, go on to say, “And these are the reasons why I love you so…”
This experiment will give you an idea about how comfortable your partner is with receiving your love. He or she may respond by joking, saying “What do you want from me?” Or s/he may respond by minimizing or negating your comments, “I’m not always caring” or “Well then you are the only one who thinks I’m beautiful…” Or s/he may even be so uncomfortable s/he attempts to provoke a fight by saying something like “Why are you just now telling me this? It’s been months since you’ve said anything nice to me.”
If you do try this experiment, be sure to express completely genuine feelings, do not fabricate compliments or exaggerate your feelings—be honest and authentic. If your partner seems to be able to receive your love in this exercise, ask her how it felt to hear your words. Ask her what was most difficult to accept or embrace about what you shared.
When we learn the areas in which we reject love, we are closer to understanding what we need to work on to feel lovable and receive love.
A whole host of reasons may contribute to why you or your partner might resist love. One of the most common obstacles to receiving love occurs when you do not have receptors for it. You create receptors by first loving your self.
If someone told me my skin was purple, I would reject that observation. When I look at my skin, I see white—pale white, actually. So the notion that my skin is purple doesn’t attach to anything inside of me because I don’t have a receptor for it. Perhaps if twenty different people from various parts of my life made this same observation, I may begin to develop a receptor for it.
Likewise, if you do not feel attractive, generous, caring, honest, loving, sexy, smart, creative, or whatever else your partner may see in you, you do not have a receptor to receive the love your partner feels about those aspects of who you are. Therefore, if you convince yourself that you are unlovable or unworthy, you can not trust, or believe when someone says “I love you” that they mean it.
In other cases, you may not be able to receive love because of messages you received from important people in your life. Perhaps you were neglected, abused, or otherwise mistreated as a child, and left with the feeling that you must be unlovable. Or maybe you realized early in life that you are gay, and as you grew older you picked up messages everywhere you turned that being gay is bad and wrong. Many gay men and lesbians have internalized the messages that are prevalent in our culture that being gay is “bad,” “wrong,” and that as a result you are broken, sinful or unworthy. When you buy into this thinking, you prevent yourself from receiving love.
Another major obstacle with receiving love is the fear of losing it. Perhaps this fear is in place because you have a history of feeling unloved, rejected, or having had experiences in getting your heart broken.
If you have difficulty receiving your partner’s love you are rejecting the greatest gift he or she has to give. It is your responsibility to develop the receptors so that you can have a mutual exchange of love in your relationship. Ways to begin that process may include reading self-help books, deepening your spiritual connections, journal writing, talking with friends about your feelings, or seeking the guidance of a professional.
If you have difficulty trusting or believing that you are loveable, you must begin putting energy into healing these wounds before you can expect to feel loved by a partner. It is not your partner’s job to convince you that you are loveable. It is up to you to develop self-love. When you do, your partner’s gifts can flow freely and you can experience OUTstanding love.