Relationships are Built on Acceptance and Connections
Many of us have had the experience of caring for someone, respecting them, admiring them and even being able to say that we love them, but is this the same as being "in love" with them?
At the beginning of many relationships it's fireworks and stars twinkling as we are swept along by endorphins and pheromones. This is the attraction stage that can be heavily influenced by physical desire and lust. Maybe lust generated our first interactions with a new person, which obviously can cloud clear thinking after that. However what happens after an initial attraction or interest has a lot to do with who we are and what we want. There are varied stages depending on cultural perceptions and personal beliefs.
But what happens when the natural progressions have taken us forward into the stages past initial dating, some degree of intimacy, declarations of intense feelings and into a level of commitment and the building of trust? Perhaps we are then able to make a next step of moving in together or getting engaged.
What continues through this commitment phase is also motivated by strong feelings as we are still involved in that honeymoon stage. Over time, many people will find themselves at a point when the thrill isn't as powerful as it was in the beginning. People without the experience of having had previous long term commitments can be disillusioned. And many people will then question their feelings and the feelings of their partner.
However the stage after the honeymoon stage always reminds me of the difference between getting a new puppy and owning a dog. Dog owners know that puppies are cute and fun and make our hearts melt, but dogs show real loyalty and want us in their lives for the long haul. Partners are a bit like that too in that when the stars in our eyes lose a little of the brightest shine, the light behind that sparkle is still there.
Once we have been through the stage of dating and impressing and we have arrived at the much more secure stage of moving in or committing to living as a couple in the future, then the real business of a long term relationship begins. This next stage is the part that involves endurance, tolerance, acceptance, flexibility and normal day to day life. Sometimes it is also the start of some disagreements as we allow ourselves to be more frank about what we expect of the other.
No one is perfect all the time (I used to think my partner was, but even he disappointed me eventually). So when disagreements happen we need to make sure that we keep in mind that we love this person, and we are supposed to treat them with kindness and respect. If our connection is solid and well founded, it is far easier to demonstrate unconditional love and to always be respectful.
Of course many people have had models of unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships and struggle to stay "clean"in their conflicts. If your parents fought dirty then that's the example that you saw of marital or long term relationship fights so it is not surprising if you see echoes of that couple's style creeping in.
Fighting fair and being reasonable is part of keeping your relationship and connection alive and well. Remember that the Four Horsemen as spoken about in Gottman Therapy didn't just cause the apocalypse, they can destroy a loving and committed union because they undermine connections and devalue your significant other and your credibility as a loving partner.
Connection means that we really want this other person in our lives for life. Therefore we have to accept that neither of us is perfect. It's essential that we build on our connection at all times by showing genuine concern, fondness, admiration and a positive outlook even when we are stressed, tired, worried and pressured. We have to check our words and actions and see our partner as a friend and ally that we can lean into not step away from when things go badly.
Building a really strong and resilient future with a loved one means knowing that they are still the person who piqued our interest, turned us on, made us tingle and fascinated us in the early honeymoon stage of our lives together. Truly enduring relationships require work and effort and letting lots of small things "go through to the keeper".
In Gottman Therapy it's emphasized that the whole of the Sound Relationship House is important and a valuable analogy for a solid life together. So even though you will discover that your partner isn't perfect, if you remember why you initially wanted to commit, it might help you to admit that you aren't perfect either and that is another thing about one another that draws you closer.