In the magical uncertainty of new romance, every couple creates its own emotional language. Sometimes those treasured connections deepen over time, and the relationship becomes a long-term commitment. But too often those wonderful beginnings don’t last.
During the four decades of my therapeutic career, I have listened to the sorrows of committed partners struggling to regain what they have lost. They have shared their discouragement and confusion, after watching their initial hopes replaced by seemingly unanswerable questions: How can we have given everything we could to our partners and yet have failed to keep our love alive? Why didn’t our total commitment to each other keep us together? What was missing in the way we treated each other? Is there anything we could have done differently? Can we do anything now to turn things around?
When dealing with these discouraged, but still hopeful, couples, I have tried to help them refocus in a new way. Specifically, I ask them to bring the following 10 true gifts of love into their present relationship and watch those changes create new hope.
1. Supporting Your Partner’s Perspective, Even When It Is Not Yours
One of the most important experiences for all human beings is to believe that what they see, feel, and hear is both validated and supported by those who matter to them. It is the absolute core of mental and emotional stability. When couples have disagreements, it is all too common for them to impose their personal beliefs upon each other. Most people do not realize how desperately they fight to hold on to their own sense of reality, even if it means simultaneously erasing their partner’s.
When couples fully accept that two true but different realities can exist side by side, they feel less need to deny what is real for the other. Instead, they search for a greater truth to encompass both of their realities, or they agree to disagree. True love does not allow one person’s truth to erase the other's.
2. Emergency Responsiveness
When either partner puts out a true SOS, the other is fully committed to help and makes support their highest priority. Love deepens when both partners know that, in times of distress, they can absolutely trust that the other will be there, in heart, mind, and action.
As the complications of all relationships evolve, it is far too easy for people to take each other for granted, to let other priorities take precedence, or to assume that calls for help are either not important, will lessen, or will be handled by someone else.
No matter how committed anyone is to quality behavior, he or she is bound to make mistakes from time to time. Those moments are deeply fragile and vulnerable for everyone. When intimate partners know they have a safe place in the other’s heart, they are better able to learn from their mistakes.
No partner should be expected to be perfect in their capacity to tolerate actions that hurt, but openness to why or how the other “slips” should always come first when love pervades.
4. Respecting Each Other’s Inner Worlds
After intimate partners have been together for a while, they affect each other in more and more ways. Those mutual responses show up in several ways. Sometimes they react to experiences that come directly from what is happening between them in the relationship. At other times, something that happens between them triggers memories from the past, which may have little to do with their current relationship. Most often, it is a combination of the two.
When a current interaction activates a prior memory, especially one that is unresolved or traumatic, either partner may think that the reaction is about him or her, when it is not. That interaction creates an interpersonal conflict when it should not. If people experiencing that triggered response understand that it is not coming from their current relationship, they can resolve it more successfully. It is never easy for anyone to fully understand another’s internal world. Multiple memories drive people’s feelings, thoughts, and needs. It is crucial that both partners do not assume they have experienced life the same way.
5. Memorizing What Is Sacred
There are specific words and actions that can make each person either feel safe in his or her most vulnerable states or can create insecurity, self-doubt, and defensiveness. When people truly love each other, they know the difference between them, and don’t hurt one another by forgetting those that wound. No matter how angry, hurt, frustrated, upset, irritated, or disappointed either partner gets, people who treasure each other don’t use their partner's vulnerabilities irresponsibly. They also know what touches the heart, what soothes the soul, and what inspires the mind of the other.
6. Shouldering the Load
All relationships have access to resources from which to nurture and support each other. They can choose to allocate when they will be available, how much energy they want to put into any interaction, whether or not they want to offer support, and how present they will be when they attend.
When either partner is overloaded or unable to carry his or her fair share of the current load, the other willingly steps up to help without questioning the need. Devoted partners don’t keep score or worry that they might be taken advantage of if they have to give more in certain situations. They accept that there will be unexpected challenges that require more commitment and are ready to do that when necessary.
Even the most loving couples can forget to encourage each other’s separate paths to fulfillment. New lovers willingly push aside their individual goals in order to concentrate on those that are mutual. They understandably want their lives to intertwine and to grow stronger as a unit, and do not mind sacrificing personal dreams when necessary to make that happen.
As time passes, those back-burnered desires may re-emerge. Though they may have temporarily become lost in the couple’s commitment to mutual dreams, they begin to beg attention. Partners who respect and support those buried desires want them to happen. They know that some of their relationship priorities may have to be rescheduled, and the resources to make that happen must be willingly reallocated.
8. Making Room for Each Other’s Broken Places
No one escapes sorrow. Though some suffer more than others, everyone has had experiences of terrifying vulnerability, moments of humiliation, and anguishing loss. When people truly love and respect each other, they are fully present and supportive when their partners express those memories and the emotions that accompany them. They do not challenge, invalidate, or question their partners' feelings.
In quality love relationships, partners realize that broken places will emerge naturally for both of them from time to time. They feel gratefulthat they can be there for each other when that happens.
When a sorrow affects either person’s heart, the other partner attending without judgment, giving support without the need to change the experience, and offering unconditional love during those moments can help those damaged places to heal.
From the first moments of life, specific kinds of interactions between children and their caretakers create in those children a sense of being deeply understood and known.
Attunement is the ability to listen beyond what is being said, to see what is not being revealed, and to feel what is not being shared. When we feel treasured, we intuitively feel that our partners “get” us. We feel their genuine interest, their loving welcome, and their total devotion.
People who love each other are deeply attuned to the thoughts and feelings of each other. They welcome the opportunity to pay exquisite attention to what the other needs, often before they are even apparent to the other.
10. The Freedom to Be Transparent
The level of intimate connection between lovers is directly correlated to how authentic they can be with each other. The more open they can be with what they are thinking and feeling, the more they can know who the other truly is. Yet all truths are not always helpful or necessary in every situation. Sometimes the choice to withhold or to be more diplomatic is the more caring. Successful partners understand and discern how much openness is appropriate in a situation. Intimacy is positively correlated with the partner’s willingness to share their internal worlds with each other. Those who seek a greater closeness do everything they can to practice resiliency and to reduce defensiveness so that transparency will grow.