Andrew and I are scheduled to give a short talk on relationship to the local Rotary Club on Valentines Day. As I’ve thought about what we want to say, my mind spins with all the ways we can approach the topic of creating and sustaining loving relationships. So what seems most immediately relevant to a day dedicated to romantic love? I believe that most of us would like to keep the richness of deep connection alive through a lifelong relationship.
Obviously that intense, euphoric “in love” feeling doesn’t last forever. But the spark that ignates the flame can keep burning if we know how to foster and maintain true intimacy. In the first stages of romantic bliss, the little habits and idiosyncracies that later become annoying are either ignored, irrelevant, or even charming. But as we get closer, we also de-idealize our lover, and the challenge is to have the original attraction evolve into a deep knowing of one another, which accepts the wholeness of who we each are, “warts and all.”
As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, an essential skill for building and maintaining intimacy on all levels is being emotionally truthful in a responsible way–in other words, telling the unarguable truth. The emotional truth is an internal experience, as is physical physical pain or well-being. Only you know what you are feeling, and no one has the right to tell you you aren’t feeling it. (Please reference The Courage to Feel for a more thorough explanation.) If that’s not happening, relationships will flounder in various ways. Sometimes one partner bullies or dominates the other, creating a power over, rather than power with dynamic. In other cases, couples report continuous squabling that never gets to the underlying resentments that have developed over the absence of truth-telling. In still other situations, a couple reports a pattern of “keeping the peace” in order to maintain the household routines without constant argument while sacrificing intimacy on the emotional and physcal levels. And frequently I’ve had a couple seek help because one of them has developed an emotional attachment, with or without a full-blown affair, that is threatening to extinguish the last bit of commitment they have to one another.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss a couple whose pattern mirrors a dynamic that nearly extinguished the remaining flame in their marriage and how they are learning to fuel a more truthful and deeply satisfying connection.