The beginning of love is wonderful. It is the subject of songs and the theme of movies; it has created an industry in fiction writing, the romance novel. But the test of love comes over time, the time beyond the courtship and honeymoon phase. It is in the long-term relationship that our capacity to maintain the vitality and energy of love is challenged. The challenge goes beyond simply getting along. There are lots of couples who get along but whose relationship lacks spark. Some of these couples have excluded anything controversial from their relationship in an effort to keep the peace. It is a peace that comes with a price.
Not being truly open because it may “stir things up” is precisely the wrong thing to do. The spark comes from being emotionally open in a relationship and allowing the other person to do the same. Being open requires that we make our feelings known when we talk about things that are important to us and that we stay emotionally connected to our love partner when he or she thinks, feels, and believes differently; we don’t waste our energy trying to change or fix each other.
Yes, creating and maintaining a vibrant love, through the process of revealing yourself, warts and all, can be a frightening prospect. However, to do otherwise, to play it safe and avoid the risk of being open, or to discourage your partner’s openness because it doesn’t conform to your views is the biggest risk of all. Over time it will, with certainty, drain the relationship and leave it empty. The excitement of the early days will become a distant memory to be mourned. This is so because the liveliness of love relationships, the very core energy of love, is fed by the openness that comes from the heart, talking about our inner lives. That is how we fall in love, and that is how we keep love alive. Love is about feelings—feelings shared, shared with a person we trust.
Why don’t we just do that, be open and move forward happily ever after? It is about judgment. Typically, the person with whom we share our life becomes the person whose judgment we are most sensitive to. Ironically, we may be more open to a stranger because the stranger does not typically impact our life and his or her opinion of us is not critical, certainly not comparable to the person who shares our bed.
The solution is simple, but not necessarily easy. If you want openness, instead of judging your partner’s disclosures validate him or her. Don’t confuse validating with agreeing, it is not the same. Validating communicates “I understand.” It does not suggest agreement, nor is it as simple as saying, “I understand.” It is responding in a way that demonstrates your understanding. In fact, for the most part, agreement is not fully required in relationships. We are different people viewing our world differently in some ways. However, feeling understood is required because without feeling understood, feeling that your partner gets you, the relationship is more of a living arrangement than the love affair it was initially.
Are there guidelines for moving forward with openness safely? The best guidelines I’ve come across are in a little gem of a book, The 15-Minute Relationship Fix: A Clinically-Proven Strategy That Will Repair and Strengthen Your Love Life.
I know, a shameless plug for my most recent book. But, after using the approach for 8 years and honing it with couples so that it provides safe openness and allows for productive intimacy, I am excited to share it. In fact, after reading the (small) book, I invite questions and comments to [email protected]I’d be happy to reply to as many as I can.