What is it about finding and keeping good love that seems so difficult and/or challenging for some of us? You hear about the divorce rate being at an all-time high- especially for people over 50 who are becoming empty nesters and losing the glue that held their families together. But why is it so complicated to not only find love, but to keep it growing and thriving even when you are lucky enough to find it?
I think the main reason is that we are thinking about it all wrong. I can’t tell you how many times that I have heard professionally and personally, someone complain about their spouse or partner, only to say, “we are just so different.” It’s almost as if the goal is for you and your partner to have the same needs, thoughts, goals and values in order to ensure success in the relationship. Which, by the way- is NEVER going to happen. We all are unique individuals, and we bring our own complex experiences, narratives, and personalities into our relationships. Once the romantic idealization of your partner wears off and all of those idealized, feel good hormones that bring you together in the beginning disappear, what is left are two unique, different individuals with competing needs.
What I propose, is to begin to reshape how we think about our love relationships and if we don’t have a partner, to relook at how we are going about trying to connect to that special someone. I have 4 main points to look at in order to do this.
1. Before you can be in love with or fall in love with anyone else, you need to figure out how to really love you.
Loving you takes many different forms. It involves getting to know what it is you need to thrive. It involves taking care of yourself- your mind, body, spirit, and your joy and passion. Do you know what makes you tick? What excites you? What you are afraid of? Spend time developing your life, your world and filling it with people, experiences and activities that connects you to all facets of yourself. Spend time reflecting on what you need and want in a partner. Imagine what it would look like to connect with someone and what that relationship would feel like. What are the non-negotiables? Write it down, keep a journal. Get curious about who you are and what it is that you need in your life.
2. If you have found the person you are spending your life with, then reevaluate how you look at the relationship.
Instead of evaluating it from a deficit perspective, enlist your partners help to have open and honest dialogue about what it is that you admire and can learn from each other. Opposites generally do attract. What are your partner’s strengths that may be weak in you that you can learn from? Enlist each other’s help in exploring how the relationship can thrive among your differences and how each of you can help the other with their vulnerabilities.
3. Practice active listening and empathic communication.
We have all seen the advice on communicating with our partners in a way that focuses on” I “statements, and non- defensive response. It almost sounds like a simplistic cliché to focus on mirroring what it is that our partners are trying to express to us, without going into auto pilot and reacting to it. But honestly, it works. When you can practice really hearing what your partner is trying to express to you, and not just reacting and defending yourself, each of you feels heard and cared for instead of attacked. If you are unsure how to do this, find a good couples’ therapist, and let them work with you. Like any muscle, your communication muscle needs practice and the proper fuel to strengthen.
4. Know yourself and know how to ask for what you need.
If you are a loner and your partner thrives on people, support each other in a way that encourages each other and the relationship to allow for the differences, and ensure that each person thrives. So often couples get into power struggles as to who is “right” and who is “wrong”, when it actually isn’t a matter of either. Instead, the perception needs to be reframed as allowing the relationship to tend to the different needs of both people in it without judgment or shame. That’s not to say that time doesn’t need to be spent developing common bonds that are enjoyed by both people in the relationship, but instead of getting stuck in power struggles over “you always, you never” “you’re so…”, embrace the power of being different and being in the position of helping your partner become the best version of themselves that they can be.