According to results from a recent GfK Roper poll, more than 80% of divorced Americans still believe in marriage, but we all know more than half of marriages don't make it, for various reasons.
Cupid, the ancient Roman god of love, was blind. In mythology, he's been represented as a cherub, a perpetual baby, (someone without wisdom or judgment) who flies around zapping people with his arrows. This is a great metaphor for the sensation of falling in love instantly, otherwise known as limerance, lust or blind love. Unfortunately, lust doesn't last, and love isn't blind forever.
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Creating a successful relationship takes a lot more than believing in Cupid, love, marriage or romance. Instead of blundering blindly through the stages of commitment, you can begin building the solid basis your relationship needs by asking yourself some questions. Here are some to consider before moving in together or making emotional and financial commitments:
1. What is your definition of commitment?
Whether you know it or not, you and your partner are continuously defining your relationship. If you don't know what your relationship means to each of you, you risk repeating past mistakes, getting stuck in uncomfortable roles, or fighting about what a healthy relationship is. Talk about what you mean by words such as relationship, commitment, love, and faithfulness. You'll be amazed by what you learn.
2. Have you discussed finances?
Next to sex, money is the biggest generator of problems, arguments, and resentment in long-term relationships. Couples tend to assume that money should be pooled, but it usually isn't that easy. A disparity in income can mean struggling about who pays for what, or whose income determines your lifestyle. Different financial habits (one likes to save, the other spends more, or doesn't keep track) can become a source of argument. For many couples, separating the money makes things run smoother; you don't wind up struggling for control. You can split expenses evenly, or work out a percentage share if your incomes are different. Whatever you do, learn to talk about money in a businesslike manner.
3. What about household responsibilities?
If you're not yet living together, take a tour of each other's homes. Drastically different decorating styles, neatness, and organization levels can become sources of argument, as can housekeeping and chores. If you have different tastes, it may require a lot of creativity and negotiation to decorate a joint home in a way that makes both of you comfortable. Additionally, think hard before moving into your partner's established home. You may have trouble feeling as if you belong in a home that was previously established by your partner, unless you participate together in reorganizing and redecorating it.
4. How close are you to family or friends?
If one of you has a lot of family or friends, and the other does not, or if you both have big families, find out what those relationships mean. Where will you spend holidays? If there are family members who have problems, such as financial stress, addiction or mental illness, how much will that impact your relationship?
5. How do you handle anger and other emotions?
We all get upset from time to time. If you are usually good at diffusing each other's anger and being supportive through times of grief or pain, your emotional bond will deepen as time goes on. If your tendency is to react to each other and make the situation more volatile and destructive, you need to correct that problem before you live together.
6. How do you show love to each other?
Talking about which actions and words mean love to you may be surprising. Even if it's hard for you to figure out, discussing how you give and receive love will improve your relationship. You will understand what makes each of you feel loved, and how to express your love effectively.
7. How well did you discuss these very questions?
Asking yourselves these questions are excellent tests of your ability to define and work out problems. Constructive discussion that leads to a mutually satisfactory solution means you know how to solve problems in your relationship. If not, get counseling before going further.
The skills couples need to keep intimacy alive in a long-term relationship differ from new relationship intimacy skills, and they're not obvious because people don't talk about them. Most couples need to lower their expectations of romance and glamour and raise the level of fun they have together. Regular weekly talks (I call them State of the Union discussions) keep the problems minor, the resentment level down, and the communication open, so that there is time and space for intimacy. In a successful, long-term relationship, passion becomes a shared sense of humor and goodwill toward each other.
I spend every day teaching couples how to do these things. Generally speaking, men value competency and problem solving. Women value intimacy and emotional connection. The truth is that learning successful problem solving ends fighting and power struggles, and therefore leads to more intimacy. You may think he's focused entirely on time, power, or money, but what he's really trying to do is create enough security that he can feel safe to let his guard down.
Intimacy is the art of making your partner feel understood and accepted. When this feeling is created, barriers fall. Gentle touch, eye contact a gentle sense of humor and the right words all create the atmosphere. Positive comments on your partner's looks or the day's activities positively will also help. Couples disconnect when they don't feel interested in each other any more.
To reconnect, make an effort to listen and understand each other's needs and wants. The most powerful thing you can do to keep a marriage strong is form a partnership, a team, where both parties feel respected, cared about, and needed. If you really want to restore the marriage, begin not by complaining but by seeking to understand your partner. Once the connection is there, you can begin to work out the issues.
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