Tuesday, February 24, 2009
MAKING LOVE LAST: (6) Promises That Will Bring You Closer Together
My beloved soul mate, Gordon, and I recently got married. You may be thinking something like, "Oh, how fabulous, love is a sweet promise, even at their age." Or maybe you're thinking, "Why would a woman of almost 60 want to get married again? Is she nuts?" Gordon and I laugh about being on the longest, hottest date in history.
But because of past disappointments and hurts, we're more realistic about what it takes to make love work. This time around, we wanted to do more than exchange the lofty, traditional "love, honor, and cherish" vows. We wanted to think through the behaviors that make love a day-by-day reality and create down-to-earth vows to shape and hold our marriage together.
A vow is a statement of intention that's a blueprint for action. It isn't a static statement like "I'll love you forever." Vows are commitments to specific behaviors to practice every day. Whether you're in a relationship or not, thinking about the kind of behaviors that nurture love can help you build a better union. Though it may seem that love is an effortless grace that will last forever, sustaining it takes conscious effort. Here are examples of vows to help you put love into action.
"I vow to not go to bed angry"
After a juicy fight, it's tempting to hole up and nurse your grievances, or at least turn your back on your partner and fall asleep in your own little cocoon of misery. But research from the famous "Love Lab" at the University of Washington suggests that making an overture at reconciliation is a much better plan.
Psychologist John Gottman, PhD, found that a couple's ability to bridge the gap after a squabble is one of the keys to lasting relationship success. And as much as you love one another, there are bound to be times when you get miffed. Even a simple statement such as, "I feel so anxious when we're at odds. How are you doing?" can turn a disagreement around. On the other hand, if you're really at fault, an apology is the best possible bridge between two hearts.
"I vow to keep our romance going--even when I'm not feeling romantic"
My friend Dana was stressed by the toll that motherhood was taking on her marriage. She and her husband, Allen, had been together for 10 years before their daughter was born, and they loved going out to restaurants, movies, and clubs. But when they had Stacey, their priorities shifted.
Like most new parents, they were exhausted and short on funds. Allen felt abandoned because the lion's share of Dana's attention went to the baby. Their romance seemed dead, and he became resentful. Dana vowed to turn things around. So she started the tradition of weekly date nights, where they get a babysitter, go out as a couple, and focus on each other. They're still going strong 10 years later, and she's an inspiration to busy me to put aside one night a week just for Gordon.
"I vow to be honest"
Most women lie about their feelings to placate someone else, a pattern guaranteed to breed resentment. Let's say your partner decides to watch the Super Bowl with a buddy--but it's also the night that you're returning from an exhausting weeklong sales trip. He assumes you want to unpack; you really want to spend the evening with him, but don't want to be a nag. So you're cheerful and supportive when he runs the plan by you.
But inside you're hurt and angry, and when he gets home after the game, you're resentful and touchy instead of delighted to see him. That's the antithesis of real love. Vowing to be honest about your feelings promotes intimacy and cuts down on resentment.
"I vow to stay faithful--even if I'm tempted"
Although you may have trouble imagining that you or your partner could succumb to a fatal attraction scenario, it happens--a lot. Even though most people say they disapprove of extramarital sex, carefully constructed polls estimate that 28% of married men and 17% of women have had affairs by their early 50s. It's human nature to feel at least occasional sexual attraction to other people. Acting on those attractions, however, is where this vow comes in.
The jealousy and anger that unfaithfulness breeds are the natural enemies of love and commitment.
"I vow to take care of myself"
After Gordon and I had been married for a month, my oldest son called and started joking: "Hey, Mom, how are you guys doing? Have you gotten fat yet?" We've all seen couples where one partner is buff and the other looks old enough to be his or her parent.
As a therapist, I've listened to the disappointment that follows when someone is no longer attracted to a partner who has let himself or herself go physically. I've also witnessed the sorrow when one partner falls ill or even dies of a preventable condition, leaving the other one feeling abandoned. One of the vows I've made both for myself and my husband is to take care of myself physically and emotionally so that I remain vital for as long as I can.
"I vow to cultivate intimacy"
When Gordon asks me how I am, he's not expecting to hear a mindless, "Fine, dear. You?" He really wants to understand how I'm feeling. That's intimacy--and I plan for us to stay as close as we are now for decades to come. Intimacy is a kind of mindfulness, a nonjudgmental curiosity about what's unfolding each moment for the other person. You cultivate it by listening deeply, without trying to solve each other's problems or butt in with your own story. Just being heard is a great antidote to stress, and it's one of the finest gifts you can give your partner.
Try writing your own vows for your romantic relationship, or for a friend, a parent, a child, or a trusted coworker. Even if the vows are for your eyes only, intentions have power. Put them in a place where you can check them often. A final word:
Be gentle with yourself. A vow like, "Above all, be honest," is bound to take continual practice.