Romantic Relationships

Humans are social creatures and humans are sexual creatures.
Romantic relationship: a friendship coupled with a sexual attraction that is expressed in some action.
So, relationships often sear themselves into our souls.

Long-term monogamous relationships are hard in our culture.
Of people who marry for the first time and live 40 more years: 2/3 end in divorce
Unhappy marriages increase illnesses by 35%
Unhappy and failed marriages have powerful effects on children. Divorce of parents shortens the lives of their children, whereas death of a parent has no effect on their life-spans.

Our relationships live in our memories.
We don’t come into adulthood with much good teaching and role modeling of relationships.
We’re not born with the skills of relationship. It’s best we learn them and make them habits.
I view all relationships, especially those of young people, as practice relationships.
In relationship, I work for these values:
To love and be loved, to support and be supported;
To work toward personal growth for self and other –
to love, serve, learn, and make peace with my past;
To nurture the relationship, thereby putting good memories into it.
It’s both blessing after blessing and AFGO after AFGO. (Another fucking growth opportunity)
It’s the quality of the friendship. Do you treat your partner as a good friend?

Loving: the experience of a heart-felt “yes.”
When the “no’s” come up in a love relationship, what to do with them?
First, don’t hunt for them, don’t scan for no’s. What you look for you will find.
There are better ways to live than judging our partner, fearing, keeping score, or nursing grudges.
Security comes not from hanging on to loved ones, but from being able to appreciate whatever and whoever comes your way, turning it/them with your “yes!” into a loved one.
Everyone has their own style – you and your partner. Why label her irresponsible when she’s lost in a world of ideas or art or music outside the mundane material world you live in?

Competition: Some people stand outside competition, they just don’t buy in. Some people can’t help but get sucked so deeply in that they won’t go near any competition. Some use competition (with self or other) to bring out their best and add spice to an activity. If you compete with your partner, be sure to discuss what it means to each of you. You may need to compromise. Competition can be devastating.
When we find something our partner does that keeps bugging us, we are wise to ask for what we want – but not to demand it.
What’s the difference? Demands contain emotional blackmail. In addition to the request I add the threat that I will upset myself and/or you if I don’t get my way.
Your partner likely can change in a healthy way only if s/he first feels accepted as s/he is.
Attend to the startup if the discussion. Discussions often end on the same note they begin on.

You can turn your complaints into requests.
A complaint addresses a specific action.
Criticism is more global, adds fault and blame to the complaint.
Defensiveness defends self and denies responsibility
Turn toward your partner, rather than away. Even when you think s/he is being hostile

Choosing is the experience of confronting alternatives and willfully picking among them.
Freedom is the experience of being able to choose, within the limits of the constraints.
Values are the rules, methods, and assessments of better and worse by which I make choices.
Responsibility is the experience of being in some control, cause, or authorship in my own life and in the world
around me. Note, responsibility is not blame, shame, and guilt. These add condemnation,
shithood, to responsibility.

Many of us are raised with external control theory:
I am not responsible for how I feel.
Other people, events, my physical body are responsible for how I feel.
Thus, I must try to control others by whatever methods I know, rather than work to
change my actions, my thoughts, and how I approach life.
Research shows that living from external control dooms your relationship.
You and your partner are wise to live with a lot of choice/responsibility.

We are fascinated by causes, we crave the stories, explanations, we cling to causes,
so we focus on what’s wrong and what keeps us stuck in habits.
Everyone wants to know why? “Why is s/he/I doing this? What are the reasons?”
The reason is usually because s/he/I has the habit of doing this.
Caught up in that habit, s/he/I chooses to do this! The question of why I do it is immaterial.
The question is how do I do it? And how can I practice stopping doing it?

Sometimes we encounter a being so wonderful they seem to cause us to love them. We have no choice. This is a trap. It makes us think, “That’s what love is, it’s what love should be like.”
Of course, as we love, we appreciate special features. But beware of going through life always judging, judging others (and/or self) and repeatedly asking, Am I really in love?
If you love, you love. The practice of loving is living in YES, choosing to appreciate, over and over again.
Know that every blessing you will ever have will come in a flawed vessel.
So which will you focus on – the blessing in the vessel, or the flaw? Take your pick.
Conditional loving means I’ll love if you fit my pictures. Unconditional means I love you as you are.
Don’t take something for granted because it’s reliable. Don’t take something for granted, appreciate it.
And don’t stop and assess your relationship very often. If you choose to stay in it, then choose it all, what you like and what you wish were different.

Language evokes, as well as describes. Use this fact consciously.
Research shows that each partner in good relationships makes at least five positive comments to their partner for every negative one. You can simply listen to a discussion between them, count the positives and negatives, and predict the success or failure.

Research also shows that any signs of contempt doom a relationship. Contempt means sneering, sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, hostility, criticism, sarcasm, blaming, whining nagging, threatening, punishing, bribing or rewarding.
Most of us don’t use these deadly habits on our friends. Yet many of us use them with our romantic partners.
If you hear signs of contempt in a married couple, you can predict divorce with 95% accuracy.

Humans can take anything and anybody for granted. We can get bored in paradise.
I want to wake up before I die.
We can hold what we call flaws as “differences.” Learn and appreciate both yours and partner’s.
Your partner lives in a different reality from yours, has different values, has different energy, has a different intellectual approach, has different talents, has different interests, has different dreams and visions (some of which may not include you).
Take any partner and you choose a set of unsolvable problems to grapple with for the duration.
Who is wrong? Or is it two people being human together?

Some people go toward obsessing/enmeshment/codependence and some toward withdrawal/ignoring (Well, we’ve handled that one!).

Practice: “How was your day?” Take turns; Show interest; Communicate your understanding; Take his/her side; No unsolicited advice; Express solidarity against others; Express affection; Validate emotions

Practicing Intimacy:
Look forward to time with your partner, commit time with the person to them.
This is it! This is romantic life! Make the most of it. Wake up! The clock is ticking.
Willfully appreciate your partner. Silently send love to partner.
Look intently at partner, esp when she speaks or when there’s silence.
Look into partner’s eyes, esp when you speak. Share a triumph.
Speak what is on your mind, esp your feelings.
Give subtle positive feedback, nod, smile, agree, when s/he evaluates self positively.
Ask for what you want, including loving or caring actions. Don’t demand.
Ask/sense/listen for what is wanted from you; give it if it seems appropriate.
Confront partner afresh, with awe/wonder. Notice conditional thoughts and let them go.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, reach out mentally and unite/embrace.

Crisis Loving: Stop feeding the crisis; Breathe deeply; Relax; Visualize feeling peaceful; Postpone action; Attend to what is happening now – no symbolic meanings, no future, no past; Speak positively; Act the part of a lover; Explore the crisis without words; Learn what you can; Move your seat back from the stage; Feel your pain without interpretations; Laugh in the face of your crisis; Say yes to your experience; Make the loving choice; Redirect your energy; Transform crisis into triumph.

Beware thinking you know what something means. Something means whatever you relate it to, whatever story you will use in order to understand it.
Take care in deciding what your partner “means” by what they say or do.
It will be your story – people are killed, abused, ignored, appreciated, loved, supported, cherished, abandoned, and divorced because of stories. Your stories are sacred – employ them with care!
Will you use this action, whatever it may be (e.g., buying groceries or changing a poopy diaper) to express love?
Will you let the particular (wash these dishes) stand for the general (making my house a home, or putting good energy and service into the world)?

Sacramental loving: A sacrament is an action you turn into sacred mystery through willful dedication to spiritual meanings.

Living as if. You are always living as if something. You can’t help but live as if. So, right now, what are you living as if you were doing? What are you living as if it meant? Studying for another midterm in this damn class? Having a coffee with my boyfriend? Learning ideas that will bless me all my life? Encountering the Divine?
Is this person is your “soul-mate?” I think the word is yucky. But if you want a soul mate, you’ll have to live as if.
One face of God? The one presentation of Existence that you get to commit to?
Receive love as if from your soul-mate, God, Existence.

Do you matter enough to have a really good relationship? Don’t start listing faults & attributes.
This question doesn’t call for description. It calls for an assertion: take a stand – YES!
“I am Frank and my life matters. I deserve to have an outstanding relationship.”

Commit to your partner what you will do to create a better relationship.
“I commit to giving up what I consider to be gentle teasing of Jeanie, but which she interprets as demeaning.”
We surrender in relationship not to the other person, but to the process of our relationship.
Here we are – two people – being human together.

Challenges: computer, TV, children, careers, exhaustion, lack of support, other priorities, clinging, expectations, finances, control/demand, symbolic meanings, money, greed, addictions.

If you are dating, what kind of people do you habitually attract? Do you feel you have a choice? Or has the
pleaser in you taken over? Has desperation, have to, should, must, ought, taken over?

Share your vulnerabilities. Your goal is to communicate, not to be rescued. Both of you must be able to hear no and hear requests for change. So it’s OK to say no and to ask for a change. Listen to her no or to her request for change. If she tells you how she feels, that is how she feels. Should she feel that way? What does that mean? That you want some authority to shame her and tell her she’s wrong? Clearly, she should, since she does.

Watch the power unfold. Do you feel in control? That’s too much power. Do you share the power? Does your partner have it? Remember who you are and what is important to you. You have an absolute right to feel safe with and supported by your partner. Learn what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. If you are unsafe or your feelings don’t matter to your partner, get out of this relationship. If your feelings don’t matter to you, get counseling.

A note on timing issues in relationships. Especially through high school and college, most people are not mature enough, skillful enough, or at the right place in their life for a spouse. Therefore, their relationships end. Things happen and they end. We tell all kinds of stories about why they end – your fault, my fault. But in truth is was a timing issue. The love in these relationships is valid, the loss as painful as any grieving. It’s just the wrong time. You both have loved and grown. Your next relationships will be the better for your having this one, painful as that might be to admit.

Partnering is, in part, a business relationship – decide who is handling what. Then let them do it.

Note: There an important distinction between who you look for as a romantic partner and who you look for as a life partner. A cultural myth says that if you’re charmed, you build your castle together. Great rolls in the hay do not ensure that you’ll raise children well together. And vice versa. It works best when you two are good romantic partners and good friends and coworkers. Expect some heartache.

Book I recommend: Partnering by Hal and Sidra Stone. 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by John and Julie Gottman or any other books by one or both of these folks.

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