Eight keys to lasting love

We will truly be surprised by joy when we can live in the moment with our partner. And, within ourselves.

We will truly be surprised by joy when we can live in the moment with our partner. And, within ourselves.

by Dr. Linda Miles — 

While reading a fairy tale to my 5-year-old granddaughter, I was very disturbed by the phrase, “And they lived happily ever after.” So, I took the liberty of changing the ending to, “They began the work of creating a very good marriage.” I did not want my granddaughter to grow up thinking, as so many of my clients had, that marriage was so simple, that it just magically happened.

As a marriage and family therapist for 30 years, I have seen the pain people experience after the honeymoon is over and they realize they have married a mere mortal. The following keys to lasting love can help couples avoid the pitfalls and pain of succumbing to the “happily ever after” myth.

1. Stop blaming and start living. It is our responsibility, and not our partner’s, to feel better and to heal ourselves. Our partner will be responsible to us, but not for us. Instead of blaming our partner, it is useful to ask ourselves these two questions: “Why did I draw this person into my life?” and “What is it I need to learn from this situation?” Within a good marriage, we grow up.

2. Avoid the fixer-upper syndrome. We think we can fix our partner and shape them into perfection — our version of perfection. So many people marry for potential. Never marry potential. Marry for safety, the safety between two people who accept one another, faults and all.

3. Make a promise to keep our own integrity. Do not hold onto victimhood like a prize. This does not allow us to grow. Work on our own behaviors by being kind and loving. We can learn to vent our feelings without getting out of control. If we are in a relationship in which mutual respect is missing, over time, we may need professional help. Preferably, we would seek that help with our partner.

4. Eliminate attack thoughts. These types of thoughts are incredibly destructive, over time. When we attack other people, ourselves and our thoughts, we interfere with our happiness and our peace of mind. Learn to find the joy, even in difficult times. As Mother Theresa once said, “Our best protection is a joyful heart.”

5. Release anger. Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. Turn attack thoughts into constructive thoughts and actions. Focus on thoughts that are appreciative of ourselves and our partner, and express those thoughts often. When we build an emotional bank account full of positive thoughts, we have positive emotional currency to counter with when the inevitable angry times do come.

6. Wake up without makeup. On soap operas, we see women wake up first thing in the morning with all their makeup on, false eyelashes and all. That is not the real world. To create a successful marriage, we must learn to be more and more real. We must learn to feel safe enough to be who we truly are.

7. Wake up and make up. It is essential that couples learn to repair and heal after every fight. Find solutions. Do not get stuck rehashing the past. Live in the present and find ways to keep the marriage buoyant and alive. Happy couples learn how to repair differences.

8. To change our relationship, we must first start by changing ourselves. Better to reinvent ourselves, because we are not going to be able to change our partner. Learn to love in a mature way without trying to control or manipulate. C.S. Lewis once said, “To love without control or manipulation is to be surprised by joy.” We will truly be surprised by joy when we can live in the moment with our partner. And, within ourselves.

 

Dr. Linda Miles has a doctorate in counseling psychology, and has worked in the mental health field for more than 30 years. She co-authored The New Marriage: Transcending the Happily-Ever-After Myth and the CD Train Your Brain for Successful Relationships. www.drlindamiles.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 6, December 2005/January 2006.

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