"Love and trust, in the space between what's said and what's heard in our life, can make all the difference in this world."
Long term relationships such as marriage and committed partners go through developmental stages: "getting to know you" - falling in love stage; adjustment to living together stage; "seven year itch" or questioning stage; and settling in, deepening intimacy stage. Each stage of a relationship represents a transition, a deepening of the relationship marked by greater intimacy or greater stress and/or sometimes both, because growth in relationship is a winding path.
Today's post will discuss the falling love in stage and subsequent posts will elaborate on the final three stages.
Falling in love, deciding to spend your life with a partner is a decision people often make based on physical and cultural attraction and sometimes talk about as if they had no control over: "it was bigger than the both of us", "I was swept away", "love at first sight", but what is going on psychologically can be something entirely different.
Firstly, attraction is biochemical, we are animals after all, and hormones, pheromones, and physical attraction play a large part in the process. Secondly, we live in a culture, in which we have been "programmed" since our birth on what to expect from relationships and what "kind" of person makes a good mate. Thirdly, there is the psychological process of "projection" which can be simply explained by the childhood taunt used to reflect projection: "I know you are, but what am I?".
Wow, with all that going on how are we ever going to choose the "right" mate? Well, we all make mistakes and hopefully learn from them, but one of the great tragedies of the modern world is very few people actually date anymore, so mistakes often have more serious consequences.
Dating is a period of discernment, during which time, you really got to know something about your potential mate: their values, their temperament, their goals and ambitions. Too often in todays world, the emphasis is on sexual compatibility, so that becomes the overdoing motivation and determinant of compatibility.
That of course is a big mistake because long term relationships are built on shared values and similar life style interests. Sex is usually great in the beginning, driven by hormones, loneliness, and sometimes sexual compulsivity and acting out; so cannot be trusted in and of itself as a sign of compatibility.
The first step in choosing a partner is slowing down, a caution all of us receive, yet few of us follow. Why is that? I think it's partially because of the anxiety and insecurity of loneliness, and our lack of insight into our own motivations. This is certainly an area in which insights gained in therapy can help.
Also, you want to experience activities with your partner in which you get an idea of their values -- what is important to them, what do they prioritize in life? There's not much hope for a relationship in which one partner organizes their life around work and family, and the other partner organizes around bohemian life style and indulgence.
There's an old saying "genius is wisdom and youth", in others words "if I only knew then what I know now". Personal growth and self exploration is one way to develop knowledge about your self so that you don't fall into 'programmed' patterns, and really have a better chance of getting the love you want.
Your story is important and telling your story is even more important. Clients sometime express frustration at delving into their childhood history wondering if it has anything to do with the problems they are facing in present time. I think this story by Donald Davis is a wonderful example not only of the power of story telling but also how important it is that you tell your story and learn how the telling can help you change....