Going Long for the Valentine
Love is one thing when you are first taking the plunge. It
is quite another when you are midstream, and yet something
altogether different when you are reaching the other shore. While
Mr. Hallmark continues to make his fortune pandering to those who
are gleefully jumping in, I toil on the banks, trying to help those
already well down the river; the ones who are floundering a bit
with fatigue, treading water, or fantasizing about bailing.
I have learned a lot from these distressed couples who come to
me for counseling about what it is like to create love when making
love is no longer so biologically driven. Here are two of the most
beneficial lessons I have learned.
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Once the beat of the love dance slows down, communication
becomes paramount. And this is where a lot of seasoned couples get
sloppy. They either give up in despair (“He never hears anything I
say anyway”) or just start assuming things about the other person
(“She is always like that, never satisfied”).
When resignation enters the relationship, communication will
inevitably start becoming destructive instead of constructive. One
common way this happens is the tit-for-tat defensive communication
pattern. Here is an example.
A husband is offended when his wife tells him what he has just
said is stupid. He reacts: “Don’t use that language with me; I
don’t use it with you.” As reasonable as this communication may
sound in print, guess where that conversation is going? The wife
responds: “What do you mean? You constantly talk to me in a
demeaning manner!” A defensive marriage-go-round is now in full
What would be more functional is: “What I said may be misguided,
it may be ill-conceived, but stupid? Is that really what you
This is more constructive, because it acknowledges her
assessment while taking exception to the overly stated insult. It
also bids her to be more accurate in her communication. The husband
could go for the cheap thrill of proving himself right and his wife
to be the “stupid” one. But this would be short-sighted. If his
goal is to protect and nurture the relationship for the long run,
then he will need to keep his eye on the ball. Next time you want
to do battle with your partner, consider this: What is your goal?
To be right or to make love work?
Just Say Yes
Nancy Reagan is not going to be happy with me when she sees
this, but I am sure she will get over it. I have noticed that
distressed couples who come to me for counseling hardly ever say
“yes” to each other. I have also noticed successful long-term
couples who have not lost the natural inclination to affirm their
partner’s desires, whenever possible; they have not learned to
mistrust their partner’s requests.
Think about when you were first together. Think about how easy
it was to say yes to your beloved. No doubt much has intervened
since that time, but you need to ask yourself: Why has time
hardened me into saying no when I could just as easily say yes?
Is it because you feel saying no is your only recourse to power?
Are you withholding from your partner because he or she has denied
something to you (another tit-for-tat game)? Question yourself: Why
have you congealed your relationship into an angry rebuttal; why
have you constricted the flow of generosity?
Perhaps this is the best valentine you can give: The next time
your partner asks something of you, take a chance and say yes … and
see what happens.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical
psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara.
Comment at email@example.com and visit his
Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for
more information on the topics covered in this column.