John Lennon, the wise philosopher, said that “all you need is love.”
But, there is a deep valley separating philosophy from real life. Sometimes, we need more than just love to make a relationship work.
Don’t get me wrong, love is an important ingredient. But to keep the love alive, we need more than just philosophy. Love is all we need as long as we are also willing to work hard to keep it alive. Relationships cannot be sustained without constant rejuvenation and reinvention.
Valentine’s Day reminds us that we need to celebrate our love. But, the truth is that we need to remind ourselves how to truly love for the remaining 364 days of the year. And as the years go by, we need to work harder and harder to sustain it.
Long-term relationships go through tremendous change and the expectations/projections we started with are lost over the years. As time goes by, we lose some of these projections that we hang so neatly on our partner and consequently develop disappointments, anger, and sometimes even hatred towards our loved ones. In order to keep the love going, we need to resolve these emotions.
Why Relationships Go Through Hard Times
We all begin a relationship with projections. These projections are expectations that we hope that our partner will fulfill. We believe that our partners are more than what they truly are and we project these beliefs on them. We imagine our partners to be flawless, with only desirable qualities – the solution to all of our problems.
Unfortunately, these beliefs are not real. Slowly, we learn to see our partners for who they really are. What we need to realize is that projections are completely natural, and that losing them is not a bad thing.
Slowly, as time goes by, we progress from having projections to feeling alienation from our partner. When you become alienated, you want to wash your hands of your partner – you want nothing to do with them. At the start of a relationship, no one can imagine that this would happen to them, and yet this is very common, particularly without therapeutic intervention.
The only way to resolve the painful emotions that can arise in a relationship is to recognize them before they become too substantial and we cross the “line of no return.” The outcome does not have to be grim, because all issues in a relationship can be solved.
As we progress on this axis, moving from projection to alienation (The evaluation and treatment of marital conflict. Philip J Geurin, et al.), we need to remember that both we and our partners move separately along this line. While we can be full of bitterness or even hatred, our partner can be oblivious to the emotions that we carry inside. In most cases, we are simply not on the same page.
The good news is even that can be solved quite simply. We can do it by following 4 simple steps
1. Recognizing the problem
Recognizing the problem can be hard. Sometimes, we need a ton of bricks to fall on our heads before we finally notice it.
The easiest way to recognize that a problem has come up is to notice when things are different. When we find ourselves suddenly not sharing everything, or when we find that the things that were easy to say become hard, then we can tell that something has gone wrong.
At this point, we can no longer deny the existence of the problem and we need to take steps to keep it from deteriorating the relationship even further.
2. Admitting That There Is a Problem
Once we recognize it, we need to admit, sometimes even verbally, that something is not working.
Admitting a problem does not mean that we failed or that the relationship is not working at all. It is simply an admission that some part of the relationship needs a tune-up.
If our car is low on oil then we fill it up, we don’t get rid of it or say that we can’t use it anymore! The same is true for relationships – we fix the things that need fixing, and we continue to celebrate the things that are working.
In order to admit that something is not working, we need to sit down with our partner and talk about how we feel. In the beginning, it might seem hard or artificial, but as time goes by we will learn to do it naturally and periodically.
Talking about problems is the best way to admit that they exist. After all, if we don’t fight and talk about our problems, then we have failed the relationship anyway.
3. Finding Ways To Resolve The Problem
Sometimes, even commonly, we cannot do this on our own. For many problems we require the help of a professional. Therapy is not bad or evil; going to a therapist is not an admittance of failure.
Problems that require therapy are more common than you might think and going to therapy can bring better outcomes than ignoring the problem or then failing to resolve it alone.
Many couples believe that a successful relationship means continual happiness, or, at the very least, no ground shattering moments of conflicts that effectively hang the relationship on a thread.
This fantasy of a couple that resolves all crises moments, conflicts and painful moments all by themselves reminds me of an old family taboo where dirty laundry must never be washed in public, and reaching out for the help is frowned upon.
In the real world, successful relationships are forged in moments of happiness as well as in moments of hardships, and asking for help is a sign of strength. Reaching to our partner and to the world around us are the basis of any successful and fulfilling relationship.
When we can’t reach a common ground with our partner, therapy can become a useful solution, especially because we are not always on the same page. Most couples postpone going to therapy until they’ve crossed the point of no return. At that point, going to therapy is a test to see whether the relationship is over.
We don’t have to wait for a crisis to arise to see a professional. We can go to see a therapist periodically for short times to get that tune-up and sustain the relationship.
Again, it is easier to go see a therapist when a crisis presents itself because this might be the only way to save the relationship. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: are we going to solve problems only when the relationship is in danger?
Therapy is often the nurturing place were struggling couples can perfect their capacity to be intimate, passionate, and loving with one another and not as a last resort. Imagine reaching out for help at the all-or-nothing moment as a last option before your relationship is coming to an end vs. engaging in a mutual journey of discovering yourselves and your partner.
After we’ve recognized the problem and admitted its existence, we are then free to find a solution and grow from this experience. Whether we solve it by ourselves or see a professional, solving the problem enables us to resume dealing with one another with passion and love. Solving our issues will get us back on track so we can celebrate our relationship instead of being burdened by it.
4. Work on keeping the love alive until the next problem
Lastly, we have to remember that this work will never end. We will have to work out new problems and new difficulties for as long as the relationship is alive. A relationship that doesn’t require work is a relationship that we have given up on.
Relationships are not easy, but this is also what makes them special – as long as we love, we can grow, learn and continue to renew our love.
So, John was very much on target – love is all we need to work on, so that we can continue to have all that we need.
I wish you luck and I hope that these words will inspire you to strengthen your relationship and to see that working hard can be a fun and enriching thing. After all, things that come too easily are never as fulfilling as those that we work hard to achieve.