Here’s how to make it last.
Cultivating romance is a challenging task, but as with growing anything, there are some ‘rules’ which, while they may not guarantee success if you follow them (this is about a relationship with another human being after all, not a plant!), can massively increase the chance of success.
1. Follow your feelings!
Understand where they come from — and don’t over-analyze or feel ‘ashamed’ of them. Your feelings are your core truth, and to betray them is to betray yourself. If they lead you away from the relationship, you’re in, follow them anyway! Trying to ‘make things work,’ or staying with someone because of a fear of being alone is wasting your life. Only be in any relationship because you consciously choose to be, from a place of knowing that you would be fine if you had to be on your own.
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2. Focus on what’s “right” not what “wrong” with your partner.
There will always be elements of both — it’s the balance that counts. Is there enough that works? Do you mostly feel happy to have that woman in your life, and mostly still attracted to her? And if you fall out, is there a solid foundation of trust and kindness underneath whatever disagreements you may have. When you talk over a problem, are you ready and willing to take responsibility for what you may have contributed by your actions, or by misunderstanding her? If the answer to these is yes, you have found love, my friend.
3. What you feel at the beginning of the relationship isn’t real compatibility.
What you each feel in the early stages of a relationship will have as much to do with wishful thinking and projection as about any real ‘compatibility’. Attraction is a complex mix of biology and psychology. Being ‘wanted’ is not something you can rely on for good caring in the longer term — and if you are ‘not wanted,’ it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
The foundation on which of love can be built is friendship, which can be defined as a mix of fondness and admiration. If that combination is there, you’ll be able to weather the storms of emotion which will come up in any relationship,—especially when the romantic glow wears off—and which will bring you closer if you can resolve them together.
4. Don’t look to your relationship to be the main source for self-validation.
You must find that inside yourself. Love thrives when it is an act of sharing — a path for you to connect with the wholeness inside yourself. If you are depending on your partner for that, you’ll become susceptible to some of the worst traps that a relationship can offer. Possessiveness, because if your well-being is invested in her, you’ll instinctively want to keep her close. Jealousy, because you’ll always be afraid of being abandoned. And ‘taking it personally’— your fragile ego will be quick to react to anything that’s perceived as a criticism and so you’ll lose the degree of compromise and ‘slack’ that’s necessary to keep any relationship running smoothly.
5. Don’t look for more than 30% of your ‘social needs’ to be met by your lover.
This has parallels with number 4. For a relationship to thrive, it’s important that there is a balance between connectedness and separation. Too much of either will make it fragile and out of balance. Then each person can become needy and then resentful of the other’s ‘power’ to hurt them, and jealous of any time which is spent outside the relationship — in spite of the boredom which grows if neither person has new experiences to share and talk about.
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6. The core ‘DNA’ of a relationship is created at an early stage and is not likely to change much.
It can be polished and nurtured, watered and improved, but certain patterns in the mysterious chemistry of attraction/reaction between two people are likely to be fixed, no matter how much ‘work’ they do. This is especially true at a later stage in life, when the behaviors and ways of seeing the world which define who we are, are more fixed.
There comes a point in every relationship when the romantic (or lustful) glow has worn off and there’s a need to reflect in an honest, open and realistic way whether there is enough of a foundation to build a longer relationship, or whether it’s best to let it go with gratitude for the life that it had.
7. Don’t hold back from loving entirely because of a fear of being hurt.
It’s a strong instinct, but it can be tragically self-fulfilling. And even if the worst happens and you get dumped, it will, in fact, make you stronger — at the same time as opening up space for the right person to come into your life. Ironically, our instinctive defensiveness against loss — emotional distance, being armored — is exactly what can bring about the very outcome it’s intended to avoid! The only sensible option is to dare to trust — that she will love you, that you are worthy of love, and that even if you are disappointed or betrayed, you are resilient enough to withstand it.
At the same time, keep your expectations realistic given what you know about the other person and her feelings for you, and what’s reasonable to expect from another person.
8. Be honest, even if it causes some short-term pain.
Share fears and doubts, about yourself or the relationship. Mutual trust is the foundation of any intimate relationship, so it always pays to guard and protect it. And lies have a nasty way of catching up with us. There is a place for diplomacy and kindness; it’s not necessary to tell your partner everything that you’re feeling — only anything that has to do with them or that they can support you with. And find out your partner’s ‘Love Language,’ both regarding what things make them feel cared for, and also what turns them on. Misunderstandings are often the result of using the wrong ‘language’ for a partner. For example, there’s no point in giving your partner gifts if what makes her feel loved is quality time together.
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9. Don’t take it all too seriously.
Our job on planet earth is to enjoy ourselves and help as many others as possible to do the same. One of the best ways of doing that is by loving another person, accepting that it will probably involve some bringing up of buried pain to the surface for both, with plenty of projections and misinterpretations. The art is to take these things seriously and playfully at the same time! Humor is seriously sexy, and when combined with kindness and physical attraction, it’s an unbeatable basis for the kind of solid foundation which enables love to grow and last.
10. The man is nowhere to be found.
Just when intimacy and connection are beginning to grow, and a woman is starting to feel more comfortable and trusting in a relationship… a man often disappears! This taking flight is rooted in a perceived threat to his prized independence and from his feeling vulnerable to a woman’s capacity to be angry or disappointed with him, or to reject him — all the emotions he’s been desperate to avoid from a woman since he waved goodbye to his mother.
It’s hurtful but it will pass — and when you cross the bridge to welcoming intimacy you will have undertaken a rite of passage from being a boy to being a man emotionally. If you feel you’re not ready for the next stage in the journey of love, it’s best to admit it and give her space to find a man that is.
If you find yourself repeating this cycle of approaching and departing try and understand and explain the roots of it to your partner so she can realize not to take it personally and can accept it—like bad weather which we might prefer didn’t happen but which, like the rain, can turn out to be essential to our survival and growth!
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Steve Garrett is a Cardiff (Wales)-based social entrepreneur, writer and musician in his 60’s who thinks he’s probably made every relationship mistake possible, but hopes he’s finally learned a thing or two about love, and life as a man, which are worth sharing. Steve recently published “Coming In” on Amazon, a book of poetry mainly aimed at male readers.
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This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.