How Did We Get Here?

When we find ourselves in committed relationships in which we are no longer happy, especially if it has lasted a long time, we often ask ourselves the question, how did we get here? For those of us lucky enough to experience that high of infatuation or “feeling in love” in the first stages of a relationship it is hard to grasp how something that feels so good and so right could end up feeling so negative. Logically most of us know that the high we feel at the beginning of a relationship is not likely to last. Once the newness wears off and the faults of our partner and our own become more apparent then things are likely to change. Are those of us in long -term relationships doomed to settle for mediocrity and to accepting a certain percentage of unpleasantness? Are we doomed to constantly learn ways to “communicate” or “compromise” or worse? This sure doesn’t feel anything like falling in Love. Does the fall have to go so far –and is it possible to get the spark back from the beginning?   Dr. Willard Harley, author of the international best seller His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage describes the three states of mind in a marriage: Intimacy, Conflict and Withdrawal. These are best described by the roles each partner plays in the relationship, either that of Giver or Taker. In the first stage called Intimacy both partners are in the Giver role. Dr. Harley describes the Giver role as doing anything you can to make your partner happy and avoid anything that makes them unhappy. In the role of Taker the role is the exact opposite. Being the Giver is a lot easier and feels a lot better if your partner is also playing that role.   When you both find yourselves in the role of the Giver it isn’t all about compromise and communication, but knowing what makes your partner happy, what drives them, shapes them, and what their dreams are. It is about knowing your partner’s needs, both emotional and physical and caring about them. It is about wanting to help your partner achieve that state of happiness because you love them. When you feel this way you are in the role of the Giver. When you both feel and act this way you are in a state of Intimacy.   The state of Conflict occurs when one partner is in the role of Giver, but the other is in the role of Taker. In this role, the Taker is concerned with meeting their own needs even at the expense of their partner, which causes conflict and makes being a Giver much more difficult to continue.   The final state occurs when the Conflict becomes too frequent, too intense, or just too much to bear. This causes the Giver to cease to want to give. There can’t be two Takers in a relationship with no one giving. The result of two Takers is that no one is getting their emotional needs met. This leads to a state of Withdrawal, which can be the equivalent of an emotional divorce.   How can we make our way all the way back to Intimacy? Well, unfortunately that may mean we must endure going back through a state of conflict – but assume the role of the Giver. In other words, according to Dr. Harley, at least one partner must choose to take the high road and go back to the behaviors of the Giver even when they are not being returned. The risk of this is putting faith in your partner to reciprocate. Once you assume this role, set the example and make the request to your partner it is up to them whether they will reciprocate and accompany you back to Intimacy.   John Gottman, one of the leading experts on relationships with over 40 years of research on the topic explains in his best selling book: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: that happy couples are not necessarily perfect unions- often far from it. Gottman has found happy couples may have significant differences in needs, values, interests, and temperaments. These couples also argued, sometimes frequently. The difference is their overall feeling about one another, even when there are problems. Couples that are happy ultimately want their partner to be happy and will act in ways to help them achieve it even when it’s difficult.   So how did we get here –We got off on the wrong road. How do we get back- try taking the High Road.   If you are in Fishers, Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield, or Indianapolis and you need relationship help, please call Touchstone Counseling and schedule an appointment today.

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