“When you struggle with your partner, you are struggling with yourself. Every fault you see in them touches a denied weakness in yourself.” – Deepak Chopra
Healthy, stable, and loving relationships don’t happen by magic. They happen as the result of two people actively working together to be a team, empathizing with the other’s point of view, and making compromises. If that sounds terribly romantic to you, then it is worth reflecting on what type of relationship you believe can be sustained over the long-term without these basic attributes as part of the foundation.
Consider how all of your actions within the context of your relationship are either strengthening or weakening its basic foundation. What behaviors can you choose that will serve to strengthen and reinforce your loving committed bond to your partner? How are your behaviors congruent with the type of relationship that you value and strive to maintain?
Processes that Drain Love out of Relationships
An excellent Acceptance and Commitment Therapy book, ACT with Love, explains the five basic processes that d-r-a-i-n love from relationships:
When we are truly connected with another person we are fully present in the moment with them. This concept extends beyond “paying attention” to someone and encompasses a larger concept of presence that requires our fully active engagement. This type of connection begins with turning our attention toward someone with a nonjudgmental attitude of openness and curiosity. When we are able to fully let go of whatever preconceived notions/ideas that we have about the other person then we are ready to receive them just as they are in this present moment.
When we are reactive, we are not being mindful of the present moment. Instead of responding to the present with an attitude of openness, we are reacting as if we are on auto-pilot. In a state of reactivity, it is not uncommon to feel like you are not in control of your emotions or that your internal state or its external expression is being regulated by someone else. This is a lie. Only you are truly in control of your responses. When you act in reactive ways in relationships, you may lose sight of those qualities that you value in a loving relationship and instead act on impulses or urges. With the regular practice of mindfulness in your everyday routine, you may notice it become easier and easier to meet the present moment in an open and responsive way, free of your old problem-saturated patterns of reacting.
Human beings dislike unpleasant feelings and generally go to great lengths to avoid them. While this is a natural tendency, it can create a variety of problems. The more that we value avoiding unpleasant feelings, the more life goes downhill. You may want to read that one more time. In a way it might seem counter-intuitive, but there is a wide body of research to support this. Specifically, experiential avoidance (see a recent post on “Psychological Inflexibility“) has been shown to increase risk for depression, stress, addiction, anxiety, and other health issues (Hayes et al., 1996).
(4) Inside Your Mind
There is an incredible amount of chatter going on inside our minds a great deal of the time. For many people, it is easy for their minds to quickly generate negative chatter about their partners when are feeling negatively toward them. This type of chatter is nothing to be overly concerned about … as long as you have a firm grip on your ability to handle your mind effectively and regulate your emotions. For many, there is a tendency to get trapped inside their own minds, almost at the mercy of whatever thoughts arise. This can be a scary place to be, since the mind can easily become swarmed by thoughts. Being fused to your thoughts in this way prevents you from being truly connected to your partner, prevents you from responding (not reacting) to events, and prevents you from meeting unpleasant thoughts/feelings with a nonjudgmental mindful stance.
(5) Neglecting Values
Harris (2009) explains that values are “your heart’s deepest desires for what you want to do and what you want to stand for during your brief time upon this planet.” Many of us desire to be the type of partner who is loving, kind, considerate, generous, compassionate, etc. Sometimes we are lead away from our values, which can lead to a deep feeling of guilt. When you notice that something has gone “wrong” in your relationship, do you believe that your own behavior was in line with your values? Just because you are upset that is not an excuse for your values to go right out the window. However, it often happens that people act defensive, reactive, or impulsive when feeling anger or tension. Moving your actions into full alignment with your chosen values takes vigilant and diligent practice. Few things really worth having come easily. Commit yourself to practicing mindfulness and behaviors that will guide your everyday actions closer to your chosen values. Create a life worth living.
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Harris, R. (2009). ACT with love: Stop struggling, reconcile differences, and strengthen your relationship with acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Hayes, S.C., Wilson, K.G., Gifford, E.V., Follette, V., & Strosahl, K. (1996). Experiential avoidance and behavioral disorders: A functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(6): 1152-1168.
Featured image: Glass Heart by Kirstea / CC BY 2.0