I am in the business of love. My business Good Clean Fun manufactures and sells all natural love products and during the course of marketing and selling our products, I have become an educator on our tag line of Making Love Sustainable. I have been called a loveologist by some of our customers. My story is believable because I have been married to the same man for over 23 years and together we have four kids, two of them teenagers. It is a powerful, if not sobering testimonial; as the number of relationships that end during the course of raising children is staggering. Of my fourteen year old son’s entire elementary school class, we’re one of the last marriages standing.
I feel unbelievably blessed and grateful to say that I am more in love with my husband today than ever before, even yesterday. This has been a true labor of love and I believe wholeheartedly that the education that this work has provided me, could be of use to other couples who are taking on the larger than life work of building a family. The concepts of sustainability provide a worthy metaphor for our primary relationships which at its best is the most natural system of regeneration that we have.
The planet’s atmosphere, intrinsic to the health of everything it contains is so thin it is transparent. Easy to take for granted while it is functioning, only its fragility demonstrates how critical it is to our survival and teaches us how to care for it. Real love, the kind that endures after the falling in love goes away, is the atmosphere that contains relationships and allows families to flourish. Just like the earth’s atmosphere it is as fragile as it is powerful and only recognizably so when it is compromised. Learning to care for the container of our love, which makes the rest of life meaningful and beautiful is a task we must embrace.
The elements that build a healthy and sustainable container of love are not complex and yet each requires attention and education which both our ailing school systems and often broken family systems do not seem able to pass along.
The ground in our relationships rests in our thoughts.
The water of our relationships exists in the ebb and tide of togetherness.
The air of relationships flows with our ability to communicate.
The fire of relationships is ignited through touch.
While most relationships may be weak in one or two of these elements, our misunderstanding of how all the elements work together as a system is often at the base of our inability to recover from difficulty in our relationship.
The thoughts you hold create the life that you lead, as well as the relationships that define that life. The quality of your thoughts, especially concerning the people you love create the ground that allows for the growth of all relationship. Many people are unaware of their own thoughts or the powerfully destructive nature that negative thinking has on our relationships. Whether from our unexamined ideas from our family of origin or unhealthy popular culture, negative thinking and its projections limit the possibility of experiencing love in our relationships.
Some of the most common bad thinking that I witness over and over when people share their romance stories with me are the idea that the relationship that you are in should be easy, easier, less work, less demanding….and that being in relationship with your mate should make you happy, satisfied, content, etc.
I remember vividly the many years I spent sitting at the park with a friend, spending the afternoon watching our kids play. Our favorite topic was our frustration with our respective husbands and I looked forward to sharing his most recent offense because it felt good to have someone else really understand the frustration that I couldn’t communicate to him about his fathering style, or the lack of it, as I saw it at the time. The conversations only fueled my self righteous negative thoughts about him, and I would arrive home angry and bitter about my partnership.
I didn’t realize the power these thoughts had on our relationship as we struggled to learn how to parent our kids individually and as partners, until a relatively new acquaintance joined our conversation at the park one windy day in the fall and asked point blank, “If it’s so bad, why are you staying with him?” I couldn’t respond at the moment but realized after weeks of soul searching, that I actually could choose my thoughts and that my negative spin wasn’t necessarily “the Truth.” As I began to experiment with seeing the positive in his actions, he reciprocated.
As our thoughts changed, we began to accept each other and our abilities as we were- As soon as I stopped waiting for him to be the kind of father or husband that I wanted him to be, and was able to witness who he was as a father and husband, I could see again what I liked about him. We realized quickly that most of our arguments were variations on the same theme- “Why won’t you be the way I want you to be?” We learned that it is impossible to love who someone is, if you are continuously waiting for them to become your definition of loveable.
The work of changing your thoughts begins with learning to actually witness them. Don’t judge yourself when you see bad thinking patterns, be willing to acknowledge how your thinking is affecting your mood, your communication, your ability to commit to the people you love. With practice you can catch these mind habits earlier and earlier, an awareness that allows you the freedom to choose how you want to think.
Tip: Try to approach your relationship with this in mind: This relationship is not here to make me happy (fill in the blank), it is here to teach me to love.
Holding loving thoughts of your partner is one of the most powerful change agents available to sustaining a relationship. The energy of love that envelops both partners creates a safety net of unconditional support which allows the family to grow and change as the individual members enjoy the freedom of discovering themselves.
Relationships exist in time and space of shared experiences. Togetherness is not only the structure that we use to build our relationship, it also reflects the ebb and flow of how we relate. Many couples struggle with finding a balance between too much structure and too much flow in their together time. For some couples, time together accentuates other elements in the relationship that isn’t working.
During the early years of our marriage, we built a life with enough distance to allow our unspoken conflicts a space to live between us. Most of what I remember during that time is the weight of loneliness. This is not uncommon, feeling lonely with someone you believe is supposed to make you feel loved and is I believe a root problem to premature leaving relationships.
Learning how to be together in a life crowded with responsibilities and children takes time and patience as well as an ability to experience loneliness. Many help columns talk about the importance of setting aside time to go on special dates and really focus on each other. While this kind of special time is helpful and can give any relationship a boost, it can’t replace the core of what it means to feel together with your partner in the trenches of life.
Humor and kindness are the keys to the gates of sharing a life and experiencing the feeling of togetherness that helps one maneuver through life. It is well documented that being able to find the humor in what might otherwise be a stressful situation is not only good for your physical health, it is essential to the wellbeing of your relationship. or Laughing over spilled milk or breakfast for dinner three nights in a row can sometimes be the most loving thing we can do. It is true that the family that plays together, stays together and this playfulness carries great mileage for exhausted parents and partners in all areas of life.
Equally important is practicing kindness in the small exchanges of life work. It is easy for new couples to slip into nasty habits, where sarcasm and “joking” barbs pepper the conversation continuously. These bad habits eat away at the trust and intimacy that take so much energy to build. Ask yourself if you would ever speak to a friend the way you speak to each other, or even for that matter a stranger, if not, realize that the tone of voice and the gentleness that you bring to the smallest of exchanges will go miles in sustaining a relationship that is safe, trusting and intimate.
Communication is the breath of life in relationship. The flow of communication, not unlike the ebb and tide of togetherness has its own patterns and includes everything from eye contact to the words we say and the messages that we hear. Individual differences in communication styles (including both ability and comfort level) can be where the dance of relationship is most interesting and vital. However it is often, also, the first place that relationships break down.
Consider what messages you send with out saying a word, do these messages invite your partner to listen, to express their opinion or to close down. Unspoken communication that comes through body language and facial expression sets a tone that even babies understand. An atmosphere conducive to real communication must first feel safe to everyone in the conversation.
Creating a safe place for positive communication comes through acceptance. Listening is a gift of bearing witness that we offer when we love someone. It is a gift that is available only when we withhold judgement and comes from a true curiosity, a deep wanting to know the other person. In this place of understanding, communication becomes connection.
My marriage transformed when I finally understood this and stopped waiting for my partner to be the kind of father or husband that I wanted him to be. I stopped judging him for not behaving the way I thought he should. For the first time in a long time, I was able to witness who he was as a father and a husband and I could see him as the friend he had always been. I saw again what I had always valued and admired in him. Our communication always broke down at the same place and all our arguments were variations on the same theme, “Why won’t you be the way I want you to?” It is impossible to love who someone is, if you are continuously waiting for them to become your definition of loveable.
Tip: Always ask yourself if the way you are talking to your partner is at least as kind as generous as you would be to a friend, or a stranger. If not, stop talking and excuse yourself so that you can find a respectful and loving way to ask for your needs. A mature love requires that you balance and hold in your heart, both what attracts and repels you in your relationship.
Physical love is a mystery of epic proportions, our most deeply procreative act is also the only act at our disposal which has the power to fuse and connect partners so completely that it transforms them. Most of us know that positive sexuality is a powerful glue that keeps the messy aspects of our life cohesive and yet for so many couples it is one of the most challenging aspects of their relationship to maintain. There are many reasons that positive sexual relationships are so difficult, because good sex is about how we think, how we communicate and how we live together.
The transformative sexuality that we long for requires that touch be safe and secure. If sex has qualities of hiding or worse still, defending oneself, the entire interaction becomes small and narrow and is bound to hurt someone. A couple’s ability to explore the world of touch with no expectations and with respect to changing family roles provides a basis of confidence in adapting to and working with sexual feelings that change and grow with your family.
For many years in my marriage the issue of initiation was so huge that we often avoided the discussion entirely. Having been on both sides of the rejection equation, I can assure you that there is no good side. It is said that the person who wants sex the least has the most control in the relationship, I am not sure that either party feels like they have much control. Issues of initiation and rejection are at the core of most couple’s self esteem and communication battles. One way to give this up is to give up the idea that you can or should be in the mood.
The whole concept of the mood thing really should be thrown out with the bathwater. A good sexual relationship cannot rely on being in the mood. It must rely on having a commitment to experience loving touch and offering this touch to our partner. This requires a willingness and desire to be open to your own sexuality. This can be more challenging for women than men, given the raging dynamics of changing hormones around birth, nursing and growing older. However the decision to want to find that place is the first decision that has to be made. This took me a long time to figure out and our relationship suffered because of it.
A lasting and healing sexual life requires a commitment to finding and staying in touch with our own sexuality. Feeling sexy is not something that someone gives us, it is a gift we give ourselves and is our own responsibility. I often come to my late night dates exhausted from my day with the four kids and my fledgling business. I know that finding the place inside of me that wants to be touched, and deeper still, penetrated is a journey.
For men, their sexual drive is exterior- they can see it and feel it right on the outside of their bodies. For women their sexual drive is interior and deep in their center. I have to give myself permission and sometimes a serious push to want to delve into that place- in part because it requires that I experience my body deeply, in places that I am seldom aware.
Still, I want to acknowledge that even after opening to touch, finding the road to sexual passion requires a mental leap. Human sexuality defies language because there is no other place in life that generates the kind of abandon and wildness that our sexuality does. It requires a letting go of the rational and to a certain extent our ability to control outcomes.
There are so many good reasons for you to rediscover the passion in your relationship, not the least of which is the benefits to your wellbeing. Scientific studies over the last several years have supported the physical health benefits of a regular sex life. It improves immune functioning, is associated with decreased depression and chronic pain, and even boasts greater longevity. Equally impressive are the studies that show that people are happier and more satisfied with their overall quality of life when they enjoy a regular sex life. One study measuring self reported quality of life concluded that the value of a regular sex life would require $100,000 cash in the bank for people who are not sexually active. I know this works because whenever we’re overdrawn and we have some late night fun, I tell him we just deposited another $50,000 into our bank of happiness. We agreed that if we had to choose between love (sexy love) and money- we would pick love.
We need to begin to appreciate that being in relationship, having a family and history with someone is a precious resource. The huge amounts of trust, time and loving intention that we invest early in our relationships are renewable resources, the currency of our future health and well being. Sustaining your love when relationships are challenging through loving words and actions not only keeps your own intimacy vibrant, it becomes a living education of what love is for future generations.
This is not a happily ever after story. We continue to work at life with our four growing kids- ages 8-17. It continues to be challenging and although we continuously work to improve our skills in communicating and being clear about needs and priorities, our kids and life do still come between us. What we have learned is that when we stay in touch with our physical needs for love, we are better equipped to deal with the day to day stress of staying committed to each other and the family.