For couples, the development of moral processes and belief systems helps relationships run more smoothly and provides an important steadying influence. To develop our moral code we must question, scrutinize, evaluate, and enunciate those values we hold to be important. These earnest efforts to create shared values are the bulwark of relationship stability. Establishing values we agree upon is like reaching level ground where a relationship can find its balance and keep moving forward.
Lasting love is supported best by principles, opinions, feelings, ethics, and morals that represent what is important to both people—and that both people are willing to make a priority. As I sit with couples who are fighting about an issue that seems so crucial at the time, I often say, “What’s more important, your relationship or being right?” They usually stop fighting, because what I am saying rings true. They see that they’ve gotten lost in their own hurt, in being self-righteous, in trying to win. When writing a code for a relationship, we can set rules of engagement, like how to show respect and concern during discussions and how to include different points of view, that help keep our viewpoints from diverging into conflict.
AT PEACE WITH OURSELVES
Love over time grows from understanding two things: how we have been shaped by our life experience, and how we interact with our partner in regard to his or her feelings and needs. To put it another way, lasting love arises from a deep knowledge and acceptance of who we are and who we are with. Only when we come to this knowledge—and accept, even forgive, the wrongs of our past—can we take responsibility for the outcome of our own lives. We cease blaming others for our misfortunes and clear a space where love can thrive.
Melanie Klein, who worked closely with Sigmund Freud and contributed many classic works to the field of psychology, wrote:
A good relation to ourselves is a condition for love, tolerance and wisdom towards others. This good relation to ourselves has . . . developed in part from a friendly, loving and understanding attitude towards other people, namely, those who meant much to us in the past, and our relationship to whom has become part of our minds and personalities. If we have become able, deep in our unconscious minds, to clear our feelings to some extent towards our parents of grievances, and have forgiven them for the frustrations we had to bear, then we can be at peace with ourselves and are able to love others in the true sense of the word.
The words of Melanie Klein ring as true now as when she wrote them so many decades ago. She goes on to say that:
Part of the process of loving someone is to make peace with ourselves, our history, and our upbringing. To find those inevitable similarities and differences is the beginning stage of relating to another person without losing who we are and what is truly essential about us. How love is made not only involves how we behave towards our partner but how we are towards ourselves. How can we love someone else when we have no love to give?
When we can weave together what we need to do for ourselves with what we need to give to and get from our partner, we create a richer, more satisfying, and ultimately more contented life. What we need to do for ourselves is to create our own self-esteem, advance in our work or career, and take care of our health and our personal issues. What we need to give to and get from our partner is love, affection, comfort, support, sex, and companionship. When successfully married couples are asked the secret of their success, invariably they answer, “It takes work.” It does take work, but we must remember that it is love’s work, and when we give ourselves to it we are rewarded with sweet serenity and a sense that love will last because we make it so. We make love last when we create a vision for our relationship that we live by and we do the work of sticking to our promises. Then we know we can reach out to each other in difficult times and help each other and be good to each other, happy together as the years go by.
Falling in love is a mystery, but loving that same person over a lifetime is the ultimate personal challenge. For love to last, vital elements need to come together: an ongoing sex life, a satisfying lifestyle, the ability to connect deeply through compassionate honesty, even just working out a way to get through daily life. Lasting love requires that each person be fully committed and willing to do the work that produces an emotional connection. Both partners must feel safe and secure, so that they can express themselves without judgment or criticism. Their daily conversation must contain active compassion, empathy, understanding, and kindness.
For Your Inter-Reflection
How Love Is Made
1. What do you like about your relationship? When you are the most happy with your partner, what is he or she doing?
2. What would you like to change about your relationship? When you are the least happy with your partner, what is he or she doing?
3. Can you identify the confluence of pain in your relationship?
4. What about your relationship would you like to be different from the way you grew up?
5. Try writing an ethical code for your relationship. Ask your partner to do the same, then share your thoughts. Work toward agreeing on the principles that you feel are essential to maintain peace and harmony in your relationship.
6. Make a wish list for your future together.
Exerpted from Happy Together by Bill Cloke