Relationships: Love Ain't Enough

More women are having affairs. Couples increasingly prefer cohabitation to marriage, avoiding commitment as if it were some kind of disease. The divorce rate continues to hover at 50 percent.

Still, undeniably, people like to pair up. The need seems to be built into us. And surveys show that most people believe that a good marriage is essential for a happy life. More and more, we rely on our private relationships for our mental health. But at the same time, they are becoming less satisfying.

"There are few positive models of marriage," contends psychologist David Olsen, Ph.D. "People make the assumption that love is sufficient." It isn't. And then when their marriage goes downhill, "unhappy couples can hardly remember what brought them together in the first place."

For good models of marriage, we have to look at animals, he told the Smartmarriages conference, the world's largest gathering of relationship experts. And with that he dimmed the lights and showed video clips of Winged Migration. Downright inspiring!

Among the information presented at the conference:

• If love isn't enough, what is? For starters, personal financial management should be required education for every couple. Money is the number-one source of conflict in relationships. Sex is second.

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• Tension in the parents' marriage affects kids. It is often the cause of teenage defiance.

• When parents fight, children withdraw from their fathers.

• In the first three years after the birth of a first child, 67 percent of couples experience a drop in relationship satisfaction. The drop occurs first in the mother, then in the father.

• Everybody handles conflict poorly when a discussion turns negative. What saves romance is attempts at repairing the relationship. "I'm sorry," counts.

• After affairs or other transgressions, forgiveness is necessary for healing. But some people forgive too cheaply. Forgiveness is not the job of the hurt party alone; genuine forgiveness must be earned. Forgiving too cheaply keeps people from using the experience to develop more intimacy. They also fail to gain insight into their own contribution to the situation.

• Refusing to forgive is unhealthy, physically and emotionally. "Not forgiving is literally poison," said psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD.

• After an affair, the offender must pay attention to the partner's pain if they want the partner to move on.

• "Physical abuse is not a relationship problem, it's a self-regulation problem," says Steven Stosny,, Ph.D. "Abusers are filled with shame, an internal punishment system controlled by someone else. When you violate attachment bonds you feel self-hate. Abusers lack compassion for themselves."

• "The instant we become an adult is the moment when the instinct to love is greater than the desire to be loved," Stosny insists.

• "We kill love by how we treat our partners, by not handling negative feelings well," says Howard Markman, Ph.D.

• Lack of commitment is subversive in a relationship, says Markman. Couples are not making it clear that they are choosing each other and giving up all other options. Then when problems arise they feel "I didn't clearly decide I wanted to be in this," and they don't push to resolve the issues -- which will just crop up again in the next relationship.

• "Love doesn't last forever because we need the opportunity for growth and healing," says Israeli psychologist Ayala Malach Pines, Ph.D. ""Being with a partner who pushes your buttons is good. The button points to the place that is most important for us to work on."

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