The worst thing you can do for your partner and your relationship is believe that you know how to make intimate unions work.
In reality, there’s no way that any of us could know. Biology, which takes many, many generations to change, has not prepared us for love’s special challenges in our rapidly changing culture. Tradition is hopelessly outdated – the old socialized roles and norms have broken down almost completely – and pop-psychology gives little more than platitudes or oversimplified and contradictory advice.
But don’t despair: The human brain is amazingly adaptive and capable of learning. The only thing that blocks us from being able to learn how to love better is the ego; we simply don’t want to admit that we don’t know how to do it right. To be relieved of the awful burden of ego, repeat the following out loud, three times: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to making a modern intimate relationship work!
Once relieved of the burden of defending our egotistical preconceptions and prejudices about how relationships should be – and how our partners should see themselves and the world – we’re free to apply our intelligence and creativity to learning how to love the unique persons we come to love. The most loving thing you can say to your partner is:
Teach me how to love you, and I will teach you how to love me.
Learning how to love your partner, while teaching your partner how to love you, will surpass any kind of marriage counseling or self-help materials you might come across. Therapists and authors are better at telling you what doesn’t work in relationships than they are at illuminating what will work for you and your partner. They can tell you what works for them and their partners (although they are notorious for suffering high divorce rates), but that can do more harm than good for you and your partner, if held as a standard of love that you must contort yourselves to attain.
Make It Easy for Your Partner to Love You
While there’s no question that modern intimate relationships require work and negotiation to be successful, the last thing we want to do is make it hard for our partners to love us. In fact, we want to make it as easy as possible. The following little exercise can help.
Ask your partner: What can I do to make you feel loved?
Write down your partner’s response (ex.: Surprise me now and then with flowers.)
Assuming that your partner responds with something you can do, say: This will make it easier for me to do what will make you feel loved. (ex.: Tell me you are pleased with the flowers when I bring them.)
And tell your partner: I feel loved when you ... (ex.: ... greet me when I come home.) I will make it easier for you to do this by ... (ex.: ... showing appreciation when you do it and doing the same for you). Is there something else I can do to make it easier for you?
And then write your partner’s response.
Communicating with your partner as in the above exercises will go a long way toward establishing a safe and satisfying intimate relationship. Love looks a little different with each couple. How to do it well is a lesson you must teach other.