Since posting our last blog here (“Do you really want lifelong singlehood?”), you may notice that we received several responses from individuals saying that they do, in fact, want lifelong singlehood. We certainly affirm their choice to be single and acknowledge those who have created a fulfilling life for themselves this way. It was not our intention to imply in any way that there is something wrong with singlehood or to question that choice as a viable lifestyle. It is more about looking at the advantages and disadvantages of partnering with another person in a committed relationship and at the variables for succeeding in whatever lifestyle one may choose. We are not talking just about marriage but any human connection that may be fulfilling on an ongoing basis—with a lover, a friend, a family member, or a spouse. There are many choices and possibilities for lifelong love.

So while we certainly do not mean to denigrate the legitimate choice of singlehood, we want to address here those who want to be in a relationship and the barriers they face in doing so over time. It is hard to argue with the facts, as we stated before, that consistently show the marked benefits—emotional, physical and social—that come from being married over being single or living together. This is based on the current aggregate data, and it could change in coming years. Still, the majority of people, especially teenagers of both sexes, say that a good marriage and family life are extremely important to them. Much as they want happy partnership, however, they often find it difficult to create and maintain over time. As one young woman told Phyllis recently, “It is really hard being in a relationship. It was a lot easier living alone, but I really love my husband, and I want our marriage to work.” Her husband of two years had similar feelings; they committed to work on their relationship and are now experiencing the joys of living their lives together.

If you are like this couple, or have that experience in any important relationship, you may want to consider what it might take to create and maintain a fulfilling relationship. Our last blog talked about the first of the Four C’s of Lifelong Love, commitment, the foundation of a powerful relationship. Once the promise is made to work together to sustain the couple as an entity, it still takes many skills to deal with the challenges of everyday life. Lifelong love requires more than a promise; it involves cooperating together as a team. A promise is commitment in language. The second C of cooperation, in essence, is commitment in action.

It has been our experience in working with couples for more than 35 years that most all of us think we are good at cooperation when we may not be. We often see failure of cooperation as being the fault of the other person or the circumstances, and wait for the situation or the other person to change. Operating in a context of cooperation, like being on a team, is a skill that can be learned and practiced. The fruits of success in this area are not just accomplishment, but satisfaction about working together effectively as a team to survive or do something important The cooperating partners often describe this satisfaction as a feeling of team spirit or chemistry. This kind of feeling goes beyond just compromise, where one person generally gives in to the other’s wishes or gives up what they really want. Cooperation may mean giving but not giving in. It requires trust and hard work as a team focused on a common goal. Committed couples who cooperate do so not just as two individuals but as a third force, an entity called “Couple”The actions taken as a team are greater than the sum of the parts, enabling both partners to “win.”

Cooperation skills, as mentioned above, can be learned and once learned, can be improved with practice. One way to do this is taking on couple projects together. Clean the garage, cook a meal together, learn a new video game; all are opportunities to practice. Working together as a couple will not only improve results, but can also be fun and enhance your sense of pride in mutual accomplishment. Once you have this skill, you will want to find reasons and places to use it. It builds the satisfaction necessary for lifelong love. And when problems arise, you can say, “We have dealt effectively with many things like this before!”

Once commitment is unquestioned, practicing cooperation helps to keep Couple going…With cooperation, you can take on anything together, knowing that you can do it and supporting each other in making it work. If cooperation is added to the mix, what may have started out as incompatibilities…may turn out to be diversity and versatility …Lifelong love needs to be fun, and it can be when you cooperate. (From Lifelong Love, Harlequin, 2012.)

Stay tuned for our next blog in which we will give some tips on the third C of Lifelong Love, communication.

copyright Phyllis Koch-Sheras and Peter Sheras

About the Author

Phyllis R. Koch-Sheras, Ph.D. and Peter L. Sheras, Ph.D, ABPP

Phyllis R. Koch-Sheras, Ph.D., is an author and a practicing clinical psychologist. Peter L. Sheras, Ph.D., ABPP, is a practicing clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia.

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