In the face of tragedies such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we tend to focus on why such terrible events occur and how to prevent them. Much will be discussed about that in the days to come. At the same time, we can also look at what we may learn in the aftermath. One lesson apparent in this situation, as in many other tragedies, is the healing power of a community of people. We are social creatures, and we need contact with others to survive and prosper. We have found that to be true in working with couples over the last three decades. One of the most important principles for happy and fulfilling relationships is a sense of community.

The first tasks, discussed in our previous blogs, for creating and maintaining a satisfying relationship are commitment, cooperation and communication. While important, our experience has shown us that these are necessary but not sufficient. The final crucial element of the Four C’s of Lifelong Love is Community.

When we begin a relationship, during the romantic phase, we only have eyes for each other, and that is exciting. In the first years of the relationship, we may spend time learning about each other and adjusting to our different needs. After a while, however, the world bears down on us in a variety of ways with external pressures from work, children, in-laws, finances, and so on. We may try to stick it out or work it out amongst ourselves, but usually this is not enough for the long haul. Sometimes couples seek counseling or therapy at this point, either individually or together. This may prove helpful, but no matter what we do, we still have to go back into life with all its problems, and just communicating about them with each other isn’t enough.

This is when we need support from others, particularly other couples who may currently have or have had in the past a similar experience. Even if they don’t have the same experience, other couples can empathize with the pressures on a relationship. This is especially true in a time of crisis, such as the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. These tragic losses impact everyone, especially parents. The death of a child is one of the most difficult things a person may endure. At a time like this, support from one’s friends and community are vital to the grieving and healing process. Sharing with others who have lost a child can be extremely helpful, in person or even through the internet. In the words of M. Scott Peck, “In and through community lies the salvation of the world.

“Community is the experience of identification with like-minded people. Community involvement serves to reinforce the notions that you are not alone and that support and understanding are available. .. Communities acknowledge and give credibility to experiences you have. Like coming home, a community can be a place to relax without the fear of being judged or singled out. “ (From Lifelong Love: 4 Steps to Creating and Maintaining an Extraordinary Relationship, Harlequin, 2012, page 147.)

Our whole nation is in shock over the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. At times like this¸ everyone needs support. Groups like Newtown United, which recently organized in that grief-stricken community, can be helpful to all—not only to heal the past but also to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Please feel free to share with us your thoughts and experiences about how community is working in your couple and your lives ( or Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.

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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