“But he said he loves me.”
“I’m sure he does.”
“Then why isn’t our relationship working?”
“Because love is not enough.”
This was (almost verbatim) an exchange I had with one of my patients not too long ago. It was this session that inspired me to write this article.
When The Beatles sang, All You Need is Love they had it right and they had it wrong. Yes, you do need love, but it is not all you need, at least not for a successful, healthy, sustainable romantic relationship. Love is necessary but not sufficient. Perhaps it’s because I live, play, and work in New York City, that the analogy of a nightclub comes to mind as the best way to explain this: You can think of love the same way you might think of a cover charge. It will get you into the club, but it’s once you are inside that the real action (i.e., work) starts. Like anything worth doing, relationships take work— and not the kind of work you are procrastinating while you read this gripping article, but more like the kind of work that athletes do right before their contract is up, politicians do in an election year, or the kind of work you do when your boss is all up in your business.
Once you have love, there are three main areas that need to be worked through to have a successful romantic relationship. They are:
Intention: Assuming that you are already in love, the next question to consider is your intention and your partner’s intention. Do both of you want the same thing out of the relationship? If one person is in it for the long haul but the other person thinks that this is just a rebound or fling, you might as well assume crash positions now. If you are not sure if you both have the same intention, find out sooner rather than later. Believe me, it will save you a heap of grief down the line. Intentions are about actions. You both may say, or even think you want the same thing, but if your (or your partner’s) actions don’t follow the intentions it’s time to re-evaluate.
Okay, so let’s so that you have love and you both have the same intentions for the relationship, the next gating issue, which is where most couples struggle is communication.
Communication: Even if you and your husband, partner, wife, girlfriend are from the same group, sub-culture, cohort, and you grew up on the same street, you came from different families. That is the key. Love is expressed (and thus taught) differently in different families. So even if you love each other you may communicate your love in vastly disparate ways. Can you translate your love into a language that your partner can understand? If you tend to express your love by doing activities (i.e., motocross) together but your partner likes to show love by sharing his or her thoughts and feelings this does not mean that your relationship is doomed, just that you need to figure out some way of expressing yourself that he/she can hear and appreciate and he/she needs to do the same for you. If you can do that, you may not exactly be home free, but you are pretty far down the road. Once you have that, you need to express your gratitude for what you have because it is pretty damn special.
Gratitude: There is a lot of research showing that couples tend to underestimate the importance of their relationships when things are going well – it is only when there are points of crisis, or when it seems like the relationship is under siege that people tend to appreciate and express their appreciation for what they have. Don’t wait until then. Express your gratitude now. Tell/show your partner how much he/she means to you early and often.
If you have love, intention, good communication, and gratitude the odds are pretty good that your relationship will stand the test of time, and frankly that is all anyone can really hope for.