Strong relationships are forged by feelings and maintained by values.
Posted Aug 02, 2020
Acting on feelings no doubt got you into a love relationship. Continuing to act on feelings will almost certainly get you out of it.
The initial burst of hormones that produces the intense feelings of love subsides within a few months. After that, day-to-day feelings are transitory reactions to changes within—physical resources (energy, hunger, thirst, etc.), hormonal ebbs and flows, memories, sensations, thoughts, and ego-defense—and to changes without: perceptions of the environment and other people. On a routine basis, feelings are about temporary variations in comfort, convenience, pleasure, and status.
Values, on the other hand, are stable over time and ultimately supported by a sense of character. While feelings create temporary importance, values give enduring meaning and purpose to life. Feelings may forge committed relationships, but values sustain them. The power of love is not in what if feels like. The enormous power of love comes from the value and meaning it brings to our lives.
Those who act on their feelings more than their values will fail at committed relationships, simply because no one feels like remaining true to their values most of the time.
"I can't be the real me—loving, friendly, compassionate, supportive, sexy, and fair—while you're being you!"
Blame makes them feel powerless and reactive, to which they respond with controlling or coercive behavior. Acting on their deepest values would make them feel authentic and, over the long run, afford them a more empowered and compassionate love.
Crazy as it may sound, you will likely love better and improve your relationship by forgetting about how you feel.
Try this as an experiment for at least a month: Put your feelings about your relationship on the back burner and dedicate all efforts to strengthening the empowered love values listed below. If you and your partner make a sincere effort to enhance empowered love values, you should find, after a month or so, that you actually feel more love for each other.
Empowered Love Values
The following are supported by research on characteristics of long-term relationships, wherein both partners report high levels of satisfaction.
- Equality: Rights, preferences, and responsibilities are more or less equal. Neither has authority over the other.
- Fairness: Partners maintain mutually acceptable division of labor and responsibility for the growth and well-being of the family.
- Friendship/support: Partners confide in each other and are "there" for one another.
- Loving behavior: Partners are compassionate, showing care and desire to help when one is distressed, hurt, or in need of help. They engage in mutually satisfying physical affection, sexual passion, and meaningful or enjoyable activities.
Attitudes That Support Empowered Love Values
- Goodwill: Partners want the best for each other.
- Cooperation: Partners work together for the best interests of the family.
- Flexibility: Relationships, like life in general, are cruel to the rigid but generally kind to the flexible.
- Appreciation (or acceptance) of differences: Partners recognize that they have different temperaments, core vulnerabilities, and emotional histories, which cause them to give different emotional meaning to many events, behaviors, and circumstances. They strive to appreciate as many differences as they can (some are part of what first attracted them) and accept any they cannot appreciate. Specific behaviors are changeable, temperament and personality are not.
Skills to Maintain Empowered Love Values
Values and attitudes require a certain degree of skill to implement over time. The skills most likely to bring success in committed relationships are:
- Regulating feelings: Reconcile feelings with your values. When conflicting with deeper values, each feeling must have a response: "I don't feel like doing X, but I will do it because it's the right thing to do, based on my empowered love value of (equality, fairness, friendship/support, loving behavior)." Or, "I really feel like doing Y, but I will not do it because it violates my empowered love value of (equality, fairness, friendship/support, loving behavior)."
- Binocular vision: The ability to hold your partner's perspective alongside your own and see yourself through your partner's eyes.
- Negotiation: Seeking cooperation in a solution or task that seems fair to both. Unlike power struggles, which require submission, the goal of negotiation is to have both partners feel the best they can about the solution or task, with neither perceiving unfairness, manipulation, nor coercion. The following are keys to successful negotiations:
- Desire to fully understand your partner's perspective when you disagree.
- Commitment to add information rather than attack, dismiss, or undermine your partner's perspective.
- Showing value, which is the only way to get resentment-free cooperation. In general, the valued cooperate and the devalued resist.