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The 7 Laws of Lasting Love

7. Never get tired of starting over.

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What’s the secret for lasting love? In my 25 years of conflict resolution work, I have mostly dealt with armed actors, gang members, and drug dealers. Working around the world in places where violent conflict happens has been a great laboratory to understand the most destructive patterns we are capable of.

Thus, I have been in the business of figuring out how people and groups can transcend their conflict and find a way to connect in order to overcome tough problems and have a better life.

This is probably why more and more couples approach me today asking me to help them rekindle their love, to resolve a conflict, to take their relationship to the next level. They tell me they like to hear from a conflict-resolution specialist and a high-end mediator. I guess, for these couples, sitting down with me feels like getting a second trusted opinion. “If you dealt with terrorists," they say half-jokingly, "you can help me deal with my partner.” [Visit my website for more conflict-resolution tools.]

Following are some of the observations and lessons I've picked up in the field and in my own relationship. Rather than focusing on what doesn’t work, though, I'd prefer to highlight what I've seen and experienced that does work.

1. They share an ultimate vision about their relationship.

Every time individuals or couples ask me to coach them, I am amazed how the majority have a clear vision for what they want for their careers or their children, but have a hard time articulating their vision for their relationship. When it comes to love, we are just not used to asking our selves what it is that we want.

Some time ago, while coaching a woman who wanted to enter into a relationship, I asked her to give me a portrait of her ideal man. I asked: How do you want to be loved by the man of your life? What would you see, feel and hear, as you are loved like you want to be loved? After a few moments of silence she said, “I’ve never thought about that!” A shared ultimate vision of your intimate relationship is fundamental to building a rock-solid relationship.

2. They are committed to unconditional love.

Authentic love is about unconditional love. There is no way around it. It’s not about trading (“I'll give you this if you give me that”), but about giving. Love is about the “other.” When people share a problem with me about their partner, they hope to get advice on how they can change the partner. They highlight how they are not loved and cared for enough.

That’s not a good starter, because you are not in control of the other’s change. The only control you have is over the meaning you give to a situation and the actions you take. When a relationship is in crisis, it’s not about waiting and hoping for the other to change, or to give more or to love more.

Waiting for the other isn’t love; it sounds more like egoism. It’s you who has to turn up the love. As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in others. I know it takes courage, because we fear lack of reciprocation and hurt. But there is no shortcut when it comes to love. And love, to be love, has to be unconditional love.

3. They fulfill each other’s needs.

And since love is about the other, and not you, to love means to take care of each other’s needs. This requires having the knowledge and the understanding of what the other’s driving forces are: Is it feeling secure and comfortable? Is it to experience variety and surprises? Is it to feel deeply connected and loved? Is it to feel unique and important? Is it to constantly grow and to contribute beyond one's self? We all have a couple of the needs I just listed; which ones are your partner's?

I often think of my brother and sister-in-law. He has a huge heart and a desire to contribute beyond himself and his family—it’s what drives him. This is why in our hometown in Italy he ran for office. And this is why right now he is in Lebanon where he helped to establish a humanitarian corridor that will allow a few dozen Syrian refugees to travel safely to Italy. I admire his commitment—and I equally admire his wife. She understood and has supported my brother’s need for variety and contribution.

4. They trust the good intentions of the partner.

When it comes to love, there is no such thing as perfection; it’s always a work in progress. A relationship is dynamic, always changing, as we too, as individuals, constantly change and shift. This is why a conflict or a crisis is not a problem per se, but an opportunity.

Mistakes happen. You share words that you later regret. You take actions that might undermine trust. It can be very painful at times. Successful couples have learned how to accept these difficult moments and turn them into springboards that take the relationship to the next level. They use them to build a more open communication, to deepen their trust, and rekindle their love. What makes it possible is not judging the event in itself, but understanding and discovering the positive intention which lays behind a harmful action—that is, the intention to fulfill a basic need.

And while the action taken can be destructive, harmful, and wrong, the couple must acknowledge and take into account the urge to fulfill a need. I see it again and again in my conflict-resolution work: Just to satisfy their needs, people are ready to contradict their values and ethical principles again and again. To recognize the positive intention behind a harmful behavior consents to find a way to meet that need in a more constructive way, one that turns the heat of love and passion up.

5. They master effective communication.

The most important skill in communication is listening. It builds trust, connection, and intimacy. Conflict is not only about conflicting interests. Mostly, it is about two people using two different maps of the world in order to attribute meaning to reality. Our maps are not the reality but a representation of it, and as we build our maps we make generalizations, we delete details and we distort some other aspects. When the maps contradict each other, conflict arises.

Listening allows us to appreciate and to connect with the other’s map. It permits us to enlarge our own map and incorporate elements of the other’s. I see conflict resolution as the capacity to integrate maps and to bring them closer to reality. This happens when we listen, when we ask questions that help us to elicit the model of the world the other uses to navigate his or her reality. Listening interrupts the pattern of moral judgment and opens the space for understanding. [On my website there are free resources on conflict resolution and effective communication.]

6. They keep curiosity alive.

Successful couples never get tired of discovering one another. They don't put each other in rigid boxes. They don’t turn events of the past into a limiting dogma about how the other thinks or is. They make the effort to see each other like new every morning. Like treasure hunters, they look for, and appreciate, the beauty that dwells in the other.

7. They never get tired of starting over.

As long as the heart beats, they recognize that every moment is an opportunity to start over again. It might be difficult, it might at times feel overwhelming, it often doesn’t come spontaneously. But couples that are committed to each other do not take the position of the victim, but rekindle love by starting over. They find a way to reignite passion, to deepen intimacy, to start loving each other again. They know that love is not a passing emotion, but is also a muscle of the heart and mind that they need to exercise. Therefore, nourishing our love relationship is a wonderful journey of spiritual growth.

Over all, very successful couples know that love rests on commitment and that commitment is about consistency—the consistency of being open and honest to each other. This requires another skill and attitude that is fundamental to experience lasting love—self-acceptance. We are not able to accept the other, or even to forgive the other, if we don’t also accept and forgive ourselves. We are not capable of love if we are not taking full responsibility for our actions, decisions, and words.

Aldo Civico is an author, anthropologist and conflict resolution expert. Beyond his work around the world, he has coached and trained executives, celebrities and members of family offices to acquire the effective communication, conflict resolution and negotiation skills that are essential to experience growth and to achieve high performance.

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