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Love and Values

To love better, think less about feeling love.

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 produce intense feelings of love subsides within a few months. After that, day-to-day feelings are transitory reactions to changes within (physical resources such as energy, hunger, and thirst, hormonal ebbs and flows, memories, sensations, thoughts, and ego-defense) — as well as 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 comes not from its feelings but its values.

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.

To make matters worse, intimate partners inevitably blame the guilt and shame of violating their values on each other: "I can't be the real me — loving, friendly, compassionate, supportive, sexy, and fair — while you're being you!"

Blame makes them powerless over themselves and controlling or coercive in the relationship. Acting on their deepest values would make them feel authentic and, over the long run, afford them a more empowered and compassionate love.

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 power love values listed below. If you and your partner make a sincere effort to enhance power love values, you should find, after a month or so, that you actually feel more love for each other.

Power Love Values

The following candidates for power love values 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 a 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.

Hierarchy of Values

Power love values are conspicuously hierarchical; it is difficult to strengthen friendship, support, and loving behavior when there are perceptions of inequality or unfairness. The first step in improving a relationship should be establishing equality and fairness.

Attitudes That Support Power 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 and/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.

Skills to Maintain Power 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 power love 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 power love value of (equality, fairness, friendship/support, loving behavior)."

"I really feel like doing Y, but I will not do it because it violates my power 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:

  • Respect
  • 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 (the only way to get resentment-free cooperation — in general, the valued cooperate and the devalued resist).

Go here to enhance your power love values.

More from Steven Stosny, Ph.D.
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