Trending: Learn to Anticipate Love’s Ups and Downs
When it comes to relationships, clinical counselors are exposed to an amazing variety of situations. We see new relationships steeped in love and passion. We see mature relationships rooted in trust over time. We see struggling couples and desperate couples. We see the typical as well as the unusual.
We also see varying shades of learning, growth, frustration and confusion. The most useful part of being exposed to a multitude of relationship situations is that we see trends (defined as: a general direction in which something is developing or changing).
As we observe the “general direction a relationship is developing/changing,” it becomes possible to make very accurate assumptions —
I daresay we can predict likely behavior and, in many cases, we can predict consequences.”
This is particularly true with clients we have come to know on a personal basis over time. The purpose of this article is to share these trends in hopes of educating the masses and helping people prepare for the consequences.
1. Know what New Love Looks LIke
The first of the three things every couple should know is the trend of love and passion early in the relationship.
This can be boiled down to the following behaviors:
A. Early in the relationship we typically overlook faults, flaws, and behaviors that might otherwise frustrate us. This correlates to the old saying, “Love is blind.”
B. Passion (sex drive) is a primal drive much like hunger, thirst and fatigue. We will tend to ignore the danger/risks involved in satisfying that drive. And early on, the drive for intimacy (sexual desires) is usually very strong.
C. Deposits in the “love bank” are more frequent, more significant, and they are usually more motivating. Conversely, withdrawals from the love bank seem less catastrophic than any other time in the relationship.
It is always amazing to see new couples in love. They are accepting, warm, and deeply committed to each other. Quality time is freely given, and in many cases couples spend their time planning events, activities and date nights. The payoff is obvious to the individuals and even friends and family. At this point, many couples consider marriage or other lifelong commitments like children or home buying. It is a very exciting time, but many of these things change as we grow in our relationships.
Ironically, this is the best time to really invest time and effort into learning the personalities, habits and “pet peeves” that will slowly erode the three characteristics above (overlooking faults, passion/sex drive and love-banking trends).
I highly encourage new couples to invest in each other for the long haul.”
Much like buying a new car, we should want to know everything. We research fuel efficiency, reliability, cost and additional features like a sun roof or custom audio. Sadly, very few couples do this research into each other. Couples counseling and premarital counseling are excellent tools for this.
2. Know that Relationships Evolve
The second thing all couples should know is the trend of relationship evolution and, in some cases, decline over time. This is a function of the following characteristics (in contrast to the above):
A. We project stress onto our significant others. Mankind is a group of social animals who have evolved into caring and compassionate creatures. The side effect is that we tend to “dump problems” on our friends and family. Work stress, financial stress and parenting stress can feel like a heavy burden (major withdrawals from our love bank).
B. The feeling of “overwhelm” sets us on edge, and we find ourselves spending more time getting work done, fixing problems and worrying than we do spending quality time. This contributes to far fewer deposits in the love bank.
C. Taking our loved ones for granted can break the love bank. Holding hands, taking a walk in the park, lying in bed sharing thoughts and even opening the door or cooking for each other might feel less and less rewarding.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are couples who are still very much in love and still have passion well beyond their seventh anniversary, but as cliché as it sounds, we have all heard the dreaded expression “the seven-year itch.”
Heck, some couples go twenty or fifty years … but as I said in the beginning, counselors see trends — and the trend is that couples have problems after the first year and especially in the five- to ten-year range.
I am asked “why” all the time.
I respond that projection of stress, overwhelm (lack of time getting things done) and taking each other for granted are usually the chief causes. These things are predictable and that also means they are preventable.”
I am also asked what can be done. I explain that it is easy to see problems other people have, but we don’t see or admit to our own. An honest third party is usually required to show us what we can do to alleviate stress, get out of “overwhelm,” and focus on love rather than expectations (taking each other for granted). This is when marital counseling comes in to play.
3. Know that Falling in Love Can Happen Again
The last of the three things every couple should know is that falling in love is not reserved for new couples.
Love has to be something the couple really wants to invest in. I have seen couples let everything come between them, consider divorce, get counseling and make a full recovery. Even infidelity (cheating) can be overcome.
That leads us to the final aspects of a true loving relationship:
A. Trust can never be earned. It must be freely given. That means we have to be willing to risk hurt, disappointment, and failure in order to regain lost trust. I bet many will disagree, but for those who doubt I always ask the following: Have you ever seen a terrible car crash with severe or deadly results? The response is predictably YES!
I then ask: If trust must be earned and not freely given, then how is it that we get back in our cars and drive, knowing at any moment a drunk driver could cross the yellow line and kill us? Everyone says the same thing, “Well, we have to drive to go to work and stuff.” I smile and say, “Yes we do, but we CHOOSE to trust perfect strangers not to kill us every time we do.”
B. The love bank is a neat metaphor for actively showing our love consistently (making deposits) and being cautious about the feeling and needs of our loved ones (not making withdrawals too often or in excessively large sums).
Some feel odd about trying to rekindle their love (love banking). Some claim that they don’t want to do the things they did when they were dating. I always ask what those unwilling people plan to do if divorce happens. They respond, “I guess I have to start dating again or be alone.” I smile and say, “Yep … but you have an advantage knowing what works with this one rather than a new one.”
C. Communication (verbal, nonverbal and so forth) is the quintessential medium for love. We must learn each other’s love language (Gary Chapman’s book is great). Next, we must learn to do more than listen; we must understand our partner.
We must provide loving feedback in order to get our needs met and help our partner get their needs met. Very few people I know do this well. Most just have unspoken expectations that result in about a 99 percent rate of failure to communicate.
Personal Thoughts on Divorce
I have a very strong opinion on divorce. It is a lot like suicide in that it is never the first option, it is never a good option, it always hurts those we love most and it becomes the last resort when people just don’t know what else to do.”
The amazing thing is that counselors KNOW there are still options out there, but they can’t help if you don’t seek one out.
For those couples who are facing divorce, I want you to know that there is hope — but only if you are willing to work for it. For those couples who are in the relationship doldrums (low points), I want you to know that you are nearing a decision point that might carry you closer to or lead you farther away from your mate.
When you approach a decision, be sure you understand the consequences and alternatives before the final decision is made.
Lastly, for those new in love I would say enjoy the ride now, but be informed and ready for change. It is inevitable. Predict hard times, stress, and times of doubt then prepare for them.
Clinical counseling and coaching is not the answer for everyone, but if you need insight, education, motivation or tools for communication then find a local (or online) clinician and take the first step.
Most counselors will offer a free consultation so you know what to expect before you invest time and money. Take advantage of it today so you can enjoy the benefits for the rest of your life.