Rethinking the Approach to Having a Lasting Relationship

6602334993_919071e0ec_zBecause I am finally facing my alone state, I am starting a forum for recovering people who want to date each other or others who want to start new friendships. My idea was to help people get linked up by their favorite interests and/or hobbies. My Recovery Friendship Forum has over 60+ areas of interest.

The beginning of the end for me to start aggressively opening myself up for dating was the death of my beloved dog, Scooter. The pain was so great and yet I realized my getting another pet at this time would only be a substitute for a human relationship.

So, one of things I’ll be posting about is sex. I don’t believe it makes the world go round. But I do believe it is generally in my subconscious. I wake up some mornings feeling so great that I suspect my dreams are more interesting than my awake life.

I like friendship as the basis for a love relationship–or any relationship. Friendship comes from respect. Respect takes time. Jumping in bed together does not establish respect. It establishes lust. While physical attraction is one part of a great loving team, friendship gives the couple the foundation for resolving differences. Compromise is an art practiced by two friends because differences shouldn’t be power plays.

1.  From Evan Marc Katz: “Why Women Should Make Men Wait For Sex“:

My advice is not to tell men that they shouldn’t sleep with women; it’s to tell women that you must have men make a greater investment in you as individuals before having sex.

This is why I created the 2/2/2 rule to screen men through the online dating process.
This is why I say you should wait 5-6 weeks before he’s your boyfriend.
This is why I tell you not to have sex outside of commitment.

You want to find out if a man is serious about you? Wait to have sex with him. If you don’t – because you’re a liberated woman who can have sex whenever you damn well please – don’t be too surprised if a decent percentage of those men never call again. Again, I’m not remotely judgmental of those who have sex without commitment; I will only point out as a dating coach that it tends to lead to sub-optimal results from men because they didn’t have to do anything special to get into bed with you.

2.  From The Gottman Institute Relationship Blog:”Relationship Alphabet: F is for Friendship“:

Deep friendship is the foundational level of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory of happy couples. It is the root of commitment and trust. More importantly, it forms the basis for intimacy and satisfying sex. Couples with deep friendships have:

…mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. They tend to know each other intimately – they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out.

(The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work)

Gottman’s definition includes one of my favorite words: Regard. I use it all the time when counseling couples, especially in early sessions. When couples have even a fundamental regard for one another, there is hope for therapy. Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT) helps couples build friendships through a variety of interventions designed to help couples develop mutual respect and enjoyment, but those interventions are often fruitless without regard.

So, how do you foster regard? How do you cultivate friendship?

I think it begins by developing two simple skills: Asking questions. Telling stories.

Learn to ask questions. Asking is a skill and you can develop it with practice. And the practice of asking can yield great rewards. One of my favorite leadership mentors, Bobb Biehl says, “If you ask profound questions, you get profound answers; if you ask shallow questions, you get shallow answers; and if you ask no questions, you get no answers at all.”

Learn to ask profound questions. One of the core interventions of GMCT is learning to ask Open Ended Questions. Open Ended (i.e. profound) questions lead to deeper understanding of your partner’s inner world – Love Maps in the Gottman vernacular. Detailed Love Mapsare an essential piece of deep friendships for couples.

Again, it takes practice. It’s way easier to ask, “Did you have a good day at work?” than “So, what was it like at work today?” It’s even easier to ask, “Are you upset?” than “You seem upset – what’s going on?” But if your goal is friendship and intimacy, you’ll give it a shot and you’ll find it makes skill two a little easier.

The second skill in deepening friendship is to tell stories. We all know somebody who is a “great storyteller.” Whenever I hang out with that guy, I always end up feeling like I’m a “bad storyteller.” But that’s simply not true. I’ve got great stories. So do you.

I am surprised how many people have never told their story. You should try it. It starts with “I was born in…” You may be surprised what comes out of your mouth next. And if you’re telling it to a curious listener the opportunity for discovery is boundless. Your family story. Your first kiss story. Your broken leg story. They all hold insights into “you” and how you think about relationships.

As a couple you should also tell your collective story. The telling of your shared history is one of the earliest elements of GMCT. When new couples come in, I ask them for their whole story. It’s invariably filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears. How a couple tells the story is as important as the story they tell. Friends tend to “glorify the struggle” while couples whose friendship is broken focus more on the struggle itself. It’s important to learn how to focus on the stories of perseverance, connection, and joy.

Do not underestimate the power of stories. Our brains are designed to be drawn into and motivated by stories. Most of what we know about human history has been passed down through oral tradition. Stories have the power to build and transform relationships. They provide context for the rough spots and remind us that there is something bigger than the struggle.

So, ask questions. Tell stories. Indulge curiosity and discovery. Create context for exploring each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. Focusing on your friendship and cultivating regard is the best thing you can do for your relationship as a whole.

It’s not terribly complicated. Maybe start by asking, “What three words would you use to describe me?”

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