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Not the most important part of the day, but I would have some handy anyway, just in case

Not the most important part of the day, but I would have some handy anyway, just in case

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, so the season wouldn’t be complete without some commentary on relationships from a “so called expert,” namely me.  First, while it is probably ill advised to completely neglect a “Hallmark Holiday” like Valentine’s Day, what really matters is not a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses, but something much less costly and clichéd.  From my perspective, what matters most in nurturing and sustaining satisfying love relationships is the day-in, day-out process of mindfully attending to your relationship through the active and deliberate expressions of positive emotions. It may seem obvious, but your love relationship needs to be your sanctuary, your refuge, and not an emotional dumping ground.

Perhaps the most important element in a committed love relationship is the feeling of trust and emotional safety.  Behaviorally, we can do a lot to establish and cultivate trust and, conversely, we can quickly erode this critical physical and psychological state.  Much like a baseball player’s batting average, it seems that trust is easier to lose than it is to regain, so there is good reason to do all that you can to maintain, if not deepen, this essential emotional nutrient. Everyone comes to relationships with different backgrounds and experiences.  What you need to feel emotionally secure may not be what your partner needs.  Take time to get to know your partner’s security needs and be intentional about not violating or criticizing these deeply held feelings and values.

This is what it looks like when a person feels understood and accepted

This is what it looks like when a person feels understood and accepted

A closely allied emotional state is the respect that one feels from his or her partner.  In this state, you feel that your partner holds you in a state of constant and universal high regard, regardless of your warts, blemishes or “endearing” idiosyncrasies. In addition, showing kindness and compassion for your partner is critical, because this conveys that you are able to get outside of yourself and join with your partner’s emotional and physical needs.  Routinely demonstrating this essential emotional nutrient should not be relegated to times of distress or pain, but is beneficial during good times as well, as this behavior contributes to the building of an emotional bank account, which can be drawn upon in those (rare) instances when you’ve been less than compassionate towards your partner.

Building trust can be hard work... not always this hard

Building trust can be hard work… not always this hard

I spend considerable time in my clinical practice learning how people of different personality types relate in love relationships.  It has often been suggested that opposites attract, which may or may not be true.  But what I have found is true is that people who have more similar personality types might find it easier to connect, relate, and sustain their relationship. Thus, in these relationships, people may feel they need to exert less emotional energy (i.e. work less hard) because they are experiencing more natural resonance with their partner.  Conversely, personality type is often a very helpful model to use with people who are having a difficult time connecting with or being understood by their partner, because it provides a non-judgmental lens for understanding their partner’s natural differences in relationships.

In summary, nothing in relationships should be taken for granted and, while I hate to use four letter words, it’s probably true that relationships require “work,” which I would like to reframe as practicing interpersonal mindfulness.  If you would like to learn more about how to establish, cultivate, nurture, and sustain your love relationship, my staff and I are available to provide you with assistance and confidential consultation.

by John Gaspari, LCSW, CEAP
Executive Director at CWFL

gaspari@usc.edu

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