Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The secret to staying in love, forever!

By Russ Hardesty, PhD

“I don’t love you any more!” These words have been the cause of cold chills and wrenching gut pain for many reading this. The words often come as a complete surprise. In an instant the “unloved” becomes focused on the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach and the whirling of their mind.

Things were O.K. until they wasn't
Over the years I have counseled many individuals seeking help to cope with the pain of a relationship that was coming to an end. For many, it was the first time in their life they had sought professional help for their relationship. They had believed things were okay until it wasn’t. And then they believed that everything would work out in the long run if they loved their partner “enough”.

Did you expect love to be free?
Love may be the only thing that we expect to be free! We fall in love without any apparent effort, so why wouldn’t it continue in the same way? There is a physical law called conservation of energy that applies to relationships. This law reminds us that we don’t get something without putting forth some effort. Simply, this law means that if you put a little in, you get a little back. On the other hand if you put a lot in you get a lot in return.

Five Dimensions of commitment!
Passion and love are measures of a meaningful and fulfilled relationship. With commitment there is assurance that both love and passion will remain and grow over the years. In research conducted by social psychologists* over the years five (5) dimensions of a sustainable and prospering commitment have been identified. These dimensions include: an assurance of future rewards; personal identification with the relationship; effort; investments in the relationship; and personal responsibility. Alternatives to commitment to the relationship erode quality and fulfillment in the relationship.

• Future Rewards
It is important to have a clear picture of what’s in the relationship for you! This is “Why” of the relationship. Too often, relationship seems to happen and expectations are based on experience from previous relationships or our family of origin. Future rewards motivate people to commit to a relationship. Fantasies or fairy tale versions of relationship are the framework for some relationships.

• Moving from “I” to “We”
A quality commitment allows both partners to take on the additional identity of “we”. This kind of identity shift indicates the evolvement of a third entity – a team. Neither partner loses their individual identity, but each “I” has a rich and nurturing partner that promotes their growth.

• Effort –
The importance of a relationship is measured in the time and effort that each partner gives to the relationship. This effort is demonstrated in a variety of ways such as helping each other to succeed in their personal growth; listening to increase understanding; working together on a mutual concern or shared project; and most importantly – spending time together.

• Investment –
Some partners treat their relationships like they do their finances. Their withdrawals exceed their deposits. Eventually, the overdrafts decrease trust and value. Wise investors always increase their net worth through investment and saving for emergencies and dream fulfillment. When the investments are minimal in relationships, the investment becomes a “have to” commitment, which takes away the passion and intimacy of a quality relationship.

• Responsibility –
A growing relationship is marked by increased personal involvement with your partner. Making and keeping agreements generates deeper commitment. A parent understands this concept in every cell of their body, freely giving to their child during the first years to ensure a life long of involvement and concern for their well-being. “Free Choice” love is full of personal responsibility for the health and prosperity of our loved one and the relationship.

Alternatives to commitment –
Commitment is often limited because of alternatives we choose in our lives. Sometimes, just like the “Pause” or “Hold” feature of a DVD, one partner seems to put the relationship on “Hold” while they give their attention to a hobby, sport, work, religious endeavor, or another person. Unlike the electronic devices we are accustomed to manipulating, our partner’s life continues to evolve and change. When we activate the “Play” feature, it doesn’t start where we left off; nor does it have a “Rewind” button.

Action Steps:

The secret to staying in love! (Make frequent and significant deposits)

Remind yourself each day of all the amazing things that your partner does and is! Not how they forgot to take out the trash or put their socks in the laundry

• Share with your partner the “Why” for your relationship at least once a week.

• Spend time regularly with your partner on a shared activity or interest.

Close Relationships ed. Ann L. Weber and John H Harvey

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Happy to be Stuck With You” ?

A Commitment Check

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

. . Pleasure requires high and loving spirits and energy, but living in the world-being battered by it-having your heart pierced, sharpens everything. I had grown up without knowing it, and now I knew. I knew that you might believe in rapture, but you had to earn the right to feel it. You had to pay for it with grief and loss, and it was worth it. I knew what it was like to be ultimately close to your best friend on earth, to some one you had waited to know, had watched and calculated, some one well loved and intelligible to you. . . . It was relief, and it was terrifying. -Laurie Colwin, Shine On Bright & Dangerous Object


Never Again!

My ignorance and immaturity were major downfalls in my relationship history. I concluded that I wasn’t capable of being in relationship. I had quietly avowed that I would never marry again. In August of 1982, I met beautiful, elegant Pat at a conference center at the Lake of the Ozarks. Arriving late, I was ushered to one of the small groups that had already been in session for an hour. My immediate attraction to Pat’s beauty and elegance was intensified when she had something to say when she spoke. My vow to singleness was immediately dismissed. Although we both were well into adulthood, the extent of the commitment we made later that year was yet to be revealed.

It Just Happened!

I had fallen in love in an instant; it just happened! My commitment to Pat began because I wanted her to be a part of my life. As we have journeyed together these past 27 years, there have been times that our “want to” has been “have to” or “ought to”. Commitment doesn’t just happen but is built through interactions with our partner. According to Robert Sternberg, “Loving relationships almost inevitably have their ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ and there may be times in such relationships when commitment is all or almost all that keeps the relationship going.

Ebb and Flow of Commitment

A study of married couples who have been together for over 15 years indicates that each relationship “ebbed and flowed” between “want to”, “have to” and “ought to” types of commitment. These changes, although not always comfortable, are very functional and can create resilience and strengthened commitment. Neither Pat nor I could have understood the full strength of our commitment until events and circumstances created tests of our resolve to one another. Given the challenges that life presents, the “want to” commitment often becomes “ought or have to”. Couples are challenged by a cultural belief of that a relationship has failed when the “want to” commitment fades. Huey Lewis’ song “Happy to be Stuck with You” is a great description of the ups and downs of commitment.

Growing Commitment

Interestingly, the process of committing oneself to a relationship increases the positive future of a growing commitment. The widely held belief that you must be madly in love for the relationship to work often prevents couples from remaining engaged through the challenges presented by life. Remaining committed even in the “ought or have to” state can yield tremendous rewards. I do want to caution that remaining in a relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive is an entirely different matter.

Action Steps to Strengthen and Affirm your Relationship

· Share personally written notes, letter and cards with your partner

· Sharing commitment related stories to friends and family

(I enjoy telling of my meeting Pat – my kids have heard many times)

· Spend time looking at and talking about photos of the great times in the relationship.

Tell us your story of the “Ups and Downs”

Enjoy the music video “Happy to be Stuck With You”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fear of Commitment

By Russ Hardesty, PhD

Afraid of the water
A young woman conducting interviews with friends and family asked me about my fears. I quickly responded to the written questions indicating “no” each time until one item stopped me. “Please list any other major fears” the questionnaire stated and I listed the fear of being trapped and confined without options. In a moment I had remembered the great fear that had prevented me from learning to swim until 7th grade. When I was very young, supposedly well intentioned adults and ornery boys had thrown me into deep water thinking it would help me learn to swim. The question had awakened a rush of emotion. The fear generated by those events might well have kept me from ever wanting to swim again.

Why men fear commitment
Fear of being trapped and confined without options can be described in other words…loss of freedom. Relationship commitment for some can be like loosing their freedom. Men in particular experience this fear. Loss of personal space and a perception that the partner is putting demands on them can make them feel as if they are losing more than they are gaining. Making a commitment to relationship may seem like having to ask permission to do those things they have always done without asking before. My fear of ‘drowning’ had some basis because of a scary encounter. Because of that encounter I had decided I would only go into water that waist deep. That way when swimming with others I could defend myself because I still had my footing. I had lost a sense of personal safety and was willing to commit myself only to what I could control and was “safe” for me.

Our level of commitment in a relationship can be limited by a need to control everything and everybody. This need to control may well be based on early life experience. For some men it can be associated with the adult women in their family of origin, childhood experiences or a failed “first love”. Adult men who have experienced divorce and loss of custody of their children can exercise only cautious commitment in subsequent relationships, just like staying safe in shallow water.

Why women fear relationship commitment
* (ladies see footnote)
Women generally are more comfortable in making and keeping commitments with their children than with a partner. They are likely to not fear commitment associated with being a mother as much as commitment with a life partner. One of the greatest fears for women is being “used” in relationships and feeling cheapened by an unfaithful partner. Another fear a woman may have is that her devotion to a relationship is not valued. When a woman’s life is uprooted it is difficult to begin anew with thoughts of another relationship. She may wish to avoid the painful emotions leftover from a failed relationship. She may never even venture into the wading pool again.

Married couples fear commitment

Fear of commitment isn’t limited to the unmarried. Being married doesn’t necessarily mean being fully committed. For some it is just a limited contract with expectations that are unspoken and even unconscious. An atmosphere of distrust, dishonesty, and censored communication often emerges in an effort to conform to the cultural expectations of being ‘fully committed’. Unfortunately, individuals in such a situation reach a plateau or comfort zone and the eventual demise of intimacy and passion.

Clinging to the rope
As a 12 year old boy I stood in the shallow end of the pool or clung to the rope dividing the deep and shallow ends. I longed to join in the play and adventure of the other kids and felt a great weight of loneliness. Loneliness is a consequence of limited commitment and the absence of meaningful connection to others. Whether a person is single or in a relationship loneliness can be a result of their fear of commitment. A relationship with limited commitment can be one of the loneliest places!

Understanding and how to deal with fear
The fear of commitment comes from different origins. It may begin in our childhood and often becomes a pattern that crosses every area of our lives, not just relationships. This strong emotion often takes up residence and affects our decision making. The fear of failing, of being rejected or of losing is often found at the seat of the disabling emotion. Emotional patterns that emerge from these deep seated fears permeate our responses to others and our feeling about ourselves.

Often we project our fears onto others rather than accepting ownership and responsibility for repairing the dysfunctional yet important survival response. When our fears are based on a life experience we can change our response. Simply, we can change the story we have been telling ourselves about that experience that keeps the fear alive. The first step is telling the truth. For example, not everyone will use you; not everyone wants your money; not everyone cheats; not everyone leaves. Another step is to change your point of view from seeing things as ‘right or wrong’ to ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work.’ True change begins with self-honesty.

F.E.A.R - False Evidence Appearing Real

Even while clinging to the rope dividing the shallow from the deep end, my intellect told me that I could swim. However, my emotional self chose to feel the fear and remain paralyzed. Those times when I had been thrown into deep water against my will were the source or “false evidence” of my fear. However, I had failed to recognize the most important part, the most emotional part of my fear – “against my will”. When I chose to learn to swim it was in the presence and with the coaching of the men I trusted. The false evidence was couched in a compulsive belief that had before left me a victim. When I changed my thoughts from the compulsive F.E.A.R. to one of choice, I regained my personal power to swim. I was committed.

* Ladies, I have written this post from a male view point. Let me hear from you. What do think are the unique fears of commitment that women experience? Post a comment or email your contribution.

Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ