Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, so it’s time to buy gifts for our loved ones. But we can also think more deeply about our relationships. I’ve being doing that and I’ve also asked others who have been in loving relationships for 20,30 or even 50 years. From these conversations, I’ve discovered the 5 golden rules of love!:
1) Be careful with words, and remember your partner has feelings.
Communications especially in relationships can be fraught with judgement and toxicity. Take this case: a couple agree to meet at a restaurant at 8pm. Person A arrives at 7.55pm having had to rush across town, while Person B arrives at 8.40pm. Person A shouts to Person B: “You’re always later, you don’t care about me”. Person B responds “You don’t know what day I just had. Get off your pedestal, you don’t know how much stuff I have to do”. You can imagine how this would degenerate.
A much better way would be to be honest but not judgemental. So Person A could reply “We had agreed to meet at 8pm, but you’ve come 40mins late (FACT). I feel really angry (FEELING). My day was so busy, I had to stick to a tight schedule for everything today (UNMET NEED). Next time, can you let me know if you’re going to be running late (REQUEST)”. See the difference. It’s not hiding anything including feelings, not judging the other and importantly gives a way forward.
2) Hold hands.
We’re physical and tactile beings. As a result touch is very important and it’s also one of the first casualties of long-term relationships. So hold hands whenever you can, hug and snuggle up.
3) Nurture your world outside of your relationship.
If we don’t, you put all your demands on your relationship which even the best of couples would buckle under. So keep your own social networks from whom you draw support, and have you own independent interests and work.
4) See your partner as a mirror to yourself.
It’s funny how you keep dating the wrong people. So what is the common factor….hmmm…you. It’s very hard for us to find fault in ourselves and so we externalise it to others, especially the one closest to us. Our partner is also with us when tired, hungry and messy which can be trigger points. Therefore, when your partner bugs you, think about what it tells you about yourself. In that way, you use your partner to grow as an individual. It’s almost like you can only grow and know yourself through relationships.
5) Forget love, think purpose and agreements.
“What is love? Baby, don’t hurt. Don’t hurt me no more.” These are the famous words of the 1990s hit song by Haddaway. It reveals a fundamental challenge: everyone understands love differently! In the case of this song, it is connected to feelings. Love is when your partner doesn’t hurt you. In fact, most people one way or another think of love in this way: why can’t we get back to the feelings we had when we first dated – we thought about each other all time, sent love letters, couldn’t keep our hands off each other.
But this is a recipe for disaster to base a relationship on. Our biology is such that the early stages of a relationship will trigger this chemical response, but it can’t last. One reason is that we couldn’t function in the world. Another is that by using feelings as a guide to our love, we could confuse the source of feelings, like anger at work with anger with our partner, and hence conclude that the love has gone. Crucially, it ignores the fact that relationships often deepen after “bad times”.
A much healthier way is to step away from the amorphous concept of love and instead think about agreements. As a couple, let’s make agreements about our relationship and stay loyal to those. These could include supporting each other’s work, having date nights, and how to divide housework. It could even stretch to what types of relationships you can have with people of the opposite sex. But what makes these agreements special is purpose. Make them lead to something big: we’ll raise our kids to be healthy and happy, we’ll make a difference to our community, we’ll stand together no matter what the world throws at us. This way, you end up with a clarity and purpose in your relationship that will generate mature love that lasts decades.
Let me end with a poem by the one of the greatest poets on love, the thirteenth-century mystic Rumi:
“I am amazed at the seeker of purity
who when it’s time to be polished
complains of rough handling.
Love is like a lawsuit:
to suffer harsh treatment is the evidence;
when you have no evidence, the lawsuit is lost.
Don’t grieve when the Judge demands your evidence;
kiss the snake so that you may gain the treasure.
That harshness isn’t toward you,
but toward the harmful qualities within you.
When someone beats a rug,
the blows are not against the rug,
but against the dust in it.”