Getting Love Right: Making Valentine Dreams Come True

I couldn't believe it at first. My daughter's best friend, Melanie, and I were sharing horror stories on the dating scene. She was 19 and getting over the loss of her high school sweetheart. I was near 50 and recovering from the ending of a 20 year marriage and the shocking and akward reentry into relationship exploration. (I couldn't bring myself to call it dating.)"He's not a keeper; I knew that after two dates." Melanie responded to my question about her new male friend. "Forget him. Seven blind dates, countless dull dances and who knows how many wasted Sundays hanging out after church with the young adult group. What do I have to show? Nothing. I'm about ready to give up and devote my life to science!"This sounded like the same conversation I had the week before with a good friend. "Hopeless,",I remember saying. "I don't think it's worth all the embarrassment and aggravation. Maybe I'm not supposed to find anybody."That conversation was a turning point for me. My friend commiserated with me for a few minutes, then tossed a challenge my way. "You know you can take charge of this part of your life too. You're not quite the helpless victim you want to think."My friend steered me to a book about finding healthy relationships, called Getting Love Right, by Terrence Gorski.Gorski became a relationship expert by accident. He's a researcher in addiction relapse and found that the most common cause for addiction relapse was relationship difficulties. As a result, he developed a series of lectures and a book about healthy relationships. He makes the point that if you don't know who you are and what you want in a relationship, you probably won't get it."Thanks a lot", I sarcastically shot back. "Can you tell me something a little more obvious.""That's the odd thing I discovered about relationships -most of the tricks to happy and healthy relationships are obvious. They just go against what we've often been taught about falling and love and romance. After I read Gorski, I started talking to friends and doing some more reading about relationships. I developed some principles I try to follow. Perhaps they can be some help to you."With that my friend handed me a wrinkled piece of paper with the following guidelines: 1) Know what kind of relationship you want Gorski distinguishes between four kinds of relationships: 1) exploratory dating, 2) a transition relationship ( usually the first relationship after ending a long-term committed relationship or marriage), 3) a short-term relationship, and 4) a committed relationship. A great deal of the disappointment in relationships comes when there is a mismatch in readiness and expectations. For example, if one person is interested in exploring and their date is only looking for commitment, there's a problem.2) Know what you value Be clear about who you are and what you value. Is physical attractiveness primary? Gorski points out that often too much "chemistry" at the beginning of a relationship can get in the way of really getting to know the whole person and whether there really is a good fit in values.3) Explore your dreams - separately and together Let the process of exploring relationships and heading into a committed relationship give definition to your personal dreams and vision for a relationship. Talk about your hopes and dreams and identify areas of agreement and disharmony. Pay attention to what you really value and make certain you're getting it supported in the relationship, whether that's about career, volunteer activities, vacations, children, whatever is really important to you. Allow room and encourage separate dreams.4) Pay attention to your patterns. Many people repeat the same experience over and over with relationships. For some, that means having the relationship end after three or four dates or when it becomes anything more than casual. For others it may mean being attracted to a certain type of person - talkative, quiet, party animal, etc. A look at relationship patterns can provide clues on where change is needed if a different outcome is desired.5) Focus on yourself It's very easy to get focused on the other person in a relationship. This usually leads to either infatuation or blaming. Gorski and other writers encourage keeping the focus on yourself - not in a selfish or obsessive way but from a sense of positive self-regard and self-care. No one else has the power to fix or complete us. Nor do any of us of us have the power to change another human being. The only behavior or attitude we can change is our own. And that's a great place from which to explore a healthy relationship.6) Respect the whole person and savor the love already in your life. Physical compatibility and chemistry are important. Equally important are attention to emotional and spiritual connection. All three are needed to cultivate a long-lasting relationship. Paying attention to feelings and our spirits helps us appreciate the love that's already in our lives. We all feel needy at times; healthy relationships aren't get built on neediness however. Letting in all the good and love in our lives makes us more ready to recognize and enter into a loving, nurturing relationship.7) Plant your own garden and ask for help Healthy friendships and relationships usually don't appear at our front door. Despite the protests above, finding relationships that work takes time and attention. Make the process fun and enjoy the exploring. Ask friends for help and encouragement in ways that work for you -going with you to a party or singles event, introducing you to someone you'd like to meet, being a sounding board for checking whether a relationship is what you want when you get too emotionally hooked in. If you have a pattern of repeated difficulty in beginning or ending relationships, involvement in a self-help group or counseling might be extremely helpful in changing the outcome. I haven't heard whether Melanie's love life has improved or not. I do know though that keeping an eye on these guidelines and the questions Gorski raises has led to much more satisfying relationships and new hope for a committed relationship again for me. Here's to sweet Valentine days and to relationship dreams coming true.SIDEBARMaintaining Relationships: Tips for the Long HaulThe following tips, also fairly obvious, contribute to helping relationships that start-off sound, stay that way and flourish over time.1) Make time together a priority Couples who find it hard to spend time together eventually don't. There are tremendous time demands on most couples and families. Relaxed, pleasant time together on a regular basis helps keep love alive and friendships growing.2) Talk things out, particularly the difficult issues that nag or tear at the relationship.Hidden hurts and resentments become bigger unless released. Some can be handled by talking over with a close friend. Recurring issues between a couple need attention. Some couples find it helpful to establish ground rules about when and how to talk issues through in ways that are respectful and allow for differences of opinion. The heat of the moment isn't usually the best time. Other couples have regular "talking time" scheduled once a week where they take turns talking without interruption about whatever is on their mind. Couples who get stuck or are going through a big life change often find it helpful to work with a counselor, minister or other trusted facilitator.3) Rest oftenExhaustion and over extension add to the strain between couples. Naps are a wonderful invention, not only for youngsters. Making certain you and your partner both get enough rest contributes immeasurably to healthy communication and minimizing conflicts.4) Think win-win and expand the joy!"How important is it?" and "What's my motive?" are two great questions for separating out real issues from distractions. Human nature has a way of encouraging us to focus on what's not right with another when something is bothering us. A commitment to each other that consistently seeks a win-win outcome for both partners helps avoid unnecessary sidetracking. More importantly, building on the strength and love that's there in a win-win way leads to greater joy and a happier, longer life. Savor the sweetness of your love!

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