In an increasingly insecure dating world, many patients ask me for simple guidelines to help them better navigate the turbulent relationship sea. Relentlessly battered by media-overwhelm, online dating challenges, and a plethora of books, they no longer know what or who to believe.
I was initially reluctant to reduce the many crucial aspects of each individual’s situation into a one-size-fits-all manual. I resisted minimizing the significant efforts, disappointing outcomes, and anguishing disillusionments that so many individuals have experienced in his or her unique way. I didn’t want a set of rules to ignore the significant factors that differentiate one person’s journey from another’s.
Randi Gunther Ph.D. In my 40-year-career as a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor, I’ve spent over 100,000 face-to-face hours with singles and couples helping them to sort out their desires and conflicts about intimate relationships. Together, we’ve explored all the reasons why their relationships so often start out euphoric only to crumble and how they can turn those disappointments into future successes. I truly believe that the greatest obstacles standing between you and the love you want is often right before your eyes but you are unable to envision the journey.
Editor: Talha Khalid
For example, how do you compare the dating goals of a successful career woman, whom society deems highly valuable, with a single mom working two jobs and supporting a family? Both may sincerely seek a viable long-term relationship, but have very different resources and options. What about a pastor who has just lost his wife of 23 years and is looking for a suitable woman to help him run his parish? How about someone who has endured a series of failed relationships, is struggling to make better choices, and has recently been transferred to a new job where options for a partner are minimal? How could I compress so many unique stories into one set of helpful rules? What had I learned from the literally thousands of hours I’d spent with sincere and committed daters?
What follows is the result of my inquiry: “10 Rules of Love.” Hopefully, they will tap into a different kind of quality relationship assessment. Some will be more meaningful than others to each reader, but they may help you better define what your own love manifesto means to you and how you can use it to better choose your next partner or revitalize your current partnership.
1. Never invalidate or erase the personal reality of someone you love.
Every one of us counts on our partner supporting and validating the way we see the world, even if he or she doesn’t see it the same way. Though we are hopefully open to expanding or transforming our views by comparing them with our partner’s, our emotional sanity depends on trusting the world as we see it. If our partner tries to undo that reality, we feel unseen and erased.
All of us have been on the other end of statements like, “You’re crazy to think that way,” “That’s bull,” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” They are examples of what one partner may say to invalidate the world view of the other.
2. True compromise can only happen when each partner begins an interaction by first supporting the other’s point of view.
When intimate partners have conflicting opinions, they too often flare into justification and defense. Very soon, instead of talking to each other, they rapidly begin talking at each other. From those disparate vantage points, there is no possibility of achieving a resolution that can cradle both of their views. The barrier to that kind of regeneration lies in each partner’s fear that if he or she temporarily gives up that personal view, it will be impossible to get it back. If that ensues, one partner may win the battle, but both will lose the war.
3. Quality relationships are made up of two partners who treasure and uphold a set of mutual beliefs and ethics.
I cannot underscore enough how important it is for intimate partners to be authentic and open about what they hold sacred, as well as what they expect of each other, when they begin a relationship. Thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can and do change over time, but partners in successful relationships are always up-to-date in revising and recommitting to the beliefs they share. Trust can only hold when each partner willingly supports those agreements, whether they are in each other’s presence or not.
4. Bids for connection are always honored.
When either partner needs the attention or support of the other, that request must be responded to in some way. That doesn’t mean that what is being asked for can always be granted, but the interest and support is there. Sometimes bids for connection can be presented in a demanding or self-serving manner, or at an inopportune time. But intimate partners who love each other are highly tuned to the other’s moods, needs, reflections, hopes, dreams, worries, hungers, frustrations, and sorrows. They are joined in their hearts, and one cannot feel okay staying separate if the other needs to connect.
5. There is an underlying and absolute assumption that each partner believes the other to be basically valuable and well-intentioned toward the other.
No matter what the downsides in a given relationship, no matter what unsolvable conflicts a couple may face, no matter what needs may go unmet, if two people continue to choose one another as their significant partner, they must believe that they see inherent value and quality in the other. Whatever negatives exist, as they must in any relationship, partners who love each other truly believe in the unchallenged quality of their partner’s core selves, and are secure in the knowledge that they both have the other’s best interests at heart.
6. The partners in a great relationship are a team.
Whether they play together, dream together, trust each other’s counsel, know how to resolve conflict, share responsibilities and resources, or are there to nurture distress, partners in successful relationships make more than the sum of their parts. They watch for when either need shoring up or authentic challenge. They also revisit their game plans on a regular basis, continuously looking for ways to play better. There is no need to have power struggles because they strive to agree on who flies left seat and when each has the best chance to lead the team better.
7. People who love each other want to be the best they can be for the other.
When people are dating, they know that they need to put their best foot forward. They get in shape physically, know who they are and what they want, keep up on what is going on in the world, take care of their health, and try to stay away from thoughts and actions that make them less than the best they can be. Sadly, as many relationships mature, intimate partners tend to lessen their commitments to those behaviors. It is too easy to let up when life’s stresses intervene. But in successful, long-term relationships, both partners count on the other to keep them in check. They stay committed to being the best people they can be for themselves and for one another, and they hold each other to those promises.
8. Ownership or possessiveness is unacceptable.
No one should ever feel that he or she is simply a player in another person’s script. Insecurity, the need for power, fear of loss, the drive to control, or not trusting the other to comply, all undermine the free choice that is the underlying foundation of love that deepens.
Threats of abandonment, retaliation, or non-participation can get another person to temporarily fall in line to satisfy the other’s demands while sacrificing their own. But if that happens, martyrdom and resentment will follow. The sense of being in a relationship out of fear of loss does not create an atmosphere where love can continue to grow. If those feelings are ignored for too long, the relationship will fall apart.
Ultimate love can only sustain when both partners want the other to be the most alive, satisfied, intrigued, and committed to life, wherever that person can find that experience. All relationships go through difficult situations, but too many without resolution can leave lovers trapped in a lonely and meaningless partnership. True love may end with the ultimate sacrifice: “I love you enough to want you to be where you are the most fulfilled, even if it turns out not to be with me.”
9. Never blame the other partner for what you cannot be, have, or achieve in your own life.
Perhaps it is a dark part of human nature to place accountability for unhappiness or failure away from oneself, but it is a disaster in a love relationship. People do look to their intimate partners as a source of stability, comfort, and safety, as well they should. But a person’s desires and hopes are not the other partner's responsibility to fulfill.
Yes, one lover’s needs should be a high priority, but every desire expressed by one partner cannot always be automatically the goal of the other, no matter what the circumstances. No partner deserves to be automatically held accountable to meet them.
10. Continue to grow beyond your own limitations.
All human beings need both security and challenge, whether alone or in a relationship. Too much predictability seduces boredom and eventual decay. Too many risks can undermine the comfort of familiarity. The partners in long-term, successful relationships know that they must preserve discovery, both within and between themselves. Every person knows where he or she is “locked-in” and where they are flexible. Openness to new ideas and adventures challenges the status quo, but introduces the differences that make for depth and possibility.
Just think what it would be like to read the same book every year. Some of the passages would still be exciting and interesting, but all would lose their luster if they were simply repeated exactly as they were once written. When partners in a long-standing relationship tell me they can finish each other’s sentences, I am not happy: Why bother talking if you will always know what the other partner is going to say?