" />

The Relationship I Most Want to Have

Excerpts from Empowered Love by Dr. Steven Stosny (Note: These exercises are not for chronically resentmenful, angry, or abusive relationships. See the Love without Hurt Boot Camp)

Your only chance of getting the partner you most want to have is to be the partner you most want to be. The only way to change your partner is to change what your partner reacts to.

More importantly, reacting to your partner has turned you into the partner you don’t want to be. This exercise is designed to restore your core value. You must do this before you try to solve relationship problems. Any attempt to negotiate with resentment or anger is doomed to failure.

The Partner I Most Want to Be

List what you consider to be the five most important qualities about you as a husband or wife. (Example: loving, respectful, compassionate, kind, fair)

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

List five ways you would like to improve as a husband or wife. (Example: be more engaged, more positive, and more aware of the good moments, more affectionate, more sexual)

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

List the five things you most appreciate about your relationship. (Example: companionship, fun, sensuality, vitality, security)

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

 

Construct a narrative about your relationship using the 15 items you listed above. (Example: In my relationship, I strive to be loving, compassionate, kind, fair, and respectful. My relationship brings me fun, sensuality, vitality, security, and companionship. My relationship is important enough for me to make the effort to be more engaged, positive, and appreciative of the good moments.)

Commit to making your behavior consistent with your narrative.

 

List three behaviors you would like to see more of from your partner (example: listen, help, affection, sex) List what can you do to make it easier for your partner to do what you want (example: listen, appreciate help, more compassion, more attention):
 

 

 

 

 

 

Things that make you hard to live with:  

List ways your partner enhances your life:

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 

 

Attitude of Connection

You’ve probably tried lots of things to improve your relationship. If what you’ve tried has failed, it was likely due to an attitude of disconnection forged by toddler brain habits of blame, denial, and avoidance. With an attitude of disconnection, all attempts to negotiate turn into coercion, due to the overwhelming subtext:

“I can’t connect with you until you do what I want.”

In an attitude of connection every disagreement causes emotional divorce. With an attitude of connection, specific behaviors are negotiable but not the connection:

“We need to… (for example, respect each other) to enhance the connection we both value.”

I once saw a research recording of interviews with couples in long-term happy marriages. One particular couple was married for 60 years. They asked the wife if, in all those years, she ever thought about divorce? She replied immediately and incredulously:

Divorce? Never!” After a moment, she shrugged and said with a tiny smile, “Murder maybe, but never divorce.”

Aside from the sheer humor of her response (and she wasn’t trying to be funny), she made a point that clearly distinguishes long-term happy relationships from terrible ones. When you live together, your partner will occasionally do things that irritate you and you might get pretty angry. But you always know that the negative feeling will pass and what really matters is the connection.

I’ve written about an attitude of connection in other books and articles, but it would be remiss of me not to repeat it in a book on Power love. Developing an attitude of connection requires mindful effort in the beginning, if Toddler brain coping mechanisms have formed entrenched habits. But the more you practice connective thoughts and behaviors, the easier and more natural it becomes.

Couples with an attitude of connection (that is, happy couples), regard themselves as connected, behave as if they’re connected, root their connection in common values, build lifelines, maintain good will, engage in a spirit of cooperation, try to be flexible, seek to understand each other, establish brief but frequent routine rituals of connection. We’ll address each of these Adult brain qualities below.

 

Regard yourself as connected. An easy way to regard yourself as connected is to make a simple semantic shift. Research shows that unhappy couples (with an attitude of disconnection) think and speak in terms of “Me,” “I,” “You,” “Mine,” “Yours.” In contrast, unhappy partners (with an attitude of connection) think and speak with the plural pronouns: “We,” “Us,” “Our.” Working “we, us, ours” into your everyday vocabulary strengthens your attitude of connection. Try writing this sentence a couple of times to see how it feels to you:

We want our relationship to bring us the safety, security, love, and happiness we both want and deserve.”

 

Behave as if you’re connected. Avoid the trap of waiting until you feel closer to behave in loving ways. When you behave as if you are connected, you’re likely to think in terms of couple-hood and, eventually, feel more connected.

The following exercises can help to nurture an attitude of connection.

Exercises

List what you would do differently if you felt more connected to your partner. (Example: touch more, make more eye contact, embrace more, go for walks together, that is, share experiences.)

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Describe three things you would do first thing in the morning, if you woke up tomorrow happily married and totally satisfied with your relationship:

1.

2.

3.

As an experiment for the next month, practice every day what you wrote in the above exercises. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it. Practice the behavior and the feelings will follow.

 

Root your connection in common values. Deep connection is not based on shared preferences of what you like and enjoy. Rather, it’s based on shared values. Common interests often attract people, but common values sustain relationships. A couple whose connection is based on common interests without common values will likely become competitive in their interests; partners will try to hike farther or faster than each other. Attuned to their deeper values, they’ll place more importance on sharing the experience of hiking in each other’s company.

 

Values Connection

List areas of deep connection (based on values) that you might possibly develop in the future. (Try to think in terms of mutual activities, for example, joining community groups, sharing spiritual experience, nature trips, art trips, and so on.)

1.

2.

3.

 

Build lifelines. Like the lines that astronauts use to keep attached to their space vehicles, emotional lifelines provide maximum movement, while providing life-saving connection. As a relationship metaphor, lifelines keep us anchored to what matters most.

Imagine a long, flexible lifeline that constantly connects you and your partner. No matter what you’re doing or feeling, you remain connected. Even when angry at each other, or when you need a time out to get away from each other, you’re still connected. If you imagine a constant connection by an invisible lifeline, your unconscious emotional demeanor around your partner will change for the better, increasing the likelihood of positive response from your partner. Bad moments will occur less frequently and will be shorter-lived, because they won’t trigger disconnection.

 

My Lifeline to You

 

 

 Maintain good will. Stay focused on what is best for both of you. You both want to be well, with neither of you feeling put down, taken advantage of, devalued, or disregarded. Appreciate how your partner enriches your life and that will encourage your partner to do the same.

Engage in a spirit of cooperation. Work together as a team for the best interests of your family. Remember always that the valued self cooperates and the devalued self resists. Give the value you want to receive.

Try to be flexible. Life is cruel to the rigid but generally kind to the flexible. Be as flexible as you can while respecting your deeper values, and you’ll be happier and love better.

Seek to understand each other. Rather than argue, try to understand each other’s perspectives. Instead of refuting or contradicting your partner, seek and add more information.

Establish brief but frequent routine rituals of connection. I developed the Power Love Formula more than 15 years ago. It’s been a huge predictor of success in our boot camps for highly distressed couples, either already separated or on the verge of separation.  Couples who do it faithfully have vastly improved relationships a year later. The Power Love Formula incorporates small moments of connection into your daily routine.

The principle of small moments of connect has more empirical support in the work of Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina. Her research shows that what she calls, “micro moments of love,” improve individual health and well-being as well as relationships.

Small gestures of connection built into your daily routine do wonders to create a stable attitude of connection. In contrast, special events, like romantic weekends or nice vacations, while they may be pleasant or enjoyable, are often followed by a let-down when the unsustainable wave of well-being crashes back to the routine of daily living. Don’t get me wrong, romantic weekends, nice vacations, and the like are good for relationships, if there is also routine connection. The safety and security that will help you repair your relationship rises from a steady attitude of connection rather than big waves of emotional experience. The secret to loving big is thinking small.

 

 

Consult Dr. Stosny

Relationship Complaints

Anti-Contempt