Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
It’s a windy day . We’re sitting on the beach watching the breakers. A flash of chestnut and white swoops down in front of us to snatch a small fish held out by a kindly fisherman. It was one of two Brahminy Kites that own the skies over the stretch of sand we walk each day. We named them Juan and Svetlana. I don’t know why.
They seem to be always together. Not always flying together, wing-in-wing but always keeping a Kite eye out. We have watched them battling wild weather, playing games, and searching for food. Committed. Attached. Alive.
They are not looking out for a better deal.
They are not afraid the other will leave them.
Their eyes are on each other and they battle life together. Other predators attempt to overwhelm them. But they are so much stronger together.
I started thinking about all the predators that threaten relationships in our society: commitment-phobia, the fear of missing out, our focus on productivity over relationships, career opportunities, the lure of transient sex, and the list goes on. Commitment is the seemingly largest hurdle.
That both people need to commit to stay together is self-evident. Sometimes one person says that they will commit to the relationship provided they get a better deal. A healed relationship, with mutual give and take, is a better deal. Commitment allows your relationship to become your greatest asset. The most helpful attitude is doing whatever it takes to achieve this.
Thanks to stability from commitment; love can grow way beyond the honeymoon period. The longer two people are together, the more attached they become, and the more love there can be. This happens with commitment. (Provided you spring clean your conflict bugs). It’s the fairy-tale “ever after” bit of “happy ever after.” It’s living the dream of growing old together. If you want “happy for a short time only while the fun lasts,” you are not ready for a long-term relationship.
I’m not sure if it was Juan or Svetlana who had secured the evening meal. It didn’t matter. It was refreshing to see that the Kites seemed unburdened by years of gender roles. We watched as the Kite battled against, but overcame, a very powerful gust of wind and flew back to the nest with their heavy earnings.
Treat your relationship as a secure anchor in a world of change, difficulty and uncertainty. Affirm your love, commitment and support often, in words and actions. You’ll by making your relationship stronger by doing this.
Commit to loving. You want love, right?
Above all, never stop trying.
People don’t break up because they stop loving., they break up because they stop trying.
Their commitment fails to meet the wind.
Both my parents are over 90. I recently had the privilege of being on a holiday with them. We had dinner together, watched movies, played some gentle sports, did a bit of dancing, spent time just staring at the sky.
Yes, they were doing all of these things and more at 90. Amazing!
They have been together for 66 years.
A lot of what they talked about were simple things:
Mum always having a dinner waiting for Dad
Dad’s protection of Mum (even when she protested!)
Mum’s intuitive way of bringing my father into conversations.
Just before our trip, my Mum got really sick.
“He was wonderful, nothing was too much for him to do. He took such gentle and loving care of me.”
I have been thinking about this idea of what romance really is for a long time now. On this holiday, the answer was right in front of me.
Being romantic is being selfless.
Romance involves giving, going out of your way, spending time, spending money, showing you care and fulfilling some of your partners needs rather than your own. We tend to like it when someone goes out of their way for us. If we could have more of that for ourselves, and do more of that for someone else, life would be better. Your relationship certainly would.
Selflessness doesn’t sound very romantic or sexy does it? But it is. Especially in our contemporary world where individualism and getting what you want and need in a relationship seems to be of paramount importance: selflessness appears more of an inconvenience than something to strive for. If you want your relationship to last for a good while, then give selflessness a go.
Here are some tips on being selfless to your love partner:
Compliment them honestly on something, anything, everything.
Listen, listen, listen to what they say, mean and feel. Listening is a very selfless act.
Appreciate who they are: their body, mind, mannerisms and aspirations.
Ponder what you can do to bring a smile to their face today.
Show genuine compassion and concern for their parents and siblings.
Be grateful for how they enrich your life.
Say ‘thank you’ often.
Seek to understand them.
Think of how you can help fulfil their emotional, physical, intellectual and social needs.
After a wonderful two weeks together, I watched my parents walk down a corridor back to their room after I said goodbye. It is difficult for each of them to walk alone. So they hold each other up. That image will stay with me forever. True selflessness is holding each other up through good times and tough times.
We were standing in a field; mountains surrounding us. Powerful clouds aching to drop their heavy load were hovering. A young man stood in front of us peering intensely into the distance, waiting for his bride. He was accompanied by a large crowd of witnesses, family and friends, waiting for this important moment.
A word that gets stuck in your throat.
A word that means forsaking all others.
A word that means no going back.
Scary. But powerful.
We were at a wedding. Sheets of rain had pelted down all morning. The heavens were taking a momentary break, as if holding their breath in anticipation of the moment of commitment, watching, waiting.
Commitment to one person.
Love, sex and commitment are the basic components of a long term relationship. You need all three in there somehow. Commitment seems to be the unpalatable killjoy. Commitment phobia is now a social cliché. We want the joy of the love and the fun of the sex, but the commitment seems to be the cost. It is, but it more than that. It is the actual bond that keeps you together. It supplies the secure, stable framework so that the love can flourish and the sex can be safely and intimately shared.
A committed LTR is like a home: fireside warmth, nourishment, rest, protection, and a place to be yourself. It is a secure base. Difficult times will need special understanding. During these times a long time relationship shows itself to be much more than a mutual transaction. Love and commitment take over.
The young man in front of us was about to take that big step. He wasn’t at the warm fireside just yet. The clouds threatened, the witnesses held their breath, the mist swirled in, suspending this moment in time.
And then she was walking towards him. A white dream, crowned with billowing clouds, tears of joy defying the grey skies.
The young man turned his shining face towards her. Time seemed to stand still and gaze in awe at these two. And in front of the witnesses and the mountains and the heavens above they took a vow of commitment:
“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part” words that date back to 1549 and basically say no matter what, we’re together. It’s commitment.
She giggled when she said “I do.”
Two whip birds sang to each other in the distance, echoing the vows.
The young man and woman joined their hands and placed a ring on each other’s fourth finger. A forever reminder of their commitment.
The success of your long term relationship is in your hands, all four of them.
There was a 100% chance of rain predicted for that day. The heavens held their breath, but an hour after the ceremony, they opened up and flooded the field. A long term relationship is not all blue skies. As Shakespeare reminds us,
“Love looks on tempests and is never shaken.” (Sonnet 116)
Actually, love and commitment show their strength in hard times.
Christian looked at me and smiled with so much love in his eyes, remembering our moment 28 years ago, but also remembering the tempests that had battered at our door.
“The rain held off!” I sang in triumph.
Against many odds, in the middle of a tempest, two young lives made a powerful commitment to each other.
I will remember that very moving wedding for its incredible beauty, for its tempests, and for the love that was deeper than the mountains.
There was so much forever in that moment of time that is etched on my heart.
Commitment. Strong as mountains.
Love. Powerful enough to overcome tempests.
“I don’t know if he really likes me.”
I was on a train in Sydney and I overheard a young professional discussing intimate details of her latest relationship for everyone in the carriage to hear.
“I think he thinks I’m good in bed. We’ve been dating for 10 months now. We have the same interests. We go out a lot but it’s mainly just sleeping together.”
“Do you think he likes me? How can I know? We have a great time: skydiving, restaurants, movies, roses, theme parks. Did you see my last Insta story? But I’ve got no idea if this is going anywhere.”
We were crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The white flurry of sails on the harbour tacking from side to side reflected her conversation: emotions darting everywhere, driven by the wind of insecurity.
“But you are that model couple” her girlfriend replied. I saw her smile. That comment gave her a dopamine hit.
Dopamine is a pleasure chemical produced by your brain. It causes pleasure and makes you want to repeat the experience. Some dopamine hits involve little effort.
I remember when we were dating, Christian brought me one of my favourite chocolate bars each time he saw me. It gave me a dopamine hit. But there came a time when Christian bought me less chocolates and flowers, but more of himself and more understanding, and this started to build deeper joy.
Dopamine is just pleasure. Underneath the spirit is crying out for something that is so, so much more: deep, lasting joy. This is the cry of nearly every patient that Christian sees behind the closed doors of his office.
We all like big dopamine hits over a short period of time, but a long term relationship is smaller dopamine hits over a longer period of time.
Some people think dating is meeting someone and sleeping with them to see if they are good in bed. Others approach it like a job interview or a police interrogation: you put your best foot forward, you are not ready to be real. There is so much fear of rejection and hidden insecurity.
Do you realise how beautiful and unique you actually are? That is what a real relationship is. Showing that unique self. That’s who people fall in love with. Not an avatar.
It’s okay to put your best foot forward…but there comes a time went you want to go deeper.
So what is the answer for you and the young professional on the train? Less big dopamine hits, more real conversations. Time together just being yourself rather than running after fun.
One day you may be ready to
Stop dating and
Start feeling comfortable
One of my favourite times of the day is just sitting side by side on the sofa with Christian while we are both working at our computers. Sounds boring doesn’t it? It’s only a little dopamine hit. But we share these moments often. Small dopamine hits over a long period of time.
I’d like to let you in on a radical secret:
If you find the right person, boring is bliss.
Sound scary? Good. If you are looking for a long term relationship, what you are aiming for is authenticity and, most importantly, feeling incredibly comfortable and at ease with each other.
As the train arrived at my station I reflected on the conversation: how can this be the model couple if she doesn’t even know if he likes her? And why is she asking her friend? She needs to ask him, she needs to get real. There comes a point when you have to let the other person know that you want more. If you haven’t had the “where are we going?” conversation, then you will need to, and be honest in what you say. All the things I heard her talk about: the sex, the theme parks, are large dopamine hits no relationship can sustain. I hope her turbulent emotions can be replaced by safer harbours. To get into a long term relationship you need to get comfortable with smaller dopamine hits over a longer period of time. Less fun, more togetherness, more joy being real.
Slowly let down the mask. Although the world tries to tell you otherwise, love is not skin deep. It is a profound inner joy that brings deep fulfilment and security. Fun is fickle. Being real is a solid foundation for a lasting relationship.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post once a month. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.