Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
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 every fortnight and would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.