True love forever and “happily ever after” are a mainstay of fairy tales and Disney cartoons, but those magical stories can often make a lasting relationship seem out of reach of everyday folk. Some of us may have experienced our own Cinderella story, where Mr or Mrs Right turns up and sweeps us off our feet, but when the “honeymoon period” wears off and reality sets in it can be difficult to maintain that spark that was there in the beginning.
Fortunately, with a little effort, lasting love can be found in everyday places and moments outside poetry, castles and romance novels.
Dr Sue Johnson, known for her expertise in the psychology of bonding and adult relationships, writes that the secret to lifelong attraction, affection and intimacy are three things – Accessibility, Responsiveness and Engagement, which go by the acronym A.R.E, as in Are you there for me?
Accessibility is the art of being available. This means being there – both physically and emotionally – for your partner. Being accessible also means that, no matter how you’re feeling, whether it be upset, angry or tired, your partner can still reach and connect with you.
A lack of accessibility will prevent connection between you and your partner. If you find that you are having availability problems in your relationship, this can be solved by making changes in our schedule and in our habits to be more present both physically and emotionally.
Tips for being Accessible:
- Create rituals of connection
You may sit together over a tea or coffee each morning, gathering your thoughts for the day, scrolling through your phone or watching TV. Instead, you can make this a ritual of connection – you might make a coffee for your partner and sit down together to discuss the day ahead and how each of you feel about it.
- Take opportunities to connect
In each and every interaction with each other, there are always two possibilities that may occur – connecting or turning away. No matter what you’re doing, whether you’re on your phone, watching a match of sport on the TV, reading the newspaper of completing chores, remember to pause what you’re doing and look your partner in the eye when they talk to you. This lets them know they have your full attention and what they have to say matters.
Being responsive means not only listening and being available, but feeling and responding in loving and affirming ways. Responsive connections let your partner know that they can count on you, and that what’s happening in their world matters to you.
Being non-responsive in your interactions degrades trust and connection. We can avoid this by removing distractions that prevent us from being completely attentive to our partner (hint: putting down your mobile phone or turning off the TV).
Tips for being Responsive:
- Show you’re truly listening
Whether it be through our words or through our actions, there are many ways we can show that we’re truly listening and taking in what our partner says. You can make eye contact or turn your body towards them when they speak, or provide thoughtful responses to show you’re invested in a discussion.
- Answer your partner’s bids for connection
Dr John Gottman, psychologist and expert in the field of marriage and relationships, describes a “bid for connection” as an attempt from one partner to another for some form of positive connection, be it attention, affirmation, affection or the like. To answer this bid for connection means responding to it and providing the connection they are seeking. Something as simple as returning a smile can answer a bid for connection.
Engagement is the ultimate form of connection, and can be achieved when you are already accessible and responsive in your relationship. It is that one step further, where we are proactive in our connections. Having an engaging relationship allows you both to be vulnerable and face challenges together because you feel loved and feel that you matter.
Issues with engagement, other than a lack of accessibility and responsiveness, are often skill-based. Learning new and more helpful ways to communicate with, love and support your partner can form a more engaging and long-lasting relationship.
Tips for Engagement:
- Think about and show appreciation
Think about the things you appreciate in your partner, and communicate these back to them regularly and often. Getting in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about your partner can also help you to actively cherish them, forming that lasting bond.
- Make it personal
We all have our likes and dislikes, and so showing your partner that you know what theirs is proves that you really care. You might cook them their favourite meal, watch their favourite TV show together, or take the chores you know they hate doing. It’s the little things that make a big difference.
Using these tips in your everyday life can make true, long lasting love an achievable and realistic goal for your relationship. No longer is dreaming required for that fantasy Cinderella ending, and no longer is it only a fantasy.
If you’re seeking that “happily ever after” with your partner, ask yourself one thing – A.R.E you there for each other?
If you find yourself needing that extra bit of support, we can help you to strengthen your relationship though our pre-marriage and marriage enrichment programs.
Sources: Judy Koehler | Wellness Counseling Centre | Dr Susan Johnson | Dr John Gottman.