In the early stages of a love relationship, we freely exchange caring behaviours with our partner. As time passes though, we often discontinue these behaviours, or we begin to keep score creating a tit-for-tat mentality. This happens in almost every relationship.
Sven and Hana came to see me after seven years of marriage, three children, a job transfer, and the death of a parent had taken its toll. They both felt tired and disconnected from each other.
What had happened? Had they fallen out of love? No, not at all.
During couples counselling Sven and Hana realized they both still loved each other. But they came to understand that if they wish to create a loving relationship for the long-haul, they must intentionally and actively re-romanticize their relationship by restoring intentional loving exchanges between each other.
These caring behaviours are ways we show our love for our partner. They are specific behaviours that make our partner feel loved and cared for. Caring behaviours are gifts, they are not bartering tools. They are given without a price tag attached Both partners need to feel loved and cared for unconditionally, without having to do anything in return.
Some couples believe their partners should know automatically what they want without being told, and they get angry when the other doesn't meet their unspoken needs.
Sven and Hana had to learn it is much more effective to take responsibility for letting the other know what he or she wants and needs from the other. They learned to clearly ask for what they wanted from the other.
I helped them get back the feelings of tenderness and passion they both felt in the early days of their relationship. They both became aware of the specific caring behaviours they wanted from the other.
They then each made a list for the other, these are the steps they took:
Making your List of Caring Behaviours
1. Identify what your partner is already doing that pleases you. On a sheet of paper complete the following sentence, being specific and positive: “I feel loved and cared for when you...” Examples: Massage my back, listen when I am upset, compliment me on a job well done, take me dancing...
2. Now think back on the early, romantic stage of your relationship. Were there caring behaviours that your partner did for you, that he/she is no longer doing and that you miss? Complete the sentence: “I used to feel loved and cared for when you...” Examples: Went for a walk with me after dinner, watched football with me, helped with the dishes, rubbed my feet...
3. Now think of caring, loving behaviours that you always wanted but never asked for. They should not be activities that are a present source of conflict. Complete the sentence: “ I would like you to...” Examples: Go backpacking with me, skinny dip with me at the lake, watch old movies with me...
4. Exchange lists. Read your partner's list. Put an “X” by any items you are not willing to do at this time. Starting tomorrow, do at least two caring behaviours a day for the next two months, starting with the easiest ones.
Sven and Hana were surprized at what happened. Creating the list and doing the requested caring behaviours was a powerful exercise.They started getting back the feelings of tenderness and pleasure they longed for.
They were able to restore their initial romance and passion. Then they put together a plan to create an ongoing, satisfying love relationship despite all the pressures of their daily lives.
When we do caring behaviours on a daily basis, our relationship will feel more loving and safe. We need to give caring behaviours regardless of how we feel about our partner, and regardless of the number of caring behaviours we receive. Only this can put an end to a tit-for-tat mentality.
When we put our energy into improving our relationship and re-romanticizing it, we can start creating the loving, supportive relationship we always wanted. Give it a shot and reap the rewards!
Source: “Getting the Love You Want” Harville Hendrix, PhD
Helen Rudinsky is a Marriage and Family Therapist serving couples, individuals and children in Vienna's expat community.