An Excerpt from Love Cycles by Linda Carroll
The research is clear: one of the primary differences between couples who thrive and those who dive is how they manage conflict. Couples who thrive are likely to possess two strong skills: they can see and accept their differences and, paradoxically, because of this ability, they can be generous and collaborate on a happy coexistence.
News anchor Diane Sawyer has said, “A good marriage is a contest of generosity.” Easier said than done, of course. Neurobiologists suggest that some people are more genetically equipped than others to behave with generosity. Conversely, some people withhold more than others. Temperament isn’t everything, but it does account for a lot. Yet we can learn to override our predisposition to some degree. At first we simply go through the motions and practice the new behavior, say, of generosity. Eventually, the feeling itself will follow. Although to be generous may never be our first instinct, it can feel far more natural in time.
We must begin with what we already have within us. Then we must adopt an emotional practice that is akin to a good yoga practice. Slowly we stretch into what love asks of us: forgiveness, kindness, empathy, and deep, courageous self-examination. As we develop such self-awareness, we begin to catch ourselves when we fantasize about how our partner “should be,” and we return to a fuller, more realistic vision of our mate.
In his Guided Mindfulness Meditation, Buddhist teacher and writer Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” In other words, the future is a fantasy, the past is over, and our job is to stay focused on the very moment we are in.
When we use our relationship as a place to practice mindfulness, we become less reactive because we have slowed down our responses, allowing us to respond to what is actually happening rather than to our fears or fantasies about what it might mean. When we are in this open, accepting place, the usual distractions of hurt, anger, grudges, and longing no longer pull us away or create defenses and judgments against our partners. This gives them the space to be themselves, not who we want or imagine them to be. This allows safety to grow between our partners and ourselves.
Collaboration isn’t just a question of how two people find a way to share a life. It’s a question of how each partner carries out the individual work that will equip him or her to build a good life with another person. If we can slow down our first reactions and respond as lovers instead of fighters, we can create a relationship with more security and freedom for each of us. In turn, we can start to get creative. That’s when collaboration gets exciting: we work off the sparks in each other to build something to serve us separately and together. This kind of partner yoga helps us to reach for our best possibilities. In fact, it will help us to better connect with everyone in our lives.
Linda Carroll is the author of Love Cycles. A couple’s therapist for over thirty years, she is certified in Transpersonal Psychology and Imago Therapy and is a master teacher in Pairs Therapy. She lives in Corvallis, OR, offers workshops across the country, and is a frequent speaker at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. Visit her online at www.lindaacarroll.com.
Adapted from the book Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Wholehearted Love ©2014 by Linda Carroll. Published with permission of New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com.