The Key To A Loving and Lasting Relationship in Costa Rica Or Wherever You May Live.

The key to a loving and lasting relationship lies in our COMMITMENT to making the efforts necessary to achieve that level of connection.

There must be a commitment to treating each other with kindness and generosity, not with criticism and contempt.

Few would plant a garden and neglect to water, weed, or feed it and expect it to survive, let alone thrive. Yet many think the singular work in creating a caring and satisfying relationship lies solely in selecting the right partner.

True, there are individuals we could never have a good relationship with regardless of how hard we work at it; similar character, values, habits, personality do matter, so careful selection is vital. But some fail to see that even after a careful selection process and finding our “soulmate’, our “other half”, our relationship ‘garden’ still requires careful cultivation. There is no effortless, automatic pilot for a fulfilling and enduring connection.

If your love is wilting rather than flourishing, ask not only, “Have I chosen wrong?” but also, “Have I done what’s necessary for its growth?” Love is essential to a growing connection, and loving treatment of each other is essential for that love to grow. In short, we must make the necessary effort to cultivate our own garden.

What is the ‘necessary effort’? It is the simple basics of treating each other kindly and with concern for each others’ well being. It is making each other a priority and showing love regularly. These are the essentials. They cannot be purchased — nor would we even want to try.

Maintaining love and a strong relationship can’t be done by others. We cannot buy a service that treats our partner well. Nor would we really want to miss the joy of giving our partner love. It must be done by us, and it’s how we imagined our relationship, at it’s best, would be. Yet, too often, we overlook our own role in tending the garden.

The Good, The Not-So-­Bad, and the Ugly

It’s typically easy and deeply enjoyable to be kind, considerate, and loving when things are going well. When life and our relationship is good we are usually good to each other. We eagerly anticipate and meet each others’ needs. We are deeply interested in each others’ feeling and
concerns. We’re understanding and forgiving of each others’ human failings. We support and encourage each other in the face of setbacks. And, we continually communicate how important we are to each other.

In short, we meet each others’ basic needs for acknowledgment, appreciation, attention, and loving affection. In doing providing these basics, we create a virtuous cycle: treating each other special makes us happy in our relationship and that happiness produces more loving treatment.
We are doing the ‘gardening’ necessary for love to flourish and grow.

The not-­so­-bad occurs when other commitments in life — jobs, bills, kids, relatives, problems­ arise and our attention is directed away from our partner and toward life’s “fire alarms”. We mistakenly assume “the garden can be watered later”. We may not be intentionally hurtful toward each other, but we assume that “Our partner can wait; they’ll understand.”

A good relationship can withstand some TEMPORARY changes in our priorities. We usually agree that the economic/social/legal/practical foundations of our life together deserve some tending also.

Too often, however, the temporary becomes the norm. Consumed with the rest of life we forget our commitments to each other and, while the relationship is not so bad, it’s nowhere near where it could be or where we need it to be.

Then there’s the ugly. It can happen when we are stressed to the max; when we have little time, patience, or energy for the crushing demands of life and we begin to treat the needs of our partner like “one more damn thing to do.” We become short, rude, resentful, abusive; our partner is now a burden, not a blessing. And/or when we feel hurt by our partner, disappointed in them, feeling they’re not doing “their share”, losing our respect for them, and feeling the poison of contempt.

“I Was Wrong and That Felt So Right”

Conflicts have been extensively studied and researchers have identified the psychology of our behavior in such situations. It explains why things go so wrong, so fast, and offers steps to avoid that painful downward spiral.

First, we must realize that not all disagreements are “conflicts”. Strictly speaking, a conflict is a disagreement involving strong, negative feelings: hurt, anger, fear. How do those feelings arise? Note the word “feelings.” A conflict can evolve from a disagreement when we FEEL that our character, our competence, our value has been attacked.

Recall from previous articles, “Can’t you EVEN balance a checkbook?”. That kind of question feels like an attack — an attack on one’s competence, and maybe even one’s character and worth. Our partner may not have intended the statement as an attack, but it’s easy to see why we would
feel assaulted if such a question were thrown at us.

Then, as temperatures rise, both become defensive — which usually mean going on the offensive, attacking back. We defend not only by belittling each other, but also by making certain defensive, and conflict intensifying, assumptions:

THE TRUTH ASSUMPTION. We believe that we are COMPLETELY right; that we are correct about ALL the facts and our partner, if not totally wrong, has very little of the truth of the matter. We assume they have very little to contribute to a solution other than doing it “our way, the right way!”

THE INTENTION ASSUMPTION. Our actions usually have specific intentions motivating them. In a conflict we assume that we know precisely what our partner’s intentions are — and they’re usually not benevolent.

THE BLAME ASSUMPTION. Something is wrong in our relationship. Someone must be to blame, and that’s usually not us.

Given these assumptions we approach our partner with a cocky, know­it­all attitude. We do not expect to learn anything useful from them; we will teach them about the reality of our relationship problems. Scold them for their malicious intentions and blame them for the relationship’s problems.

The natural response of someone who is treated like they are an idiot, with a disdainful and imperious attitude, is usually, “Treat ME like an idiot will you? Let me show you who’s the moron here…..” And they assume their rightness, etc.

It’s almost impossible to be right about everything leading up to and occurring during a conflict. Can we see the back of our head without a mirror? Can we really know what happened when we were absent from the scene? Can we really know our partner’s true motives when we often
cannot identify our own intentions?

Inevitably we will discover that we weren’t as smart and in as complete possession of the truth as we deluded ourselves to believe. And, if we don’t realize it ourselves, our partner will gladly show us the error of our ways, the gaping holes in our understanding of the situation. And we will gleefully point out their errors.

In a conflict we typically see our self in the best possible light — our actions and intentions have been “as pure as the Babe in the manger”, while our partner has been nothing but selfish, mean, cruel, and deceitful. So we often proceed as if we have a monopoly on the truth of the situation, and a lot of lost time, energy, and hurt feelings result from our refusing to consider that we too, may be wrong.

Is there some way to avoid all this unnecessary turmoil? To get to the reality of the events more quickly and less hurtfully?

Yes! If instead of the omniscience that each of us assume, we realize that at best we only possess the partial truth. If we accept that BOTH sides of the situation need to be addressed to arrive at an effective plan for resolution.

If we realize that BOTH of us need to do something different to make things better between us. If we approach our partner as an ally who has something valuable to provide the discussion — just as we have valuable information for them — we lessen tensions and create a collaborative problem solving climate, rather than a hostile, aggressive and defensive, problem magnifying mood.

We can provide each other with that look at the “back of our head” — with a perspective on OUR PART, our contribution, to the conflict. Our part and what WE need to do to solve things. Because both, in someway created the conflict and only both can solve it.

No one likes to be wrong, but we don’t need to be completely right to confidently approach our partner about our problems. Partial truth AND an openness to learning the “rest of the story” are enough to merit our partner’s attention — and they to ours. Such an approach, researcher John Gottman’s “soft start”, goes a lot father towards a solution than “shock and awe”.

When the approach, “Can’t you EVEN balance a checkbook?” becomes, “Honey, it looks like the checkbook may not be balanced. What is the current status of our checking account?” we may discover, to our relief and chagrin, that “Dear, I know you worry about our finances, but everything’s OK.

I went online and checked our balance. The actual check register isn’t filled in because you’ve had the checkbook all week. If you give it to me, I will enter the deposits and withdrawals.”

Even when our partner does attack with, “Can’t you even…?”, we still have options for deescalating things. Rather than exacerbating the conflict by responding in kind, “What’s WRONG with YOU??”, we could “put on the brakes” and ask instead, “You’re very upset, please tell me what’s making you feel that way.”

WW III can be avoided by a simple switch to “asking to learn” rather than attacking to “win”. When we COMMIT to approaching our partner with an open heart and pledge to nurture our relationship, especially during disagreements, our garden thrives. And the peaceful times are more frequent, more satisfying, and longer lasting.

(A follow up from the last article. It’s been reported that Johnny Depp has agreed to pay $7 million to have abuse charges dropped and to divorce Amber Heard. A good relationship cannot be bought and an unsuccessful one may be very expensive­ in more way than one.)

More information on these ideas can be found in the many works of John Gottman. The “psychology of conflict” is detailed in Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, et al.

Next Time: Our relationship isn’t just what happens between us. It what we DO with what happens.

Written by Tony Johnson is a retired university mental health center psychologist. He has lived, learned and enlarged his happiness in the Costa Ballena for over three years. He has the curiosity of a coati about all things life! These articles are his best shot at answering those “Life Questions”. Hopefully, you will find them informative and useful.

Problems In Paradise.

Your Costa Rica Realtor in the South Pacific Region Daveed Hollander.

If you have ever dreamed of living in a place that’s as close to a tropical paradise as you can find … Please contact our Recommended Costa Rica Realtors Daveed Hollander, John Wieland and James Drews in Dominical in the Southern Pacific area, by using the simple form below:

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