How to be happy in love? Invest in the people you love. With your time and attention.
I was one of the 8 million people who read Mandy Len Catron’s essay in the New York Times’ Modern Love section, To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This, and was enchanted by the idea that a 36 question quiz could make you fall in love with someone.
Her book, which I just finished reading, is a more rigorous examination of love – the fairytales, failures and fantasies, (she’s an English prof, after all), but it is just as enchanting.
I mean, who, in all honesty, is not obsessed by true love?
I wrote that on my instagram, and my friend asked, “Even you?” – I think, meaning, even you, 21 years into marriage?
Yes, I said. I’m not obsessed with finding it. But I’m interested in keeping it alive. As someone with a brown thumb, who has killed too many houseplants to count, I don’t believe things flourish innately. I know they take effort and some secret knowledge, some whispering, some TLC. And when it comes to other human beings and their vast inner uncharted geographies, and our general lack of fluency in The Important Things, I don’t think of that as easy.
So then, by some wonderful happenstance, the Universe (or twitter) directed me to this article, from The Gottman Institute, pretty much the authority of Love Stories, Part 2, How to Make Them Last.
Here’s the article. I don’t think it applies exclusively to marriage at all. I think it’s relevant for any relationship. Marriage just happens to be one of the harder and higher-stakes ones.
If you don’t have time to dig in, here’s the short version:
- The #1 things couples fight about is nothing. Conflict is not about the controversial topic coming between you, so much as it is about a feeling of not being heard.
- Every relationship has an Emotional Bank Account. When you acknowledge a partner’s bid for your attention, you are making a deposit in that account. When you ignore the bid, it’s a withdrawal.
- The little things matter. Like, the really really little things. Like listening. And nodding, uh-huh.
- You do not have to fix each other. You do not have to solve each other’s problems. But be on each other’s team.
As Parker Palmer recently wrote, in this thoughtful piece, most people don’t want advice. (Even though it gets offered up ad nauseum. Most of us would prefer a foot massage than a bit of unsolicited advice that is more about the giver of said advice than the unwitting recipient.)
The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.~ Parker Palmer