Building sustainable relationships requires learning new interpersonal skills, a disciplined commitment and the ability to love unconditionally. There aren’t any magical solutions for building sustainable relationships and lasting love–no quick tricks, fast fixes or fancy maneuvers. We aren’t selling “magical thinking” or magical tools. And the people who are selling this kind of stuff are con artists. We say this not only from our own experiences, each of us now with close to 50 years of married life experiences, but from our 30+ years of counseling hundreds of individuals, couples and families.
When we got together almost 30 years ago, we’d both been married to other people for 20 years, and Barry had also been widowed. So we weren’t naïve about the challenges of sustaining long-term intimate relationships. You might say we got our “boot camp” training in these relationships and then learned how to use these experiences as the fodder for creating something more solid and lasting.
We Closed the Exits
The first thing that we did was to close the physical exits: divorce would not be an option if we hit the wall (which we have many times). We decided to make our relationship a “LOVE-atory” where we could identify and test different approaches for building sustainable relationships. Our common background as developmental psychologists naturally led us to looking at our family-of-origin histories, particularly for early traumatic events. Well, we had plenty of them. Enough, we’ve decided, to make us “experts” in this area.
The Good News And The Bad News
The closer and more intimate our relationship got (the good news), the more that these early traumatic events surfaced (the bad news). Mostly they appeared as conflicts. So we studied conflict resolution and developed a three-tiered model for identifying and resolving different kinds of conflicts. For 10 years we taught a Master’s level course for counselors and trained many professionals in resolving relationship conflicts.
We found intractable conflicts the deepest and most profound level of study in our “LOVE-atory.” These conflicts recycled over and over in our relationship and eroded our intimacy. What we discovered was that these conflicts were never about the surface issue. Rather, they were about unhealed childhood wounds involving abandonment, abuse and neglect.
Healing Developmental Trauma in our LOVE-atory
Once we were able to acknowledge the unhealed developmental traumas from our childhoods, we agreed to help each other to heal them. We committed to staying together during the healing process and to resolving all the conflicts anchored in these old relational traumas. We each focused on understanding and changing ourselves, rather than trying to change each other. We took responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors and gave help only when the other asked for it. From this, we created our own model for Building Sustainable Relationships and wrote our book, Healing Developmental Trauma.
In our LOVE-atory, we learned that sustainable relationships are based on principles of interdependence, cooperation, partnership and mutuality. They require a commitment to growth and change, a strong sense of Self, well-defined personalities, small egos, compassionate hearts and humanitarian ideals. A central focus was helping each other change our co-dependent behaviors by being willing to ask directly for what we want and need from each other.
We Discover LOVEvolution in Our LOVE-atory
We also learned how to become more aware by seeing the other as a mirror for reflecting our unseen parts. This step shifted the context of our relationship from being adversarial to being cooperative. It also reframed our conflicts into opportunities for increasing our personal growth and deepening the intimacy between us.
We were able to sustain intimacy as our relationship matured through what we came to call LOVEvolution. It continues to support us in the kind of interdependent, collaborative relationships that are essential not only for our relationship, but also for the future of humanity.
Much of the world currently is in a cycle of social breakdown that appears as domestic violence, child abuse, school shootings, regional religious and ethnic conflicts and international wars. We believe that building sustainable personal relationships creates the critical foundation for helping humanity, particularly our children, move through this era of social change and breakdown.
Hear us talking about Building Sustainable Relationships:
We invite you to join us as change agents during this wild and exciting period in human history. Please join us in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina by arranging a personal growth or couple retreat with us. Or schedule a Building Sustainable Relationships training in your area.
We look forward to supporting you on your search for sustainable relationships and sharing this wonderful journey with you!
Here’s the feedback we got from participants in a BSR training: