We came out of these experiences with a strong desire, if not zeal, to never let it happen again. I think what we both learned is that yes, we probably chose the wrong people the last time around. But I think we also learned that neither one of us is perfect, and if we're going to make a relationship work, we're going to have to actually do some work.
The Fiance reminded me of a great site he'd told me about not long after we first met. It's called Marriage Builders and it's based on the work of Dr. Harley. One of the concepts that made a lasting impression on me is the idea of The Love Bank.
Dr. Harley's idea is that we all have a love bank, a reservoir of needs, that must be filled in order for us to feel happy and loved. Having our needs met not only makes us personally happy, it makes us generous with others. If your love bank is full, you're more likely to want to fill your significant other's love bank too. It creates a culture of giving, where the giving is free and easy because it's so abundant. It's how you usually feel in a new relationship.
Now if someone grows unhappy, feels neglected or simply starts to grow apart as is often the case in long-term relationships, that person is not so likely to fill the significant other's love bank. It becomes a, "Screw you. Why should I do something for you, when you're not doing anything for me" culture.
That's bad news, and I suspect we've all been there. I know I have.
So sometimes we've got to take one for the team. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but I think sometimes, especially early on in relationships (or before things have gone way, way south) we've got to do the nice things for our significant other, even if we don't necessarily feel like it. You've got to keep doing it, just like you've got to keep exercising, or picking up your house or paying your bills. It's maintenance, baby.
I know maintenance doesn't sound particularly romantic, but I think it's necessary. It's not unlike making your bed. Sure, your bed doesn't really have to be made every day. You're just going to get back into anyway. I was a serial non-bedmaker for decades. I was a bedmaking rebel and I held its flag high.
It wasn't until the past couple of years that I realized it's not about making the bed. It's not about the bed at all. It's about Right Effort. The Buddha said that without effort, nothing can be accomplished. If you don't make your bed in the morning, you leave your bedroom in disharmony. You sense that disharmony when you come home at night. Not making the bed can be like leaving dishes in the sink. It's a pattern of behavior and that behavior is neglect. Neglect begets more neglect. Soon your house is a mess, all the time.
Making regular, consistent, reliable deposits in your significant other's love bank is simply a matter of putting right effort into the relationship. For instance, whenever The Fiance is at my house, I get up first, go downstairs and make a pot of coffee. I bring him a cup of hot coffee when it's done. I never make a pot of coffee during the week when I'm home alone, I do it for him because it makes him feel loved. And guess what? When I'm at his house, he does the same for me.
Sure, it's a small gesture, but it's like making the bed. Bringing each other a cup of coffee is making a deposit in our love banks (yes, I realize this sounds dirty, you pervs). Dr. Harley covers all manner of ways you can make deposits in each other's love banks (stop it), and he also recognizes that all of our love banks are not the same (really now, you should be ashamed of yourselves).
Some of us don't like coffee.
Some of us like back rubs, or going mountain biking together, or receiving presents, or hugs, or sex (happy now?), conversation and attending one another's events. All manner of things. That's why it's important to find out what's important to your significant other, and vice versa.
You've got to get used to making the bed every day and making it the way your significant other likes it. It's got to become habit. Habits are hard to break. But they can be broken, of course. I'm under no illusions that this is easy. Even someone with OCD-lite can stop making the bed if their psyche changes. Depression can lead to neglect, and neglect can lead to disarray.
It's all connected.
Right Effort permeates all facets of our lives, from our romantic relationships to our friendships, to our parenting and our careers. You've got to make the bed every day. You've got to make deposits.
Otherwise you've got nothing. You're broke and your house is trashed.