Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Why is it so easy for us to lose our shit in our relationships? We just want to love and be loved! Well, the thing is that when it comes to love, we can be as innocent as babes but as hungry as wolves.
There are, we’ve found, eight core experiences of love, something else that you’ll find for the first time in Why Couples Fight. We don’t need all of them all the time, but when we any of them are selfishly or stupidly taken away from us it sets us on the path to a kind of panic starvation. Which makes us desperate. Which makes us mean. Which makes us all too likely to use whatever power moves we can think of.
The point is, to protect our relationships we need to protect, maintain, and nourish these experiences of love. Not just the Love in the abstract, but each of these specific experiences:
Affection. Love without affection is like a sun without warmth. Or food without flavor. And food without flavor would make you wonder if it really was any kind of food at all. Affection— words, touches, kisses, hugs, any token of love—is the tight hull that keeps the ship of love afloat. Lack of affection: that’s what we get from strangers.
Attention. In the world of relationships, we know the answer to the age-old question: If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one around, does it make a sound? No. Not if the tree is like us. We need to feel seen and heard to feel we exist, much less feel loved. Most of us are starving for the attention of someone we really care about. If we’re starving for that while we’re in a relationship, we know something’s really wrong.
Support. When you can’t cope, I pick up the slack. When the wind has been knocked out of your sails, I breathe new life into you. When you’re not okay, I find out what you need and do that. And you do that for me. And it’s not even so much the doing of all this as the being able to count on the other to do this that makes all the difference. It’s like walking along knowing there’s solid ground under your feet. When we have this, we take it for granted. When we don’t, we’re starving for it.
Fairness. Well, really, it’s blatant unfairness that feels like a knife in the heart. I’ve been home from work for three hours and you get home after a hard day only to find I’ve been lost on Facebook since I got home and the house is a mess and nothing’s been done to start dinner. It hurts! But if two people feel the other is generally trying hard to make sure things are equitable, then that usually feels a lot like love.
Validation. It kills us when our partners don’t validate our perceptions and feelings. “I said I was sorry.” “No, you didn’t.” “But you heard me!” “I barely heard you, but you didn’t mean it.” “But I did mean it.” “You don’t mean it. You’re not really sorry.” Aarrgghh! The exquisite emotional pain of having your truth denied is unmistakable. And I’m not even talking about being lied to! I’m just talking about someone very close to you having a very different memory or perception from you. “Well, I thought our wedding went off without a hitch!” “Did we get married at the same wedding? Do you even know me at all? Nothing I was hoping for happened!” This is a big deal. Especially since falling in love is so often about those blissful “me too!” moments like, “I don’t think your friends were very nice to you back there.” “I know! I don’t know what was up with them.” There is tremendous comfort in seeing things the same way and having our perceptions validated.
Respect. In a relationship, respect has a special meaning. There are things about you that you take pride in and things you feel sensitive about. Respect is what you feel when your partner actually conveys to you that they value what you’re proud of and do not disrespect the things about you that you feel sensitive about. So if I put a lot of effort into working out—whatever the results!—I’ll feel good if my partner notices and values how I work at it. And if I still have a fat ass in spite of all that, and feel badly about that, my partner will respect those feelings by never making me feel even worse.
Feeling cherished. We all want someone to think we’re wonderful beyond our ability to justify that. We want the person who says they love us to think we’re wonderful and cherish us just for being who we are.
Passion. What’s the truth about passion when it comes to long-term relationships? Is passion like a flower? Something that, no matter how glorious and beautiful it is, will inevitably wither and die? Or is it like sunsets? Some are glorious and some are beautiful, and some are just meh, but ultimately there is no end of glorious sunsets? The truth is that passion over time is like both. Of course it fades a bit with time and age, and of course it varies according to personality. All true. But this is also a core experience of love, a sense that in some consistent, meaningful way you and your partner are hot for each other. And that, like beautiful sunsets, can keep going forever.
The whole point of Why Couples Fight is giving you guys what you need to keep these experiences of love alive.