Friday, March 5, 2010

What You Need To Know About Long-Term Relationships

What You Need To Know About Long-Term Relationships

Long-term relationships start out just like short-term ones.
There's the novelty part when everything is fresh, new, fun and
stimulating. Couples go to movies, eat out at numerous restaurants,
do lots of things together, usually all under some significant press.
The idea is to enjoy the rush and to explore life and all its
adventures with someone new. There is verve.
All relationships of this kind eventually lose some, maybe a
significant amount of luster. "Things" quiet down and routines
set up. Couples establish expectations of when they will and won't
meet, who stays at which house, what activities are better or worse.
The novelty wears off, usually within the first six months.
For stimulation junkies; that is, folks who seek out and require
high amounts of stimulation in order to be happy, this signals the
beginning of the end of the relationship. As the intensity wanes,
so does emotional commitment. Shortly thereafter, the relationship
will slow or even end, making way for the next one, which again
provides higher stimulation because it's again novel. Some folks
do this over and over. We call it serial monogamy--just dating one
person at a time, but for less than six months, then repeat.
If the relationship evolves; that is, survives this critical
stage, it is said to have become "long-term." Now things really
begin to change as the "slow down" becomes palpable. Is this bad?
Not really. It all depends upon what each partner brings to the
All of us have a background. We were raised by (hopefully)
parents or some caretakers, who instilled in us the values and
experiences we now unconsciously carry. These can be good or bad.
We may have been treated very well or badly, depending upon whether
our caretakers were of sound mind, drank too much alcohol or took
too many drugs, were peaceful or violent, and on and on. Based
upon such early "programs," we all develop "norms." These are
beliefs and resultant expectations about "how things are." We also
automatically project these expectations. Then we start to assume
that our experiences will also be the same in the future, especially
with our longer-term partners. Why?
Not surprisingly, in long-term relationships, the person we have
come to "relate to" is becoming more visible at deeper and deeper
levels the longer we stay "relating." This is because when the
novelty wears off, the real person behind the "best behavior" can be
more clearly seen. This increasingly more real person can be well
put together (think positive early experiences, basic assumptions
and healthy relationship expectations) or badly constructed
(think the opposite...).
As the relationship becomes more entrenched, these "background"
themes start to "pop up," unconsciously at first, then more
consciously as our partner's reactions build. If the relationship
is to last and be harmonious, these background patterns between each
partner have to "mesh;" at least be compatible. For example, each
may think that one "talks" about frustrations rather than
"act them out." This is good. But one or both of the partners
may have background patterns that "clash." For example, one or
both partners may have been trained to act out their frustrations,
say through passive-aggressive behavior rather than to verbalize.
These background patterns are known by various names. In the
analytic literature, the phenomenon of projecting onto and expecting
these patterns from current partners (though originating from past
training with others) is called transference. We "transfer" our
basic assumptions gleaned from the past onto some intimate in the
present. The longer we know our current partner, the more likely
transference patterns will emerge.
For details on the many patterns and specifics of such
transference, particularly the negative versions that destroy
relationships, see my ebook, just completed.

-Dr. Griggs

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