How to win at the game of love.
“After all these years of marriage, you still don’t know anything about me — do you?” Spend any time at all in the field of couples or marriage counselling and that snarled/shouted comment will, really quickly, become very familiar.
I’ve probably heard those words thrown at a partner hundreds of times in the last 20yrs of working in couples therapy and, nearly every time, they are met with a highly defensive reaction:
“What do you mean? I know you! I know you like sleeping in on weekends. I know you take epic amounts of sugar in your coffee but no cream. I know you hate cats and love dogs. I know you want kids some day. I KNOW YOU!!!”
Sometimes, that list is vastly longer. And, unsurprisingly, even that longer list never seems to satisfy the partner who uttered the initial statement — though he or she almost never can express why…
Ironically, the person who said it may be just as limited in, “Knowing anything,” about the partner who was just accused, but, strangely, that doesn’t seem to invalidate that inner-knowing — or the pain of not being deeply known and understood by our romantic partners. Somehow, even if we completely lack the skills needed to achieve closeness with another ourselves, we still seem to possess a closeness-detection-system that still functions perfectly fine.
For so many couples, simply figuring out what it is that they each are using as the measuring stick of relational closeness can be relationship transforming. When we know how the other person is evaluating closeness in the relationship, that understanding can give us all we need to stop wasting our efforts elsewhere and to start winning at the game of love.
In 2011, a group of researchers undertook a small but incredibly significant study to try and identify (and then prove that they understood) where that relational inner-knowing comes from.
What they found is that it’s actually quite easy to come up with a list of likes, dislikes and traits that well describe even a person you have only casually met. Because it’s so easy, few of us will ever accept that list as proof that another is close to us.
Conversely, only people who are truly close to us can predict our behaviours. In other words, we only come to trust that we are close to or intimate with another when he or she can accurately articulate that, “If X situation happens to you, you will have Y reaction to it.”
For so many couples, this understanding can be marriage transforming. So many publications on marriage fundamentally miss the mark when they encourage couples to focus on acts of service, gestures of affection, endless talking about all sorts of things and physical touch – while forgetting to shape people into students of their partners.
All of those acts of love are, of course, important. But, if we are each naturally wired up to rate our relationships by way of the depth of understanding we feel from our partners and innately designed to evaluate it by way of how accurate our partner is at observing and then demonstrating, “If-then,” predictive abilities about us, doesn’t it kinda make sense to put the most effort into winning in the area that matters the most?
One of the most important elements of how we’ve taught skills in emotional intimacy for the last twenty years is a skill set for allowing one we love into our stream-of-consciousness. As important as communicating thoughts and feelings is, it pales in significance to the significance of teaching our partners how we think.
Because, if we can teach our partners to think our thoughts, then, “If-then,” predictability — and thus, feeling closeness — should be a breeze!
So, if you’re tired of working incredibly hard at love, closeness, connection and intimacy while getting so little in the way of results out of such, then perhaps it’s time to reach out and let us show you how to start definitively winning at marriage?