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Love Is Not All You Need

By: Pepper Schwartz


Summary: The importance of listening, teamwork, and flexibility.

The experience of love is unique for every person, and using that feeling to measure the
potential success of a relationship is even more subjective. Nonetheless, at some point most
of us face the timeless question of what makes a relationship work. Though we can't
quantify love, we can look at variables that help us choose the right partner. Research
shows that a few crucial compatibilities make the difference between making up and
breaking up.

We are a love culture. Unlike some societies that think of passionate love as a nuisance that
can undermine sound reasoning about whom and when to marry, we think passion is our
truest guide. When we say, "He did it all for love," we mean it as a compliment. In many
cultures it would be said with pity or contempt. But we sigh with happiness when witnessing
lovers who barely know each other connect as powerfully as lightening striking the Earth.

This approach is romantic, but it's also a little daft. Sure, being passionately attracted to
someone is a great elixir, but making a commitment based on hormone-addled logic is a
recipe for disappointment, if not disaster. We shouldn't be misled by fleeting moments of
bliss. Love is not all you need, and you will not know--across a crowded room or even on a
first date--that this person absolutely is the One. While some hunches work out (and, of
course, those are the Cinderella stories), most do not. There is a real danger when you
think that fate has delivered the One: You may stop looking for disconfirming evidence,
even if there are big problems (like his tendency to drink too much or her occasional
disappearances).

Theories about love that are based on fate are not only untrue, they aren't even in the best
interest of love. Of course, Cupid forbid, if the One does not work out, you might think
you've lost your true love and forego giving other people a chance. Choosing the right
partner is arguably the most important decision you will make. In the last 10 years, a
multitude of studies have shown how bad relationships can negatively affect job
performance, physical and mental health, financial security and even life span. Certainly,
such an important decision requires more than the adrenaline rush of infatuation.

When considering what it takes to make love work, it is useful to look at those who have
tried and succeeded as well as those who have tried and failed. Besides observations from
my own work, I have included data from The Enrich Couple Inventory, 195 questions
developed by David Olson, Ph.D., David Fournier Ph.D., and Joan Druckman, Ph.D., that
were administered to 21,501 couples throughout the country. The researchers compared the
answers of the happiest couples to those of the most unhappy and found that the
differences between their answers to a few key questions tell a lot about what makes love
work. If we are willing to be rational about love, we can learn from others' experiences--and
perhaps find and maintain a true love even after the initial chemistry fades.

My partner is a very good listener

Percentage of unhappy couples who agree: 18%; Percentage of happy couples who agree:
83%
My partner does not understand how I feel

Unhappy couples: 79%; Happy couples: 13%

If you want to feel alone in a relationship, be with someone who hasn't a clue about what
you are going through. Or worse, someone who does have a clue but cannot understand
why your pain is a big deal. The two of you can be totally different people in a number of
ways, but if a partner is sensitive to how you see the world and experience life, then those
differences are unimportant.

Ruth, who has been married to Alex for 31 years, puts it this way, "When we got married,
nobody thought it would last because we are so different. Alex is from a working-class
family; I am Jewish, he is Lutheran--everyone thought it was a non-starter from the
wedding day on. But what they didn't know, and what has been the most important thing in
our relationship, is that Alex knows how to listen. Really listen. No matter what, he can see
how I'm feeling and he can feel for me. Trust me, that solves a lot of problems."

"We never see each other anymore...."

We have a good balance of leisure time spent together and separately

Unhappy couples: 17%; Happy couples: 71%

We find it easy to think of things to do together

Unhappy couples: 28%; Happy couples: 86%

Although it sometimes works if people have different priorities, most often, being out of
sync is damaging in the long run. Allotting time in your day, your week and your life for your
partner is an important ingredient in a relationship. If one person wants to spend every
Saturday and Sunday relaxing in front of the television when the other wants to hike, bike
and explore, both will feel deprived. This may not show up in the busy early years of child
raising, but over time it can become a real problem. As Marty, an executive for a shipping
company, says, "The best thing my second wife and I do together is hang out, just be
friends sharing the same space. My first marriage was all about seeing things, doing things,
as if just being together wasn't enough. Well, maybe it wasn't with her, but it is one of the
greatest joys I have with Ellen."

"Do you see what I'm saying?"

I am very satisfied with how we talk to each other

Unhappy couples: 15%; Happy couples: 90%

We are creative in how we handle our differences

Unhappy couples: 15%; Happy couples: 78%

Marriage exists in a constantly changing world. Couples need to be able to talk about these
changes, how they feel about them and what they want to do in response. They need to
have a sense of teamwork, one arrived at by discussion and joint action. If one person
refuses to discuss things, one or both persons will feel the relationship is not intimate and
perhaps unfair. And if no one's talking, there is no way to fix a problem and keep it from
getting worse. Life is not static, it's messy, and it requires communication.

"Why are you so ambitious?"

Making financial decisions is not difficult

Unhappy couples: 32%; Happy couples: 80%

If one person is ambitious, and the other person wants a lifestyle that doesn't support that
ambition, there will be growing resentment. Lisa, a young woman who has a small home-
based mail-order business, became increasingly unhappy with her husband, Rob. Both
wanted a higher standard of living, but he had also promised that he would be "a good
father to our children." Instead, he was around less and less as he became more and more
entangled in his work. He wanted to spend more time making money; she wanted him to be
home more often. Neither she nor Rob had given serious thought to how incompatible their
personalities might be. As life went on, she felt more deprived, and he felt more resentful.
Ultimately, they separated.

"Since we're alone...."

Our sexual relationship is satisfying and fulfilling

Unhappy couples: 29%; Happy couples: 85%

Sexual incompatibilities can be fixed, right? And sexual disappointment isn't the worst
problem when so much else is good about the relationship, right? Wrong and double wrong.
First, while it is true that sex therapy can help many problems (especially mechanical ones
such as erectile failure or pain during intercourse), it has a woeful track record when it
comes to creating or resurrecting sexual desire. Second, while therapists can improve a
lover's skill, either you have compatibility in bed or you don't. You can put someone on
skates and they can learn to make it around the rink, but triple lutzes? No. Sex isn't
important if it isn't important to both of you. But, if one partner is interested and the other
is not, the interested party will rarely be content to just forget about it.

"If it makes you happy...."

We are both equally willing to make adjustments in the relationship

Unhappy couples: 46%; Happy couples: 87%

I can share feelings and ideas with my partner during disagreements

Unhappy couples: 22%; Happy couples: 85%

Although it may be mistaken for strength, rigidity is not a good personal or marital quality.
If someone doesn't like to admit they are wrong or show some flexibility in how they view
problems, the partnership will be either fragile or full of anger and loneliness. Rachel, a
woman who describes herself as a "giver," believed she could change her husband's
inflexibility. "I thought I could bring him out, make him less rigid by doing so much for him,
by always being ready to see his point of view. But he just took and took. When I backed
down, he would see it as weakness, not flexibility. Finally, I just couldn't take being so
unloved, so I left." There is no marriage in which the ability to apologize and be flexible isn't
necessary.

"You Just Don't Get It"

My partner understands my opinions and ideas

Unhappy couples: 19%; Happy couples: 87%

In the beginning of a relationship, conversation is mostly self-revelation, which is interesting


at first. But over time there are many circumstances that allow you to see the quality of a
person's mind. It's OK to be awed by your partner's intelligence, but beware if you think she
is less than overwhelmed by the way you solve problems, come to conclusions and think
about life. The bedrock of mutual respect is comfort and admiration for each other's
opinions. If that isn't present, contempt is just around the corner.

Publication: Psychology Today


Publication Date: May/Jun 2003

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