HOW GOOD MATCHES WENT WRONG AND HOW TO DO BETTER NEXT TIME

We reach the last, but not the least, stage in our journey. We have looked at ways that you or your partner may have been unready for a major relationship, even though you were a good match. But what if you were ready in those respects? How did it go wrong?

We’re now getting down to avoidable mistakes, the kind that make you lie in bed at four in the morning thinking, “I blew it with that person; I could have done better. Because the time was right; all the pieces were in place.” This is where we look at things that were in your power to change. And the reason they are so worth looking at is exactly that. You can change them next time. A little more alertness, effort, courage, or simple caring can save the day. So each of the following reasons why things go wrong will transform into a positive recommendation.

Sometimes happiness itself is the hurdle you can’t get over. If you’ve been in the heart’s wilderness and then good news comes along, it could just throw you for a loop. You find yourself for the first time in your life joined to someone you could really get along with, and that can make a person uneasy. You aren’t used to it. Maybe it won’t last. Maybe it feels implausible, or even corny.


Maybe it makes you nervous because it would be so great if it turned out to be real. The stakes are so high; there is so much to lose. A sort of performance anxiety sets in, like that of an Olympic gymnast who has done this maneuver a hundred times before, but now is shaky because this one is for the medal.
Fear sets in. So you do something to muck the situation up. That way the tension is broken and the fear of falling relieved (you can’t fall if you’re already on the ground). Some demon within makes you behave badly, so you can return to the ordinary, a more comfortable place to be.
Fear is a slippery emotion, because it conceals itself from us just at the moment that it grips us. It likes to work incognito, to be the invisible puppeteer. It packs a sort of double-whammy: it makes us hide, not
only from the external thing that scares us, but also from the fact that we are afraid. The trick, therefore, is to detect when you are scared, call the knave by his name and not allow him to transfer his force in some
other direction, like spite or malice, mischief or flight.

So if, in your next relationship, you find yourself about to tip the boat, stop and figure out why. If the answer is fear, fight it directly, don’t fight the relationship.

setting the bar too high
In answer to skepticism about lasting love, we sometimes hear people say, “My grandparents are still madly in love after fifty years of marriage.” For some reason, this kind of thing is less often reported about one’s parents. Maybe the lesson here is that grandparents have had enough time to set their expectations realistically. They are wise enough to be pleased by a lot of things: still being alive, still having the ability to
go for a walk and read a book. And still having each other. The rest of us should be so smart.

transferring discontent 
There are bound to be a lot of times when you are dissatisfied with life. The weather is drizzly; your favorite politician is being slandered; home prices are falling; gas prices are too high; the corn flakes taste bland; and your hair looks thin in the mirror. A deep human instinct tells us that the best relief from the defects in our own existence is to find flaws in another person. And the  opportunity is enhanced if that someone is close, is known in lavish detail, and relies on our support. Most people have some sensitive areas, and no one detects them better than a spouse. So we slip into the habit of critiquing each other. It can be dangerous. About avoiding a partner whose tastes you just don’t appeal to. It’s like installing a derogatory critic in your life. Definitely a bad idea. But no one is perfect. Even when two people basically dig each other, there are going to be areas that one could find fault with if one wanted to try. Most people are their own worst critics; they don’t need any help. So a good rule of thumb is not to lend a hand.

don’t pick on things a person can’t change
Most good people are conscious of their flaws, both physical and mental, and are hoping to be deemed acceptable in spite of them. They may even dream that their mate doesn’t notice these blemishes, or thinks they are unimportant. The thing is, if you say something, you can’t take it back. If you tell your lover that you find his tenor voice annoying, or that his lack of articulateness irks you, then he is stuck with these news items. And the announcement may well cause them to get worse.

how about things a person can change?
This target isn’t much better. That’s because most of us are already working on the areas where we know we could improve; or if we aren’t, we want to be.

For most of us, it is much harder to climb that mountain if our spouse makes it their idea, or makes their love contingent on our doing it.

The take-away
If you feel discontented sometimes, don’t inflict it on your partner; try to deal with your own issues directly, and maybe even ask them for their help. That way, you protect a precious thing. During the first enchantment
of being in love, we tend to idealize our partners above all others and see them as perfect. That’s nice for them, being adored at that stage when we don’t know them so well, but what is even better is being loved later on, when we know them through and through— faults and all. The pledge of that first infatuation is redeemed when your partner finds that they are loved in that more informed way. And a little restraint can help convey the good news.

reining in conflict
When two people basically like and love each other, the last thing they would want, or even believe possible, is that they could become enemies. That’s why it’s very important to keep the reins on hostility. Once loosed in the room, hostility can sometimes feed on itself. It’s as if it comes with its own escalation pill. It goes ahead and takes over the script, writes lines that are meaner and more injurious than the two people really mean. But then they have to back up those lines. So it’s better not to let it start. Conflict is bound to arise in a relationship. Life is too complicated for everybody to get every decision right the first time. Somebody
will get it wrong, and the other person may see that, and there it is: disagreement. Or there is no right answer, just two different preferences, and both can’t be accommodated.

But disagreements can be resolved without getting hostile. We can have an open discussion or even a spirited debate, and we can listen to each other and find common ground. Here are three good ways to resist the lure of hostility:
• Don’t get mad at the other person for disagreeing with you. As if they have no right. They do have a right!
• Don’t let cowardice lead the way, by being afraid you’ll lose if you submit to a calm discussion, and getting angry in advance over that imagined outcome. Better to be brave and say your piece.
• If you secretly think you’re wrong, don’t blame your partner for that. Admit it.
If a couple follows these (hard-earned) suggestions, they’ll never get to the next stages of the process, which (if memory serves) may witness such ploys as fighting dirty, taking unfair advantage, and using volume or manipulation to try to find a shortcut to victory. Or doing what political ads do nowadays—attacking the person instead of the position they’re taking.

The rule of karma applies here, and it applies to the couple.
Every time two people let themselves slip into hostility and viciousness, it becomes easier for them to make that transition (equals harder not to) the next time they encounter conflict. The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde contains the same lesson: every time the good Jekyll took the potion that made him turn into the bad
Hyde, it made the leap easier in the future. Until by the end, Jekyll was changing into Hyde without taking the potion, and he couldn’t get back to his good self because there was no more of the chemical available. So a couple can watch their good self recede into history, no longer reachable because they have betrayed it too often.

Such a tragedy can be avoided with a little courage, a little compassion, and a steely desire to maintain civility. That can get a couple through rough times without damage to the warmth that they’ll need when times get better.

frivolous straying
Very often, the way that two well-matched people end up apart is that one of them falls in love with somebody else, and by the time that peters out, it’s too late to go back.

You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry. But a good rule of thumb here is try, try very hard, to imagine being without your water while the well is still flowing. Picture life without your partner, before you slip out the back door. Think what it would be like not to have access to them anymore. Excitement is alluring. It can make mere contentment seem like a trifle. But as we have seen, the thrill of falling in love is often fueled by the very unsuitability of the object. Long shots are fun to bet on, but they have this nasty habit of not coming in. So those blah times that couples go through are dangerous. They make you restless, make you think you have to do something rash. Better to do something for the couple you’re already in: ask your partner out on a real date; do something racy and different with them; invite some people over that bring out the best in the two of you; apply yourself to some task that your partner cares about.

the big chance
A kind of pall can fall over a couple if they pass up a big life opportunity out of caution, or even worse, out of lack of faith in the couple. It can be very hard to live with someone who put on the brakes at the one moment when all the resources were there and the signs were right. The moment may never come again, but the chance to think about it will remain.

So when a big chance comes along, don’t give it a no vote on some automatic, superficial ground. Take a real look at it and make sure you’re finding out what your partner really feels: how much of their heart is invested in it. And hopefully they will do the same for you. Even when a courageous move doesn’t work out, there’s the bond forged by the fact that the two of you were willing to try.
Sometimes you just have to say, “Let’s go for it.”

attention deficit and contact surplus
If you miss enough episodes of a series with an on going plot, you may not be able to engage with it  anymore. That’s true of relationships too. Partners can drift apart because they forget to tune in on each other’s inner story. In our world, time is such a threatened commodity that a couple may have only cursory conversation on a typical weekday. A quick check-in and a short exchange of facts. That isn’t enough to keep the fire burning. If, after some years together, your spouse no longer took the time to draw out your thoughts, you may have developed a gagged sensation, as if your microphone had been shut off and your voice wasn’t
wanted. Those empty moments, when you had something heartfelt to say and your partner skidded right past it—did they eventually make you want to leave the venue?

We need to find out what our mate wants to talk about today— not what we want to hear about. And when your partner tries to talk to you about something that wasn’t on your radar screen, make time for it. Don’t present yourself as available for conversation if you aren’t. Don’t ask a cursory question and then tune out. Don’t always be doing something else while your main squeeze is talking. And don’t let any of this be done to you by someone you love. Not enough attention is one thing; too much contact is another.
For most of us there is a cycle of needing company and needing solitude.
It is fatiguing to constantly be monitored by another human being, even one you love. So don’t forget that on occasion, the best gift you can give your partner is to be unaware of him. Go out, get scarce.
We are very forgiving of our friends. We show our fine ability to get along with others by not expecting any one friend to be all things to us. That’s a nice favor to extend to one’s spouse, too.

Finally, don’t resent your poor partner for knowing you. That’s what keeps you from being alone.
television: the nemesis across the room In the evening, two people sat down on a couch feeling friendly and
close. Three hours later they got up to go to bed, feeling completely alienated from each other.
What happened? They watched a television. Most of us agree that TV is harmful to children, and their hours
should be limited and controlled. But we pretend that at some magic age that stops being true. I disagree: I think it’s bad for adults too. And I especially think that it can be bad for couples who watch together.
I’m not talking about when you and your mate rent a great movie or watch a program you both like. The more selective you are, and the more control you have over commercials, the closer to benign TV is. And today’s DVR’s, TIVO, and on-demand can do a lot to put you in charge.

No, I’m talking about when you and your mate expose yourselves to the raw world of television, and especially when one of you has the remote in hand and you share the bizarre experience we call channel-surfing. (Which is never really shared. The one holding the remote control cannot possibly make the same
moment-to-moment choices that the other would make—so the mutuality is an illusion.)
I have to admit I have a personal vendetta here that I need to get off my chest. But I think I’m really onto something that affects couples, a toxin that can slip too easily into our shared lives. So if you bear with me about the nefarious things that TV does to us, I think it will have a payoff about relationships.

a rant only a tv-addict could have written
A television is a weird animal. Because we are so used to it, we have forgotten what an intruder it is in the room. Because it is visual and auditory and moving, TV triggers social reflexes in us in a way that,
for example, reading doesn’t. As far as your nervous system is concerned, the people on the screen are in the room with you, and so are the people laughing on the phony laugh track. I’ve actually been embarrassed by my partner walking in the room and catching me grinning at Jay Leno and his guest as if I was on the set with them! The problem is, it’s unilateral. You acknowledge the performers, but they rudely ignore you. And when they do things that should be private—as increasingly happens these days—TV doesn’t worry about
sparing your feelings, any more than a too-thin motel wall would.

It’s as if a bunch of people you don’t know were to camp in your living room and carry on, not in any way concerned that you are sitting there. TV bombards you with other people’s worlds—their victories, their supposed glamour, their moment-to-moment choices. By doing so it invalidates you. Since you aren’t on the screen, you don’t exist.

But wait, that’s not all! You also get the following invasions of your dignity:
• TV tells you that how you look, and whether you manage not to look old, is the most important thing about you: and it dictates what the “correct” way to look is. In every area—body, face, teeth, eyes, wardrobe, weight, shape—it’s on your case.
• TV tries all the time to make you feel inadequate. It says: “You aren’t young enough; you aren’t famous enough; not rich enough; not good enough at what you do. You aren’t the best because if you were, you’d be on the screen with us. You aren’t having enough fun. Look at us cavorting, grinning, laughing people, and you just sitting on a couch.”
• TV tries to scare you. It says, “We have just discovered a new disease that you probably have; notice how familiar the symptoms sound; you’re going to die if you don’t buy this new drug.”
• TV isolates each spectator from the others, because each of us is sensitive to different things. It makes you feel alone, afraid of being found out as too hurt or too turned on. So it has an inherent separating force. When a man and a woman watch together, the woman may feel upstaged by the female flesh running rampant on the screen, and the man may feel caught somewhere between voyeurism and cheating. Half the time we watch things we half-hate; but when someone else is there, they may not catch this nuance.
• TV is ADD gone wild. Not only do endless ads interrupt programs, but programs interrupt themselves with little animated figures advertising other programs. No wonder so many of us have ADD, especially those raised by television sets. Our hard drives get regularly defragmented, but it’s our brains that really need it.
• TV is soaked in the logic of the ego. It used to be that people who were famous only for being famous were laughed at, but now they’re honored as much as those who earned their fame by actually doing something. Pundits always rave about whether some politician’s statement is a winner, not whether it’s true.
People who cheat and lie are admired if they get what they want. Television is like a goad to the toad inside you. If you watch enough of it, your heart starts to atrophy.
Commercials are the worst. They take the highest artistic skills and prostitute them. Much of the time, they deceive. They have to, because their product doesn’t really do what they say it does, whether that product is a drug or a soft drink or a politician. During commercials, you and your true love are sitting silently,
being forced to watch a stream of lies. It’s almost like a form of humiliation.

No wonder you may rise up after a few hours of this, feeling cut off from your own self and estranged from your partner. Couples should protect themselves against this influence. In fact, free-range television—by which I mean channel-surfing—is so personal a form
of intercourse with such a sticky entity, that it may be better practiced alone. When you surf with someone else, the cognitive dissonance between you builds up and becomes more awful with every choice that the other person wouldn’t have made, and every flickering image that you aren’t seeing the same way.
Okay. Rant over. Thank you for listening.

As I suggested earlier, there are ways to avoid the worst of TV’s impositions. There are wonderful things to watch, and most of them are available in a commercial-free form, at a time chosen by you, not them. When you’re building a relationship as a couple, make a habit from the start of doing other things besides TV. Be conscious about what television offerings you choose to share, and later on, make sure that the tube doesn’t creep into a position it doesn’t deserve.

the opposite of sex
Between two people who love each other, good sex not only provides hours of enjoyment in itself, but it does a whole lot to keep other things spinning along.
• It helps keep the romance alive. It’s more than natural to hold hands across a table in a nice restaurant if you had orgasms together the night before.
• It gives you a break from the ceaseless grind of logistics that is modern life, makes time stop.
• It encourages emotional openness, closeness and forgiveness.
• It alleviates the natural irritation of living in close quarters with another human being.
• It avoids the problem of not having sex.
• It’s good for your self-esteem, and your sense of your own attractiveness.
• It’s good for your health.
• It cures at least one kind of frustration, thus making others easier to bear.
• It makes you feel so young.
And the list goes on.
So if good sex turned into no sex in your last relationship, you may not be wrong in counting that as a real factor in sinking the alliance. Which raises the question, how do two people who once had enjoyable sex end up not having any? Well, it could be that:
1. they weren’t really sexually compatible, and after some time together, that fact emerged;
2. they were sexually compatible, but they never took the trouble to learn each other properly;
3. they had it goin’ on big time, but they let it slip away;
4. the relationship went so sour that it killed the sex;
5. the years took it away.

Factors 1 and 4 may not be that easy to deal with other than by finding a better-matched partner, but the rest deserve some discussion. In fact they go together.
As people get older (especially men), it may take a little more to start them up; at least Mick Jagger said that in a song. And as two people who are running a household become overly familiar with each other, wearing every possible hat other than “Sensual Being,” that spark of mystery can easily fade. People get into habits that are less than sexy. Everything is about getting through a To Do list, including the last thing on that list, falling into bed exhausted. That’s why it can be an advantage if, in the days when sex is the path of least resistance, you and your partner take the time to explore each other’s fantasies and find each other’s happy buttons. This sort of expertise can come in very handy later on, when sex becomes a little less inevitable.
Ironically, when people are courting and they have the excitement of newness (and often youth) on their side, they seem to make much more effort to present themselves as glamorous and seductive, than they do later on when this kind of help may be more sorely needed.

Long ago in the twentieth century, I remember a strange custom that I witnessed in the older generation. A man came home from work, dressed in a fine suit and tie (back then a lot of men had a relationship with someone called a tailor). Did he immediately cast off his duds and reappear in an undershirt and shorts? No,
he stayed to pour a drink for his wife, who may have worn sloppy clothes during the day (more likely not) but who thought it a good idea to dress up for dinner. That’s because the early evening, every day, was a date, and the kids were supposed to stay out of the way because there was adult bonding going on, and it was sexy and romantic— it was foreplay.

Now I would not want a return to those thrilling days when men were men and women had few choices for personal fulfillment. But there may be a lesson there for us moderns. Maybe we could remember to stimulate each other visually; maybe we could on occasion dress as nicely for our lover as we do for the coporations who exploit us. Maybe more evenings could be like dates.
Another good idea is to be aware of timing. If you know a time when you both tend to be most sexual, maybe that crucial window of opportunity should be honored as a good thing. And if you know an easy way to use wardrobe to get your partner hankering after you, why not go there unexpectedly? Men are so simple that it’s a pity not to take advantage of them.
And finally, let us remember what a mystic once said. Even when sex is too high a mountain to climb, there’s a meadow that’s pretty easy to get to, where a lot of the same flowers grow: it’s called cuddling.

how to get what you want 
There are two possible approaches when your needs are not being met by your partner. The first one, which is very popular, is to sit and fume and get righteously indignant because after all, your partner should know what you want and should give it to you. The second method requires a little humility and a tad of courage,
but it has a major advantage: it works. Ask your partner for what you want.

keeping the faith
Life is like a canoe trip.
The morning may consist of taking down the tent in the rain; the afternoon may be a grueling slog against the wind, digging your paddle in until your arm is aching, in a fight against a lake that seems to go on forever. But then you get to the next campsite and you’re sitting on a rocky point eating hot wieners and beans, and suddenly the whole past day looks brilliant, and you remember the way the sun glinted off the waves in the afternoon.

Life involves a lot of soldiering on, having faith that things will get festive again. And being with a great partner doesn’t change that. The relationship itself will have routine stretches: there will be times when you can see no glamour and no glow to the other person, even though nothing very bad has happened. And then of course, something bad will happen.

But then . . . something good will. When it does, relish that moment together, celebrate it and allow it to radiate its charm back over the trek that got you there.

making loyalty stick
When you’ve done really well, see it through.
A woman’s partner was floored by a life-threatening illness and she was utterly stricken by the thought of anything happening to him; so she waded into the situation and took care of him in every way, making sure the insurance was handled right and the hospital care was the best, staying at his bedside for long hours, fending off careless medical personnel, saving him from the wrong foods, protecting his job . . . and then he began to recover and finally, months later, he started to feel good again.
The moment of victory. Her partner thanked her and hugged her, but he felt so well, was so insouciant, that it seemed he didn’t fully realize what danger he had been in, or what lengths she had gone to, to protect him. At this point a strange, tiny voice passed like a shadow through her mind, saying, “How can he be so carefree? Is he taking this for granted? How shall I punish the scoundrel?”
But then she caught herself and thought, this is where I wanted him to be. Not even knowing how close he came to the abyss. I got him here and I am going to keep him here.
Loyalty is so good if you make it last for the duration.

There is no greater blessing than having a partner who looks back at their past and is glad that you were in it, and conscious that you pulled them through some hard times (they may even know how hard). I don’t mean that it’s fun to bask in someone else’s gratitude (although that’s true). I mean that it’s good to know that someone else has a positive view of the human heart, thinks it’s something that can be counted on, because they can look back and know that when it really mattered, you came through.


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