by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D.
Here's the bottom-line truth we discovered from our decades of work with couples in long-term relationships: People can endure long-term relationships in many ways, but they will only thrive if they do five things. In other words, you can grow older with your partner in many ways, but you will only grow closer and more creative through the steady practice of five actions.
We believe these five actions should be taught in every classroom in every school, every day. They most definitely should not be secrets we have to seek or stumble onto by trial and error. Yet they are. Almost none of us begin our love relationships knowing how to do these simple things, and our relationships are disastrous as a consequence.
Let's permanently remove the veil that has covered these secrets and begin a new era of intimacy in close relationships.
If you want a close, vibrant love relationship, you need to become a master of commitment.
We teach couples how to make real commitments to each other. There is an art to commitment, but almost nobody knows how to practice it. The first step of this art is to spot and acknowledge the unconscious commitments that cause us to sabotage the harmony of our close relationships. For example, suppose a politician were to be caught having an adulterous relationship. Imagine how it would change that person's life, as well as the lives of the constituents, if the politician identified and acknowledged his unconscious commitments by saying, "From the evidence, I'm slowly beginning to realize that I'm committed to philandering, sexual betrayal, and lying. I also appear to be committed to getting caught. I'm committed to finding out if people will still like me after they find out I'm a bad boy." In practical reality, the act of claiming ownership of an unconscious commitment changes a troublesome dynamic in a relationship faster than anything else.
The second step of the art of commitment is to make commitments you can stand by. Real commitments can be made only about things you have control over. Real commitments are verifiable. If you make a phony commitment -- such as, "I promise to love you forever" -- you set up an impossible situation by promising an illusion. Nobody can commit to loving someone forever because some days you won't even wake up feeling loving toward yourself. Love is a mystery -- part feeling, part spirit, part mind -- and mysteries by their very nature are outside our control. A real commitment would be to commit to telling your partner the truth about when you're feeling loving and when you're not. This type of commitment saves relationships while turning on the flow of intimacy and creativity.
The Lasting Love program offers a specific set of commitments we've thoroughly tested with many couples. When couples make these commitments, their relationships thrive.
If you want a long-term relationship that's both close and creatively vital, you have to become emotionally transparent. To go all the way to ultimate closeness and full creative expression, you must eliminate all barriers to speaking and hearing the truth about everything.
We teach couples how to listen to the truth about everything from their partners, and we teach them how to speak the truth about everything to their partners. Everything means everything: feelings, deeds, hopes, dreams. We ask them to consider any hesitation about telling or hearing the unvarnished truth to be a symptom of resistance to greater love and creativity.
We know this move is radical because it produces huge bursts of creative energy in everyone who tries it. As a practice, it has awesome power. As a concept, it quickly polarizes people -- we've seen talk show audiences erupt in cheers and boos when we've said couples need to tell the truth to each other about everything. After twenty-plus years, though, we've still found no exceptions to the truth rule.
If you want a long-term relationship that's both close and creatively vital, you must break the cycle of blame and criticism -- it's an addiction that saps creative energy as surely as drugs or drink.