“You Can’t Hurry Love” sang The Supremes in their 1966 hit, covered in 1982 by Phil Collins and in 1999 by the Dixie Chicks. Love that’s instant is often short-lived, more lust than length. To await the outcome of something not ready in a jiffy is the practice of relationship . . . love at its most tasty. While many of us search out the searing heat of newness, turns out successful love is cooked in a crock-pot.
That familiarity breeds attraction has been a theme celebrated for at least a century, from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion as inspiration for the Broadway hit musical My Fair Lady to Oscar-nominated Bridget Jones’ Diary. Guys might not worry about big girl panties, but it’s not just plus-size gals who love the possibility that love conquers looks.
Despite what mom said about a good personality and a great smile, it seems the pretty ones have a shapely leg up when it comes to finding a likewise gorgeous mate; in evolutionary terms it’s called “high mate value”. Notwithstanding friends with benefits, turns out mate value increases the longer people spend time together before dating. In other words, the more you get to know someone, the more attractive you find them.
Turns out mom was right.
It stands to reason that the perception of mate value might also increase once people are permanently paired, irrespective of the amount of time spent getting to know each other in a non-romantic way.
Several factors may be key:
Realistic expectations might mean having few, if any, expectations at all. Of course that means that long-term togetherness is best viewed as a box of chocolates; understanding that the twists, turns, and adventures of even one life are unpredictable that double goes for any couple. Shared values can feed into the predictability that increases the more that’s known about each other. An acquaintance’s behavior doesn’t carry the same weight as that of someone we’ve committed to, probably because the expectation of a friend’s behavior doesn’t matter as much even though the behaviors might be the same. For example, when a friend gets drunk it may be humorous; when a mate does, not so much.
No one has a plan for change, even though change is on the short list of life’s certainties. The story of the spouse who left when the other developed cancer is apocryphal but is only a segment of our fear that when we’ve grown older, rounder, or more wrinkled our mate value is lost. But the more you know someone, really know someone, the less likely change is upending. True as well is that knowing and planning require learning and practicing. Despite a feeling of instant connection, relationship is, well, work. Just when a couple feels the hard part’s behind them, then whammo change happens again; it’s not so much planning for particular changes (as if that were even possible) it’s having the ability to have a plan for change in general. As difficult as it might be to achieve, couples who can reach consensus about a plan of action are couples who are successful at riding out change together.
Communication is about more than talking and listening. Communication that works is an active process that builds on itself over time. Attentiveness, thought, understanding, and active involvement are marks of partners who continue to know each other. Think of friends you’ve had, male or female, to whom you felt comfortable talking about anything. Expectation, judgment, and vulnerability seem to increase with romantic closeness when the truth is that you may already have trusted a friend with lots of the same things. The effort each of us puts into “communicating” seem inversely proportional to time: listening and talking to new mates is more intense than listening and talking to new friends; while the same behaviors are more intense with older friendships than with long-standing mates.
Each partner’s vulnerability to the other is possibly the most telling feature of mates’ mutual value. Belief in the relationship incorporates the needs for trust and safety we all have. With vulnerability (and the acceptance of it) there are no surprises, no hidden agendas, and not much left unsaid. Respect is a key element of mutual vulnerability; knowing that your partner – or your friend — will not seek to harm you intentionally. Both have a serious effect on self-esteem and our beliefs about our place in the future of others.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples. Cooking with a crock-pot every chance they get, she and husband David have been married for 29 years. Together with their 2 hooligan cats, the Skinners live in Colorado where they teach Couple Communication Workshops.
Copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC