Five Ways to Transform Your Partner Into Your Perfect Mate

Five Ways to Transform Your Partner Into Your Perfect Mate


Therapist Terrence Real’s five winning strategies that will rescue even the most unsalvageable relationships.

By: Hara Estroff Marano

There’s at least one way men and women are
completely alike: Both believe that a good relationship must be
spontaneous. If you have to work at it, that’s proof something is
wrong.

For men, the ingrained belief is
some variation of: "I fight dragons all day, when I come home I get to
relax." For women it’s commonly: "If I have to tell you [it’s my
birthday, it’s our anniversary] it doesn’t count; the perfect lover
would read my mind and fulfill my every need."

After
helping countless couples rescue relationships that appear to be
unsalvageable, family therapist Terrence Real has a different view:
"You’ve got to duke it out with your partner and help them rise to the
occasion." For him, that is the most important of the new rules of
relationships.

We need new rules because
we desperately want a new kind of relationship. Our parents may have
been content with a companionable marriage, but we want a mate who’s a
lifelong lover as well as a companion. Unfortunately, neither men nor
women have sophisticated enough skills to deliver on the twenty-first
century relationship.

If we stick to doing
what comes naturally, two out of four couples will divorce and one of
the remaining two will stay married but miserable.

"We
all fall in love with people who will heal us or at least with whom we
think our nastiness will be avoided," says Real. "And we all wind up
with someone exquisitely designed to stick the burning spear right into
our eyeballs." That’s because we all marry our unfinished business. "We
all marry our mothers and fathers. We all become our mothers and
fathers, in part because that’s the template of relationship we’ve
internalized but also because we want to heal it. We pick people who
will throw us into the old drama but whose qualities allow for a
different outcome."

The trouble, says Real,
who heads the Relational Life Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is
that we think we’ll be healed when we wrest from our partners what we
deserved but didn’t get from our parents. "The irony is that our very
attempts to get this out of our partners, and our reactions when we
don’t, fuel our misery."

When their new
expectations aren’t met, today’s couples don’t just sit quietly with
their disappointment, they often resort to hurting each other, hurling
themselves down a path of losing strategies:

  • Being right
  • Controlling their partner
  • Unbridled self-expression
  • Retaliation
  • Withdrawing

Relationships
can heal us, says Real. Not by having our partners give us what we
never got but by using the relationship as a crucible in which we grow
and handle our inner brat on our own.

Hot
couples, says Real, need cool skills. First they need to know how to
handle themselves when their buttons get pushed. "There are lots of
circuit-breakers for when you lose it," says Real. You can breathe
deeply and take time out. "But you need to understand that ‘losing it’
is a choice."

In his book, The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Make Love Work, Real identifies five winning strategies.

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