Secrets of Strong, Lasting Relationships

Uploaded 3/7/2024, approx. 19 minute read

Makes for a strong relationship?

Durable, resilient in the face of challenges and exigencies, the ups and downs, the vicissitudes, the cycles of life.

How do good marriages, good relationships survive the storm, and sometimes the perfect storm of crisis, catastrophes and problems?

This is the topic of today's video.

Listen, guys and gals, I never claimed to have invented narcissism, that honor belongs to Havelock Ellis, not even to Freud.

Similarly, I wasn't the first to come up with complex trauma or complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Again, that honor goes to Judith Herman in 1992.

But I was the first to apply CPTSD in 1995 to abusive relationships.

And that happens to be the fact. Never mind how much you dislike it.

Similarly, shared fantasy was first described by Sander in 1989. It's not my invention. It's not my discovery.

And yet, I'm the first person, first scholar, to apply shared fantasy to narcissistic abuse and to abusive relationships.

In general, Sander's original paper in 1989 does not mention narcissism, let alone narcissistic abuse, a phrase which I coined around that period.

So that's just to set the record straight.

Even when you dislike someone, you have to remain loyal to the truth.

I'm delighted to say. And who am I?

My name is Sandvaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

I am a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CEOPS, Commonwealth Institute for Advanced Professional Studies, and from shared fantasy to relationships.

Some relationships are durable. They survive. They're long for the wrong reasons, reasons of a shared fantasy, sharing in a fantastic space, in a paracosm, a kind of cult.

Similarly, relationships that are constructed on dependency are unhealthy relationships.

Even when they survive for decades, relationships that are founded on the mutual exchange of pain and hurt sadomasochistic relationships.

So it is not true to say that all long-term relationships, relationships which display longevity, survival value and resilience, it's not true to say that all these relationships are therefore healthy.

Some long-term relationships are healthy. And they're the topic of today's video.

Is a good relationship a shared fantasy? No, it's not. Is it a form of codependency? Absolutely not.

Do the parties merge and fuse? That's pathological. Do they hurt each other on a regular basis? That's probably borderline. No, none of these is a healthy kind of relationship.

The indicators of a good marriage include many psychological elements and many functional operational elements.

And I'm going to try to cover all of them in this video.

First of all, it is true that partners in a healthy surviving resilient strong relationship, these kind of partners usually share what is known as ego ideal.

They share a vision as to the nature of the relationship.

The relationship is like a third entity. There are the two partners and then there's a relationship.

It's equivalent of a child. And so they share a vision about the relationship.

Now, mind you, they don't have to agree on everything. They don't have to agree even on values.

But they do have to agree on what is known as ego ideal or shared ego ideal.

They do have to agree about the nature, the future, the momentum, the energy of the relationship, the character of the relationship. They have to agree on this.

If they disagree, if there is a mismatch of expectations, the relationship is unlikely to survive.

Another strong indicator of a strong relationship is continued sexuality.

When sex ceases within a relationship, it's usually a major indicator of major problems in the relationship.

Some dysfunction is hidden or overt. Sexuality is like a thermometer or a barometer. It signifies the level of health or the level of dysfunction of the relationship.

Next thing is putting a greater premium, a larger emphasis on the newly formed diet or couple or family, then on previous relationships, including the family of origin.

In other words, the relationship must be the most important thing in the partner's lives.

Not career, not even their children, not their family of origins, not their friends, not their neighbors.

The relationship is the number one priority, the number one goal, the number one purpose and the number one source of meaning in the lives of the partners.

It is above everything else. The loyalty is to the relationship.

If this requirement is not met, if the relationship is just one of many other relationships, if career or some other things, considerations are more important than the relationship, the relationship is unlikely to survive.

Most of the literature on strength and resilience in relationships deals with marriage.

The literature originated in the 1990s when I was basically starting my work as well.

But marriage today is no longer a social institution. It's a lifestyle choice, one of many.

So we might as well speak about relationships rather than marriage.

Today, people customize their relationships. Relationships are tailor made and it's a good thing that people are able to negotiate the parameters and boundaries and expectations and drive that underlie the relationship.

This is a good thing, this negotiating process, this bargaining process.

The mother of the field of strong marriages or strong relationships is Judith Wallenstein.

Judith Wallenstein, I'm sorry. Judith Wallenstein.

E-I-N, I'm sorry. So Judith Wallenstein.

Judith Wallenstein wrote a book in 1995 titled The Good Marriage.

It is still an amazing piece of work. It is still very valid and applicable.

Even in today's turbulent, chaotic dating scene when relationships are fuzzy and unclear, when there's an intimacy cloud, people drag with them previous relationships into the current relationship.

Even in this very difficult environment, very difficult circumstances, her teachings still hold.

She was at the time in 1995 a renowned therapist and a family researcher.

As I said, she published a book, The Good Marriage.

At the time and even today there was a death, there was almost no literature on strong marriages or strong relationships.

No one asked the question, how and why does love lost?

Or is the strength of a relationship, the durability of a relationship, the expiry date of a relationship, do they all depend on love at all? Do they have anything?

Do these characteristics of strong relationships, do they have anything to do with love?

Or maybe something else. Common interests, for example.

Are long-term relationships which survive and thrive and endure, are these relationships actually transactional?

We have, of course, a vast body of literature about matchmaking in non-Western cultures, where marriages last forever and not because divorce is not an option.

Divorce is always an option. There's no country in the world today which does not allow for divorce.

It's not because divorce is not an option, it's because common interests lead to attachment and attachment leads to bonding and due time to love of the partner.

And these common interests are financial, children, the common children, relationships with families of origin, within the clan or within the tribe or within the society in which the dyad, the couple, is embedded.

So nothing is clear-cut. There's no magic bullet or formula. It all depends on so many things.

But regrettably, there's almost no literature. There are no studies which link critical features such as love, such as attachment, such as bonding, such as having children or not having children, such as celibacy versus active sexuality.

There are no studies linking these elements, these dimensions, to the longevity and the flourishing of long-term relationships.

And it's a sad thing, a sad testament to reluctance to delve deep into these treacherous waters.

Anyway, Wallerstein selected 50 couples for her study.

All these couples were considered to have had happy marriages.

They had at least one child and they'd been married at least nine years.

These, of course, are arbitrary cutoffs, but they're as good as any.

Throughout the book, Wallerstein uses interview data to illustrate all kinds of critical points.

And she tries to provide an insider's view into successful marriages through the mouths and the eyes and the gaze of the partners involved.

So she's like a fly on the wall. She observes these couples or these dyads and she lets them speak for themselves.

So it's a collection of interviews, actually. The interviews are analytically embedded.

So she analyzes the interviews using clinical data and clinical expertise.

It's a fascinating read.

So the book discusses four types of successful marriages.

So remember, marriage, relationship, the same. Four types of successful marriages in nine tasks, which couples must perform in order to establish a strong and happy relationship.

It's like a recipe. So the four types of marriages are these, the romantic marriage.

So this is a lasting, passionately sexual relationship.

The members of the couple often share a sense that they were destined to be together.

You know the famous twin flame soulmate, B.S. That's the derivative of this.

The bonding and the attachment and the binding is probably sexual.

Sex is a strong superglue, strong and easy.

So the sex is holding these couples together, exciting, sensual memories of the first meeting.

Courtship retains the glow over the years and becomes a kind of constituent, a continuing part of the bond between the members of the couple.

They revel and revisit their sexual encounters, their physical intimacy, their passion for each other, their unrequited and unquenched desire. It's good enough a foundation, it seems.

The second type of long-lasting, resilient marriage is the rescue marriage.

Now, just to be clear, every good couple, every good marriage, every good diet provides sacore.

Sacore, comfort, advice, the healing of past trauma and past unhappiness and so on.

It's a safe space, a kind of replica of the maternal secure base.

So in a way, every diet or every couple is essentially a rescue mission of some kind.

But in a rescue-type diet or a rescue-type couple, this is emphasized.

This is emphasized. The partners' early experiences are usually very traumatic and the partners try to make up for it, try to help each other out of the trauma.

The two members of the couple are the walking wounded.

They are injured, they're bleeding, if you wish.

They begin their lives together as a joint-attempted healing.

It's like a hospital setting, in a way.

And the healing or the curing that takes place during this marriage is the central theme of the marriage.

The two members of the couple focus on trauma, focus on pain, emphasize hurt, try to salve and assuage each other's pain and each other's agony and anguish, be there for each other, serve as a shoulder to cry out, a listening post and so on and so forth.

The emphasis is on rescue, save, fix and heal.

Of course, this can easily deteriorate into a pathology, where one of the partners of both of them are playing the "resture, healer, saviour, fixer" role, which is definitely a pathological role.

The next type of long-lasting marriage is the companionate marriage, marriage of companionship.

The most common type of companionate marriage is usually among young people.

Young people start off as companions.

Especially today, friends with benefits and so on and so forth often evolve into pseudo-romantic internet couples and dyads.

It's as if love is equated with habit, love is habituated, love is just something you do on a regular basis, the same way you brush your teeth and equally as exciting and dramatic and arousing.

The companionate marriage reflects or relationship reflects social changes over the past 60 years.

At the core, there is friendship, equality, partnership. The value system is that of essentially equity and equality.

And therefore, the companionate marriage is an extension of the feminist movement, actually.

The companionate marriage assumes that both parties should gravitate towards the middle, the female side, if it is a heterosexual, the female side should become more male, more masculine, and the male side should become more feminine.

And this was known as the gender revolution at the time, and it became the storged revolution because women became more masculine, men did not become more feminine, despite all aspersions to the contrary.

Anyhow, the companionate marriage is an attempt to balance the demands of the outside world, the workplace, your job, other friends, your family of origin, your church, your club, you name it.

So to balance these demands with the demands of home, hearth, and family.

So it's a very, it's a kind of transactional marriage.

And so we are, as you see, we are becoming increasingly more transactional with each type of marriage.

We start with a basic primitive long-lasting marriage, which is the romantic marriage, founded on sex and lust and passion and desire.

Then we transition to the rescue marriage, which begins to sound a bit transactional.

You help me out of my trauma, I'll help you out of your trauma.

Then we go into the companionate marriage, or the companionate relationship, friends with benefit, which is pretty transactional, and we end up with a traditional marriage or traditional relationship, which is actually totally transactional.

At the core of a traditional dyad, there's a clear division of roles and responsibilities.

You take care of the home and family, I take care of money, I will be the primary wage earner.

By the way, this is not, this does not align intersectionally with gender roles.

Today, about 45 percent, depending on the country, but about half of all primary breadwinners or wage earners are women.

So it doesn't have to do with your gender or your genitalia.

It's about the division of roles within the family.

And this kind of dyad or this kind of couple or family, they regard their lives as a book, a book with chapters.

The time before marriage, the marriage, having children, children are young, so raising children, child rearing, and then children get older, they leave the nest, so there's an empty nest, and so on and so forth, and then return to work, some new undertaking.

So this chapter, it's like a series of episodes in a miniseries, or, and this is the conception of the traditional marriage.

It's inexorable. It moves through its spaces in a way that is predictable and cannot be stopped, unstoppable.

Wallachstein suggested that there are nine tasks in a good marriage.

Number one, to separate emotionally from the family of one's childhood, the family of origin, so as to fully invest in the new relationship, in the marriage, while redefining the lines of connection with both families, the current one and the family of origin.

So this balancing act between where you came from and where you're going to, where you're going to is your couple with someone else, your new family.

Number two, to build togetherness by creating intimacy that supports it while carving each part of autonomy.

This is especially true at the very beginning, in midlife and in retirement.

So the task is not to merge, to not fuse, to not enmesh, to not engulf, to not consume each other, to not subsume oneself in a bigger two-headed organism. This is sick. This is codependency and worse.

The task is to maintain your personal autonomy, your agency, your self-efficacy, your independence, even as you create intimacy.

So it's like a Venn diagram. The two circles, they have something in the middle in common, that something in the middle in common is the relationship.

But each of the partners retain a life that is somewhat separate from their relationship, and they bring experiences from that life, from these lives, into their relationship.

They enrich their relationship with their independent autonomous experiences.

The next task is to embrace the role of parents, to absorb the impact of a newborn and then the terrible two's and then adolescent.

Being a parent is an onerous and a daunting role. It's not easy. It's possibly the most demanding and the most likely to fail, undertaking in one's life.

And how do you balance this with the demands and requirements of the couple?

Couple needs privacy, if only to have sex. Couple needs time alone. Couple needs needs.

The couple is another child, is an entity of its own. And so how do you balance the new entrance, the new dramatic entrance, the babies?

How do you balance this with the relationship? How do you not sacrifice the relationship? How do you not destroy the diet? How do you not overlook, neglect and abandon the togetherness when you have children?

That's task number three. Task number four, to confront and to master crises in life which are ineluctable, they're inevitable. There's no life without losses, without crisis, without pain.

So how to master these? How to glide through crises? Not unaffected because crises, pain, loss, these are engines of personal growth. They're important. They provide reality testing and more.

So you're not supposed to ignore crises or pretend they don't exist or deny them, so on.

No, but how do you manage them? How do you maintain the strength of the bond in the face of adversity?

This, task number four. Task number five is to create a safe haven for the expression of differences, anger, conflict, various communication protocols.

So when you're not happy with your spouse, maybe you take a break of half an hour. You don't explode, you don't erupt, you don't verbally abuse or physically abuse. You just say, "Excuse me, I'm in a bad place. I need to go to another room for half an hour." That's a protocol. That's a communication protocol.

Another communication protocol. You never emphasize the other party. You never say, "You are guilty. You made me do it." You are, or you talk about yourself. You say, "It made me feel bad. This hurt me." So it's another form of communication protocol where the emphasis is on yourself and your own experience of the crises or the debate or the argument or the fight.

Anyhow, communication protocols create a safe environment in which to express disagreement, criticism, and even anger and conflict.

Task number six is to establish a rich, pleasurable, and even experimental sexual relationship and to protect the sexual relationship from the incursions of the outside, of the workplace, of family, of your own children, of social demands and so on.

Your sex is sacred. You must separate a place and a time for it. You must nurture it and maintain it or it dies. It's a use it or lose it proposition.

Couples, which are sexless, anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of couples are, they have lost the glue that holds them together.

Never mind how much they lie to themselves that everything else is okay. It's just the sex. The sex is just everything.

If the sex is gone, there's a good reason to reconsider the diet of the couple. As simple as that. It's an indication of severe dysfunction at the very core of the relationship.

And Wallerstein agrees with this.

Task number seven is to use laughter and humor to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom by sharing fun, interests, and friends.

This is more crucial than you know.

Number eight is to provide nurturance and comfort to each other, satisfying each other's needs for dependency without creating co-dependency.

And offering continuing encouragement and support without becoming a lifeline.

Now there's again a delicate balancing act, but it definitely can be done.

You do not allow your partner to become utterly dependent on you. You encourage your partner to be autonomous and independent, to act on his or her own, to be agentic.

And finally number nine is to keep alive the love, the early romantic idealized images of falling in love. Not idealization in the bent pathological sense of the world. Not idealization that is removed from your love object that has little to do with your true love object, with the external object.

But idealization in the sense that you see the good sides in your partner, the lovable parts of your partner.

And in this sense you regard your love as ideal. You accept each other. You forgive each other. You realize and amplify each other's lovable good sides.

So this is falling in love time and again. Reality is harsh. It tries to intrude and impinge and infringe on your love.

Sober. Reality tries to sober you up. Time, through change and transformation, tries to destroy whatever it is that you have.

But don't let it. Because time passes, reality changes. Your partner is always there. And her essence is pretty fixed after age 21 or 25. She is who she is. He is who he is.

And if you fell in love with that person, if you truly regarded that person at any point as lovable, don't lose this. This is not the glue that holds your relationship together. This is your relationship.

Good luck in this very difficult world.

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