“Hi Orna and Matthew,
I hope you can help me. I thought it was real love when I met my BF, but now I don’t know. We’re not getting along, and I’m sad and tired… I don’t know what to do.
Our souls connected immediately, and I fell in love with him. Everything about our relationship was easy and comfortable at the beginning. Now, I’m rethinking everything because we keep arguing about the same things and it seems we don’t understand each other at all. It seems he doesn’t hear me or understand me no matter what I say.
We have a fight and then a couple of days later things are good between us again and I get hopeful that we can find a way through this together. Unfortunately, we have a similar fight and things happen all over again.
Why isn’t it enough that we love each other? If it’s real love, why does it take so much work?
It seems like real love should be easy, especially when things go so smoothly at the beginning. You’ll end up having conflict no matter who you’re in relationship with. It’s okay to get mad and disagree because getting stuck in a fight cycle is a normal relationship progression. The problem appears to be that you’re missing the skills to find your way through conflict to create a deeper connection.
Even when it’s real love you can’t sustain consistent conflict or the repetition of the same issues over a long period of time, so the problem is that you’re not able to repair and reconnect after a fight.
The good news is that you (and your S.O.) can learn new skills that allow you to create a stronger bond through the conflicts that arise. When you accept disagreements and miscommunication as a natural part of any relationship, you can focus on developing the skills to strengthen your love.
Real Love Doesn’t Exempt You From Conflict
When you experience real love with someone, it’s partially because of what you share — similar sense of humor, taste in music and/or movies, life goals, and mutual attraction and chemistry.
But a major component of your attraction and chemistry comes from your differences.
The person you’re in a relationship with is a completely different person than you. They have different beliefs than you, different strategies for dealing with stress, different strategies to respond to the same stimuli, different mental/emotional patterns, and different life experiences.
These differences are the foundation of your disagreements. Navigating through your differences together is the most important skill for real love to thrive and prevail. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean that your differences won’t cause friction between you, it’s normal and a part of every relationship.
Real Love Doesn’t Just Happen By Accident
Real love doesn’t just happen when you find the mythical “right person.” It’s unrealistic to believe that the feelings of falling in love will last forever, and that you’ll easily navigate conflict together. This unrealistic expectation puts too much pressure on the relationship. It doesn’t mean that real love doesn’t exist between you.
Sharing a lifetime with someone requires you to navigate through issues together, allowing you to create a more satisfying and deeper connection over time. Real love stands the test of time because each person chooses the relationship over their ego needs and desires.
Don’t let your resistance to conflict color your perception of the relationship. Real love relationships require effort to last, but that work shouldn’t be the primary dynamic between you. If you’re constantly at odds with each other there is a more serious problem at hand.
Real Love Is A Choice, Not A Feeling
When you think of love as a feeling, you focus on how you feel about your partner, as if that is the only measurement for love. This is why so many people fall in love and then fall out of love — as if love is entirely out of your control.
However, if you think of love as a choice that you make about someone you care about, then you can choose loving thoughts and behaviors. Real love requires you to take loving actions, even on those days when you don’t feel like it.
Love is not just a feeling, it’s a decision you make every day of your life. Even when your partner doesn’t take out the trash, spends too much time playing video games, when they don’t pay attention to what you said, or get defensive about your feedback — you can still choose loving thoughts and actions.
Relationships follow a natural path from the initial bloom of young love to the more mature bond between a couple that has been through tough times together. Examining the first two stages of relationship will provide insight into why you’re stuck in a fight cycle.
The Romance Stage Should Be Easy
The first stage of relationship is the romance stage. During this stage you’re a wee bit delusional about your partner due to the chemicals released by the brain. You can foolishly think they’re just like you, that you’ll never have problems, and that this feeling of intoxication will last forever.
Expecting the romance stage to last forever is a fantasy. During this first stage of relationship, your brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. You’re literally high on love.
Don’t mistake this chemical high for real love! The purpose of the romance stage is to fill the tank of the relationship so you bond together and can make it through rough patches. The longer the romance stage, the more positive memories you have to draw upon when times get tough.
During this stage, it’s like your partner can do no wrong. This is when both of you have blind spots to the other’s faults. It’s all new and exciting and it’s truly a chemical high that simply can’t last. It’s not everlasting, but it is the promise of what can be if you continue to choose each other.
Every Intimate Relationship Will Have Power Struggles
Once the chemicals of the romance stage wear off it’s like you’re hungover. Suddenly your partner’s adorable behaviors become annoying. Instead of agreeing on everything and seeing them through rose-colored glasses, you now see them as they really are, and they are different than you. This second stage of relationship allows both of you to individuate from the other.
The power struggle stage is an emotional tug-of-war because you’re each fighting for your way of thinking and doing things. The differences that brought you together are now seen through a critical filter. You may find that you’re overly critical or annoyed by your partner’s behavior. It’s likely you’ll each get triggered causing big fights.
Both of you could find yourselves thinking (and even saying) “If you’d agree to do things my way we’d get along better.” Stressful events reveal your strategies for coping with life events. When your coping strategies conflict with your partner’s strategies then friction arises.
This is where most couples get frustrated and give up on the relationship. The false belief that real love protects you from having conflict is the actual problem. No couple skips the power struggle stage. Nature brings two different people together to safeguard the family unit. The fact that opposites attract is built into species survival.
The only way to overcome the power struggle stage and strengthen your bond is to learn a new approach to handling conflict.
6 Steps To Reclaiming Real Love
Take A Pause When Triggered
If you’re triggered, you’re likely to say or do something you’ll regret. You can’t reconnect and repair until you compose yourself. It’s not your partner’s responsibility to calm you down, it’s up to you to calm your own nervous system.
Take a pause as soon as you realize you’re triggered. Use this time to get your brain back online and feel serene (do not sit and stew about the events that upset you). When you’re triggered, your mind is in fight/flight mode, and you can’t think clearly.
Try this out next time you’re triggered: Tell your partner you need to pause and then find a space where you are alone. Sit or lie down and place your hand on your chest or on your navel. Breathe slowly in and out until you begin to feel your body and mind calming down. Once you are present, grounded, and tranquil, reach out to your partner and find out if they are ready to repair and reconnect.
Let Go Of The Rope
In a power struggle both of you are pulling on the rope in a figurative tug of war. It’s an ego battle between right and wrong. In reality, we live in the gray where things are not so black and white. Release the rope by choosing not to take your partner’s behavior personally.
Your partner’s behavior – their strategies, their triggers, their actions – aren’t about you. They were put in place long before they ever met you and would show up in any relationship. Instead, do your best to have an open mind and not jump to conclusions. When you’re curious about what’s going on with them you’re less focused on your own hurt and anger, plus you’re no longer pulling on the rope changing the dynamic between the two of you.
Letting go of the rope allows you to be curious about your partner, their strategies, and opens the door to compassion creating an opportunity to repair and reconnect.
Take Responsibility For Your Triggers
Just like your partner, you developed strategies, behaviors, and emotional reactions for dealing with stress long before the two of you ever met. They’re not responsible for your triggers.
The hard work of a relationship is taking 100% responsibility for your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. Without responsibility, there can never be any healing. Keep a boundary by not taking any responsibility for your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or actions — these are all on them.
Imagine you’re each on opposite sides of the highway with a cement barrier down the middle. Keep your side of the street clean and avoid trying to clean up their side of the street. You’re never responsible for your partner’s behavior, you are responsible for your own.
Real Love Requires Authentic Communication
Instead of focusing on what he said or did, begin by sharing your feelings. Use statements that begin with “I,” and avoid statements that begin with “you.” Feelings are not opinions about his actions. Identify how you feel using clear and straightforward language and complete the sentence, “I feel…”
Authenticity has a high vibration and communicating authentically is like an invitation asking your partner to meet you there. When you’re both willing to be authentic you can create emotional intimacy and connection. This creates the space for real love and a deep bond with one another.
Real Love Doesn’t Require Agreement
Conflicts often arise because you’re emotionally disconnected from your partner or yourself. You‘ll never be connected to your partner 24/7 365, no person can give you that. Getting triggered is part of the human experience. The goal is to restore intimacy and connection as soon as possible.
Emotional intimacy doesn’t require agreement. Going over the play-by-play of the argument is futile; you’ll never reconnect that way. There’s no need to decide who was right and who was wrong — usually there’s a misunderstanding, miscommunication, or a mistake.
Needing agreement is an ego desire, and it keeps you in the power struggle between right and wrong. When you’re emotionally connected it’s likely you’ll find the conflict itself is insignificant. When you’re in a committed relationship your partner has earned the benefit of the doubt, and so have you.
Don’t Keep Score
Once you’ve both taken responsibility, offered apologies, and reconnected let the conflict go. There’s no need to keep score. Harboring anger and resentment will deteriorate the love between you and push you apart.
Instead, clean things up as they arise. Imagine conflicts are like dirty dishes in a sink, you don’t want the dishes to pile up. Instead, clean as you go. Clean up the little misunderstandings and the minor annoyances before they become something bigger that can blow up like a volcano. Say what you need to say and then move on.
Real love doesn’t have to be hard work, but it does require that you become a master of uncomfortable conversations. It may feel like a risk to reach out to your partner to reconnect, but it’s a risk worth taking. Conflict can be a doorway to a deeper connection if you approach it with an open, curious, and loving heart.
If you’re looking for more tools to get past the power struggle and navigate through all five stages of relationship, download our free guide: The 5 Stages Of Relationship. You’ll get a map to create real love that lasts, and a partnership filled with co-creation and bliss.