Sometimes couples express concern about having no common interests in relationships with their partners. Last week, I visited two large arenas in Texas (AT&T Center and Toyota Center) where I paid ten times more for my stadium seats than I would have for equally uncomfortable seats in a movie theater. From a distance that exceeded the magnifying power of my glasses, I watched very tall men who donned expensive footwear as they played a game called basketball. I didn’t do this because I love the NBA. I did this because I love my boys. And, because I love them, I have made it a mission to get them to every NBA arena in the US (and one in Canada).
As it turns out, I have no common interests in relationships with my 16-year-old boys. (Well, I guess it’s true that my sense of humor is well matched for a 16-year-old boy at times). What they love to do is often not the same as what I love to do. I don’t watch NBA highlight films on youtube, (unless Cameron says, “Mom, watch this.”) and I never play fortnight, ever, though I did play a new game on Mitch’s phone until he gave up on me for being so inept. <Sigh> I do, however, care that these things bring my boy’s such joy, and I do delight in knowing what interests them.
Have you ever said to your partner (or just thought to yourself), “Is it just me, or do we have no common interests?” If so, I can’t imagine it was said or thought as a good thing. I know, it’s pretty amazing how quickly I can pick up on these nuances, right?
Fortunately, research offers us reassurance that it is not essential to have common interests in relationships. Instead, what matters most is having an interest in what one another enjoys. In some cases, it is possible to find ways to blend your interests, without actually sharing the same joys. For example, if your partner is obsessed with birdwatching, and you love hiking, photography, or travel, there are obvious ways to combine these passions without sourcing your joy from the same part of your shared activities. In other cases, this may not work and what floats your boat may not be compatible with what floats hers. That’s okay too.
If you tell yourself it’s a problem that you have no common interests, then it is very likely that it will be a problem. The problem, however, isn’t the lack of shared interests, it is the belief that it is a problem. It’s funny how that works. We are inclined to believe that if we think something, it must be true. Silly humans.
Another key ingredient in happy relationships is to have a shared meaning.
Shared meaning is a mutual understanding of the purpose and meaning of your relationship. There is no right meaning, there is only the meaning that is right for the two of you. Often, the shared meaning is found in the little things that define your “story of us.” It is the end of this sentence, “We are a couple who…” or, “Our love story is …” or, “We make a great pair because…”
A shared meaning develops from stories about who you are as a couple, how you view relationships and what is unique to your partnership. Shared meaning is what gives shape to who you are as a couple. When you have shared meaning, you are on the same page about what your relationship stands for, who you are as a couple, and how you go about the business of being an “us” in a world where there is no one way, and no right way, to be an “us.” There is only the way that works (or doesn’t work) for the two of you.
When it’s all said and done, we all want the same things from our relationship. We want to feel loved, important, secure, free to be ourselves, valued, worthy and like we are enough just the way we are, and we want to be treated kindly and with respect and appreciation. As for the boys and me, we only have 20 more arenas to visit before we reach our goal to see a game in all 29 NBA arenas.
Lesbian couples are different in many ways from their heterosexual and gay male couple peers. However, lesbian couples are not particularly different from one another. There are some very common issues among female pairings, and I will be offering Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for five of the most common issues.
Despite the endless stereotyping about what a lesbian is, women who love women are impressively diverse. If you find yourself doubting that, it’s because those who don’t meet the stereotype of a lesbian go unnoticed. When it comes to lesbian relationships, however, we are remarkably similar in the types of issues we experience.
Unlike heterosexual women, lesbians do not have easy access to information about what a typical lesbian relationship looks like. Rare is the lesbian who finds herself in the break room at work, sharing stories about her wife and their relationship. Additionally, the experiences that heterosexual women describe are often not relatable for lesbians. For example, how many heterosexual women do you hear expressing concern that her husband is best friends with the girlfriend he had before he married her? Or, how often have you heard a heterosexual woman express concern that her husband is constantly trying to read her mind and worries non-stop about whether or she’s feeling okay?
So, here’s today’s Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples. Rather than putting our focus on the common concerns, however, we will get right to the fixes for these common concerns. After all, we move in the direction we think — so let’s think solutions.
#1 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Allow Your Partner to Feel
It is okay if she is experiencing sadness, hurt, frustration or any other emotion that you find yourself wanting to fix or understand. As long as emotions are not used to communicate something (that’s good old fashioned passive-aggressiveness), let her feel what she feels without making it about you. The purpose of our emotions is to alert us to that which is joyful, dangerous, missing, violating, or any other situation that requires our attention. When you personalize how she is feeling, you interrupt an important and necessary process designed to help her clarify things for herself. Communicate with words and behaviors. Feelings are not a verb. We don’t anger. We express anger. Clarify what you are feeling. Then communicate with words or actions.
#2 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Facts are Your Friends, Stories Not so Much
I am sure you have a superpower. It’s just not mind reading. Trust me on this. When you are certain you know what she is thinking, feeling, wanting or not wanting, fact check. Believe her if she says you are misunderstanding her, or that what you are perceiving is wrong. They are her thoughts and feelings, so she really does have the final say about what is true for her. Even if she changes her mind later, believe her now. Focus on your feelings and thoughts, share those, and let her do the same when she’s ready.
#3 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Keep Your Friends, Not Your Exes
Independence is the first thing to go in lesbian relationships. If you want your new relationship to be your best, invest yourself fully and cut your emotional ties with your ex.
#4 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Forgive
If you are holding on to resentments that occurred more than one year ago, they have officially expired. Holding on to hurt as a way to protect yourself causes more hurt than good. If you are choosing this relationship, then you are choosing all of it, not just the parts that feel good. Deal with old hurts and resentments then let them go.
#5 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Flirt with her
My research tells us that lesbians want to be having more sex with their partner, but a lot of women do not want to initiate it. In the quest to commit, dating, flirting, romancing and all the good stuff gets rushed and sometimes neglected altogether. Time to go old school on your gal. Romance her. Flirt. Let her know you desire her. So get out your pretties, your boyfriend briefs, boxers or whatever does the trick for her and show some interest.
36 Questions To Fall in Love went viral, but does it work?
By now you have probably heard that there are 36 questions to fall in love with anyone. This idea was given a public platform January 9, 2015, in a New York Times articletitled, To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This, by Mandy Len Catron. This idea went viral. It’s not surprising in our culture of quick fixes and fast solutions, that a 36-Question guarantee to fall in love would spread like wildfire. Who wouldn’t want to have that sort of love potion, with ingredients accessible to every last one of us…by simply asking 36 questions to fall in love, or make someone fall in love with us.
If you missed the original article by Mandy Len Catron, here’s a brief backstory that will help put this in perspective. In the article, Catron explained that she would occasionally run into a “university acquaintance” while at the climbing gym. In one of her random encounters with the climbing-gym-aquaintance, the two struck up a conversation. To her readers, she confessed to having had a pre-existing curiosity about him, saying she wondered, “what if?” after having “a glimpse into his days on Instagram.”
Wittingly, Catron found a way to weave into her conversation with this fellow-climber, a story about a research study she had read by Dr. Arthur Aron. The study, she explained to him, “tried making people fall in love” by having research participants ask and answer 36 questions. This study was published in 1997, and it is the original home of the 36 Questions to Fall in Love. Next she explained to fellow-climber, “I’ve always wanted to try it.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I consider this some pretty advanced-level flirting. I’m impressed.
Predictably, fellow-climber-guy took the bait, and responded by suggesting that they try the questions together. They met at a local bar over drinks. With iPhone in hand, Mandy cued up the 36 questions, and they passed the phone back and forth, taking turns answering each one. By design, the questions progress from less revealing to more and more personal. Clearly, doing this experiment over drinks at a bar, with someone you have an existing curiosity about, is significantly different than the lab research by Dr. Aron. However, the spirit of the research is kept alive, as Catron observes, “We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative.” She alludes to how the questions forced her out of her safe zone where she could manage how she was being perceived, and took her into territories that required greater vulnerability. As the questions intensify, the road ahead becomes less familiar, and this 36 questions adventure invites more and more self-disclosure.
Taking much longer than the 45 minutes allotted for Dr. Aron’s research participants, Catron and her climber-guy decide to do a suggested activity involving 4 silent minutes of eye contact with one another at the conclusion of asking and answering all 36 questions. Preferring more privacy than the bar allowed, they decide to walk to a nearby bridge, stand on the highest point, and exchange four minutes of silent eye contact. As Catron brings her story to a close, she reveals that she and climber-guy started dating after that night, and as of last report, they are still dating.
While it’s a more fun to think Cupid’s arrow was built with these 36 Questions, a quick look at the facts tells us we are going to need more than 36 questions to fall in love (and though I have 1,000 more questions if you wish to ask them, I’m not talking about more questions. There are great lessons we can learn from Catron, though, about how we can effectively improve our own search for love, as well as our efforts to nourish the love we have. What strikes me as important pieces of Catron and fellow-climber-now-boyfriend’s love story are these things:
Curiosity. This is how all real connection begins – having an interest in someone.
Reciprocation. When curiosity is reciprocated, the potential for a spark exists. It doesn’t work if it’s only one-way.
Vulnerability. This is the risk-taking part, that opens us to hurt, yet also forms a foundation of trust and intimacy for a relationship to grow.
Take action. To build love we must do something. Love isn’t a thing we have, it’s a thing we do – so to find it, grow it, and maintain it, we must take action. Love is a practice that never ends, because love is the practice and the practice is the love.
If you want to be an epic sparkster (spark starter) like Catron, here’s a challenge that will give you the perfect opportunity to take a risk to get to know someone better (or to better your knowing of someone you love) – THE 36 QUESTIONS CHALLENGE.
Speaking of practicing love, this recent Style video from the New York Times Modern Love video series, is a perfect ending to this post. Enjoy this quick video that highlights three long-term couples who ask one another the 36 questions to fall in love. Their experiences are captured in this touching video. You will see the unfolding of exactly how curiosity and vulnerability combine to make the perfect intimacy cocktail, and their answers highlight the fact that love is a practice, a thing we do.
According to Dr. John Gottman, being polite in relationships is one of the first things to go.
Dating brings out the best in us. We put our best, shinnyest foot forward, putting in extra effort to make a good impression. We are eager to please. Not surprisingly, we tend to receive the same in return. We experience our partner to be kind, generous in spirit, and polite. Being polite in relationships comes naturally when we first start out, yet for most, politeness is the first thing to go.
Eventually we commit. We settle in. We get comfortable. Well, maybe it’s not so much “comfortable,” maybe it’s that we become inattentive, or distracted. It’s easy to turn our attention elsewhere (work, family, hobbies, friends, etc.) when we feel safe in our relationship. We begin to notice more about what we don’t like, than what we do like. We begin to express our frustrations and concerns, rather than focusing on all of the things we love and enjoy.
If this negative focus persists without intervention by one or both partners, eventually, we run the risk of the four most toxic relationship behaviors to seep into our relationship. Rather than being polite in our relationships, we begin to be defensive, critical, contemptuous and all of this can lead to stonewalling by one or both partners.
Is being polite in relationships important to you?
Have you said “thank you” to your partner lately? Just because she loves to mow the lawn, that doesn’t mean you can’t be grateful when she does. Always say thank you. Every time your partner exercises an act of love, be it big or small, it is important to acknowledge and express gratitude for that love. Every behavior, action or contribution either partner makes to the relationship deserves recognition and appreciation. Have you said “thank you” to your partner lately?
Being polite in relationships matters. If you want to get a good snapshot of how your relationship is going, consider taking the Gottman Relationship Check-Up Assessment, Both of you complete a thorough relationship inventory and received detailed feedback about your strengths and challenges.
Compliments are nice things to say to people, and by “people,” I am including your partner – especially if you want to keep relationship / marriage romance alive!
Are you more likely to thank a waiter for bringing you a glass of water, or your partner? If your answer is, I am more likely to thank them both, and I do so regularly, then you might already be off to a good start with strategy # 25. When you have nice things to say to people, otherwise known as compliments, you are developing a habit that will pay off in your marriage romance department (or pre-marriage for that matter). Just be sure you have nice things to say to your partner, too!
Do you ever tire of hearing, “You look great, baby,” or, “Good job, I’m so proud of you!” and, “What a great dinner – thanks for cooking,” and, “I couldn’t have picked a better partner in the entire world.” I know I don’t about you, but I don’t tire of hearing these sorts of things. Ironically, the more we say nice things to people, the more nice things we hear. Guess it’s true, what goes around, comes around.
Do you know the two most important ingredients to sustaining a long-lasting romance, according to researcher John Gottman?
Fondness and admiration.
When you say nice things to your partner, you are making one of the most powerful feel-good contributions you can make to your relationship on an every-day basis to create a strong foundation of fondness and admiration. When you find multiple ways to express your fondness for your partner, and you are able to communicate your admiration, you will benefit from her feeling desired. To keep the home fires burning, both partners need to continue feeling good about themselves. Random, authentic, compliments to one another is a great way to fan the flames of marriage romance. You are likely already thinking many things, the key is to start saying them OUT LOUD.
What are other nice things to say to your partner to improve your marriage romance?
Time with you is my favorite.
I always enjoy your company.
There is no one I would rather spend time with than you.
Thank you for being so good to me.
I love how you love me.
You make me laugh.
I have so much fun with you.
There’s no one I’d rather wake up to every morning than you.
I can’t help but smile when I see you.
I am a better person because of you.
You are so talented, I love how you…
I admire your ability to…
I am so proud to be your girl.
You can say nice things to people about their appearance, abilities, personality, behaviors, style, humor, values, what they do, how they move in the world, ways they make you feel, etc. The list of compliments is really endless. What nice things to say to people are you comfortable with? (Share in comments section if you want).
Also, when you make it a habit to have nice things to say to people, it becomes second nature. Clearly, you will not say to your friends, family and coworkers the same romantic sentiments you share with your partner, but the more you practice giving compliments to people, the easier it is to do with everyone.
Share at least one compliment a day with your partner. A compliment a day keeps the therapist away.
They are nothing but a shell, unless something is added.
Relationships don’t care what’s put inside, they will carry whatever they are given, good or bad.
You determine how full it will be.
You decide whether it is a glass half full or half empty.
When it comes to how we view our relationship, it is your thoughts that what give meaning to the experiences you have in life.
How you view any given situation will determine the feelings you have about it.
“A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELESS – STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.
The other writes back triumphantly, GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY – STOP. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.”
– Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander – The Art of Possibility
You are in complete control of how you interpret your life experiences.
You are not, however, always in charge of the circumstances that life presents you. What you have control over is the meaning you give them, and how your respond. You determine whether you are looking at a glass half full or a glass half empty.
Everything we experience is defined by the filters we use to interpret them. Because our brain is designed to look for signs of danger as a way of keeping us alive, we are inclined to look for potential harm (emotional or physical) in our life situations.
In relationships, it is common for our feelings to get hurt, believing that our partner did not consider us, was insensitive in her remarks, does not prioritize us, or finds criticism in everything we do. (Glass half empty). Much of these interpretations are rooted in fear, not reality. When we take the time to understand the whole story, the thoughts and fears our partner has that motivate her actions, we soon discover that she likely was acting in defense of her own hurt feelings, and her actions were not directed at harming us at all. (Glass half full).
OUTstanding couples develop the ability to give the very best meaning possible to the situations they encounter in their life and their relationship.
Outstanding couples stay curious and open. They work hard to notice facts and respond to what is, rather than make stories up about what might be going on, and reacting to the fears that come from the “what if’s.”
For example, when your partner is late coming home from work, you have the option to view that situation in many different ways. Through a lens of fear, you might think that she has been in an accident. Through the lens of insecurity, you might think she is being unfaithful. Through the lens of anger, you may think she’s being disrespectful. Through the lens of love, you may think that there are numerous reasons for her running late, none of which have to do with her love for you. Given the choice, which thought will lead to the most peaceful outcome? You get to decide: glass half full, glass half empty?
Creating the best meaning possible for the events in our life does not mean that you ignore facts and naively pretend that all is well when it is not.
Interpreting the best meaning possible requires honesty and openness.
If your partner is late from work every night and it is getting to be a pattern, then you have to work within the framework of the facts. These facts may suggest that your partner has poor discipline when it comes to managing time, or she is unaware of the impact her tardiness is having on you and your relationship. The point is not to create negative meanings in the absence of facts. If all of the data before you leads you to a conclusion that you don’t want to see, it is important to see it anyway!
Lastly, the best way to insure that your relationship glass is always half full, is to be sure that you are always contributing the very best of yourself, as fully as possible, so that there is always a half-full cup of goodness in your relationship.