Five Secrets of Lasting Love

Here’s the bottom-line truth we discovered from our decades of work with couples in long-term relationships: People can endure long-term relationships in many ways, but they will only thrive if they do five things.

In other words, you can grow older with your partner in many ways, but you will only grow closer and more creative through the steady practice of five actions. We believe these five actions should be taught in every classroom in every school, every day.

They most definitely should not be secrets we have to seek or stumble onto by trial and error. Yet they are. Almost none of us begin our love relationships knowing how to do these simple things, and our relationships are disastrous as a consequence.

Let’s permanently remove the veil that has covered these secrets and begin a new era of intimacy in close relationships.

The First Secret

If you want a close, vibrant love relationship, you need to become a master of commitment.

We teach couples how to make real commitments to each other. There is an art to commitment, but almost nobody knows how to practice it. The first step of this art is to spot and acknowledge the unconscious commitments that cause us to sabotage the harmony of our close relationships. For example, suppose a politician were to be caught having an adulterous relationship.

Imagine how it would change that person’s life, as well as the lives of the constituents, if the politician identified and acknowledged his unconscious commitments by saying, “From the evidence, I’m slowly beginning to realize that I’m committed to philandering, sexual betrayal, and lying. I also appear to be committed to getting caught. I’m committed to finding out if people will still like me after they find out I’m a bad boy.” In practical reality, the act of claiming ownership of an unconscious commitment changes a troublesome dynamic in a relationship faster than anything else.

The second step of the art of commitment is to make commitments you can stand by. Real commitments can be made only about things you have control over. Real commitments are verifiable. If you make a phony commitment — such as, “I promise to love you forever” — you set up an impossible situation by promising an illusion.

Nobody can commit to loving someone forever because some days you won’t even wake up feeling loving toward yourself. Love is a mystery — part feeling, part spirit, part mind — and mysteries by their very nature are outside our control. A real commitment would be to commit to telling your partner the truth about when you’re feeling loving and when you’re not. This type of commitment saves relationships while turning on the flow of intimacy and creativity.

The Second Secret

If you want a long-term relationship that’s both close and creatively vital, you have to become emotionally transparent. To go all the way to ultimate closeness and full creative expression, you must eliminate all barriers to speaking and hearing the truth about everything.

We teach couples how to listen to the truth about everything from their partners, and we teach them how to speak the truth about everything to their partners. Everything means everything: feelings, deeds, hopes, dreams. We ask them to consider any hesitation about telling or hearing the unvarnished truth to be a symptom of resistance to greater love and creativity.

We know this move is radical because it produces huge bursts of creative energy in everyone who tries it. As a practice, it has awesome power. As a concept, it quickly polarizes people — we’ve seen talk show audiences erupt in cheers and boos when we’ve said couples need to tell the truth to each other about everything. After twenty-plus years, though, we’ve still found no exceptions to the truth rule.

The Third Secret

If you want a long-term relationship that’s both close and creatively vital, you must break the cycle of blame and criticism — it’s an addiction that saps creative energy as surely as drugs or drink.

We invite couples to turn their relationships into blame-free zones. We teach each partner to take full responsibility for everything that occurs in the relationship, especially if it looks like it’s the other person’s fault. Radical responsibility — and the powerful creative energy it unleashes — comes from catching yourself in the midst of saying, “Why did you do that to me again?” and shifting to, “What am I doing that keeps inviting that behavior?”

We ask couples to go on a strict no-blame diet and stick to it. As a practice, this move liberates tremendous energy. In fact, we’ve seen life-altering breakthroughs come about when couples simply went one full day without criticizing or blaming each other. As a concept, the idea of giving up blame and criticism is often greeted with derision. “Impossible,” some say. “How boring,” say others.

We have found that it’s actually possible and anything but boring. The couple who is deeply addicted to blame and criticism has usually come to mistake the adrenalized drama of conflict for the flow of connection. The idea of life without the adrenalin may seem dull and empty at first, much like a lifelong flagellant must feel that first day without the self-administered whip.

The Fourth Secret

If you want a vibrant long-term relationship — one in which you feel close as a couple and creative as individuals — you have to do something radical about your creativity. You have to take your attention away from fixing the other person and put it on expressing your own creativity. Even one hour a week of focusing on your own creativity will produce results. More than that will often produce miracles.

Nothing will sap your vital energy faster than squelching your creativity. Often, couples stifle their individual creativity in order to focus on fixing and changing the other person. Since this seldom produces tangible results, they devote more energy to the other person as a fixer-upper and less to individual creativity.

When results are not forthcoming, they complain about the other person to third parties. They enter a dangerous cycle of complaint that has addictive properties — the more you do it the more things there are to complain about. Ultimately this leads to dissipation of creative energy and inner despair.

By contrast, fully creative people don’t have time for complaint. Even if you’re not fully engaged in creativity (even, as our research indicates, if you’re doing only an hour a week of creative expression), you will see quantum enhancement of vitality within the relationship with every increase in creative self-expression.

The Fifth Secret

If you want to create vital, long-lasting love, you must become a master of verbal and nonverbal appreciation.

We teach couples how to appreciate each other spontaneously and frequently. Although this may sound like a simple thing, it most definitely is not. In fact, it’s the last thing we teach in the program because it’s the hardest to learn. To utter a clear, heartfelt appreciation to another person is radical partly because it’s so rare.

To receive such an appreciation from another person is equally challenging. Most of us have never seen or heard a rich flow of spoken appreciations in relationships. In fact, many people cannot recall a single instance of clear appreciation in their families of origin.

The simple solution is to speak a heartfelt ten-second appreciation to the other person, for no reasons other than to signify a commitment to appreciation and to open the flow of appreciation. In other words, the spoken appreciation is not to get a particular result from the other person. In reality, it produces powerful results very quickly, but it is important that the appreciation not be spoken as a manipulation or in expectation of a reward.

We teach couples how to say simple and complex appreciations, ranging from “I like the way you did your hair today” to “Throughout our lives together, I have been repeatedly amazed by how generous you are.” Although most couples can learn the art in an hour, they tell us that it takes the better part of a year’s daily practice to savor its full value.

These five secrets have a revolutionary effect on any relationship in which they’re practiced. The five secrets move people quickly through the stuck places so that they can enjoy the profound beauty of genuine love. We will have a great deal more to show you about these five secrets when we explore them in the chapters to come. First, though, let’s go a little deeper, into what we mean by genuine love.

Copyright © 2004 Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks

Reprinted from: Lasting Love: The 5 Secrets of Growing a Vital, Conscious Relationship, by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D. © 2004 by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.

Lasting Love: The 5 Secrets of Growing a Vital, Conscious RelationshipRelationship experts and best-selling authors Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks are a happily married couple of more than 20 years, from whom other relationship experts seek advice. Pioneers in the field of body-centered psychotherapy, together, Gay and Kathlyn have written four books, which have sold nearly half a million copies. They are the founders of the Hendricks Institute, a learning center that teaches core skills for conscious living by assisting people in opening up to more creativity, love, and vitality through the power of conscious relationship and whole-person learning. The Hendricks have two children and two granddaughters and live in Ojai, California.