If it was just the genes talking we’d have serial marriages lasting on average four or five years, and we’d cheat on each other every chance we got. ~Dr. Keith Witt
Apparently we’re kind of clueless about intimate attachment in general. According to Dr. Keith we aggrandize romantic love, we’re afraid of sexual lust and we have no idea about long-term attachment. We mix them all up, basically.
Ninety percent of the people and couples that come to Keith for help present with a problem in their marriage or primary partnership. That tells us a couple things. One, like many other mammals we’re drawn to pair bond. Most people who are allowed to get married, do. And two, it tells us that marriage is challenging and most of us need some help to learn how to do it well.
So why aren’t we taught how to do it? Probably because your marriage is not your parent’s marriage. It’s not even the marriage that you had yesterday.
As cultures change marriages must change with them, so a successful marriage fifty years ago is not the same as a successful marriage today. I’ve noticed that the marriages of my parents, my friends, and my friend’s children are all very different.
Keith says when you get married you’re not just signing up for one marriage, you’re signing up for many marriages. It’s going to change from romantic infatuation to intimate bonding, to living together, to having children. It’ll change through family, through aging bodies and changing endocrine systems. Each one of those changes is associated with new structures of consciousness around how you hold yourself in the marriage, and how you hold your partner.
What makes marriage so challenging is that the relationship needs to be successfully reorganized, consistently, by both people in order to keep working.
Despite the constant change, studies have shown us there are specific characteristics present in successful, happy relationships. Author and researcher Nate Bagley found the following things in common:
- The individuals were dedicated to self care
- They were committed to helping each other get through anything
- They trusted each other
- They had intentionality. They didn’t take their love for granted. They did something everyday to show love for each other
There is always going to be conflict though, and couples that want to be together for the long term have to know how to navigate it. Keith says there are a lot of factors, but Bagley discovered a few very important ones: Couples that stay together don’t fight to win, they fight to resolve the conflict. They focus on trying to understand each other and lastly, they really try to be nice to each other.
Imagine that! Being nice…
There is a way to love. If two people want to get there and they’re willing to take care of themselves and change, they can find a way through to love again and again and again. That’s really the bottom line. If you want to take it down to just one thing, the evolution of consciousness is just getting better and better at finding our way through to love. ~Dr. Keith Witt
When it comes down to brass tacks, couples that can down-regulate anger and up-regulate the positive emotions are ones that are destined for the long term. Easier said than done.
Of course, if you have stable access to 2nd tier consciousness then you’re really ahead of the game. People operating at the teal altitude can observe structures of consciousness in themselves and their partners, and as we know from studying development, mindful self-observation accelerates development which gives us response flexibility. In relationship, when you are responding to your partner, to their happiness and suffering, you are definitely accelerating your development. Keith says he’s never seen this researched the way that meditation and other practices have been researched (yet!) but he’s found it to be true in his own life.
The relationship itself becomes a container for the updraft of development in both the partners. How inspiring!