Around Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to get lost in the romance – flowers, chocolates, movies and candlelit dinners. But Valentine’s Day only accounts for one day of the year, and can often be used as the day to ‘make up for’ what may have been lacking in the relationship otherwise.
What about the other 364 days? Now that valentine’s day has come and gone, how can we build more intimate connections with our significant others that last throughout the year? We sat down with therapist, David Newman, to learn more about the best practices for building strong and healthy relationships everyday. Read the full interview below.
Q: What are the most important components in forming and maintaining healthy relationships?
A: In 1956, Erich Fromm published a book titled The Art of Loving, which has been an international best-seller for multiple generations. While it is out-dated in several respects, it offers a distinctive view of what contributes to forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
Fromm quickly pushed aside our various cultural mythologies which present love as something we ‘fall into’ – something that happens to us without rhyme and reason. Disdaining this passivity, he argued that loving is an art, an acquired discipline and skill, something we begin to learn before we speak and continue to learn throughout our lives. Our childhood experiences give shape to our expectations and understandings of love and can also limit our perceptions and experience. Sometimes learned patterns of behavior or attitude constrain our ability to be open to and present for another person. Experiential, as well as cultural, falsehoods, simplifications and misconceptions, can litter our internal landscapes.
This perspective can serve as a basis for rendering the capacities that infuse a mature loving: a capacity for listening carefully to another, for being attentive to the subtleties of our own and the other’s inner life – and an ability for doing so while also recognizing that reciprocity is a cornerstone of interpersonal caring.
Such love is a mutually shared responsibility, a willful commitment to being present for one another – which, at times, may involve a foregoing of one’s own interest.
Q: Is it true that opposites attract?
A: The idea that opposites attract is one of a multitude of cultural simplifications, cliches that pretend to be voices of wisdom. What is literally true of natural magnetism may more commonly exist in a qualified human form, one not shaped into polarities. As any two people inevitably encounter their dissimilarities alongside what they share, these dissimilarities can add to a dynamic within the couple but need not override what is at least equally significant – that which is held in common.
Q: What are some signs that a relationship may be unhealthy? Is it possible to develop an unhealthy relationship into a healthier one?
A: At times, we necessarily learn that our past choices were only partially informed ones. People do change and hopefully, in a healthy relationship, those changes can be due to experience within the relationship or it can result from independent experience which has the potential for expanding their joint awareness and intimacy.
At other times, rigidities of character can impair growth, squash personal development, and interfere with an ongoing relational intimacy. Past personal history can sustain patterns of relatedness that woefully limit our compassion and appreciation for another’s inner world. There can be ways that a relationship closes in on itself, sustaining degrees of dependency that inhibit and constrain each individual’s freedom.
In regard to the latter difficulties, couple’s therapy can offer understanding and openings toward renewing a long-term collaboration, or, contrariwise, awakening an awareness of barriers that can not be lessened.
Each of these questions returns us to the potential for our being open to another’s world, and to the differences and distinctions that can be brought within a vigorous and healthy relationship. What Fromm referred to as an art of loving, a discipline and skill endlessly wrought, remains a wonderful metaphor for an endowment of Nature which exists in other animals but is also particularly human.
David Newman, LCSW has been a psychotherapist in NYC for over 25 years. He has training in interpersonal and relational psychoanalysis, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy. For more than 15 years, he has been a teacher, supervisor and therapist for psychologists and social workers in post-graduate training programs. In 2006, I wrote a book titled Talking With Doctors, which was published by The Analytic Press. David Newman studies at Hunter School of Social Work and received additional training atManhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis.