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WomanOf the Month 2-05: Pat Love, EdD

It’s the month of candy hearts, chocolate kisses, pink cards, and candlelit dinners for two. Because Valentine’s Day is February’s romantic centerpiece, we asked WomanOf the Month, Pat Love, EdD, a marriage and family therapist, trainer, author and speaker, how couples can strengthen their relationships.

First, Love’s advice for celebrating Valentine’s Day:
Play F A I R
F: Flirt—Send energy to your partner, and it will come back to you.
A: Appreciate—Everyone loves to be appreciated.
I: Intimacy: Let your partner be privy to something that nobody else knows—your hopes, your dreams, whatever it may be.
R: Risk: Boredom is a big threat to relationships. Bring adventure into your relationship. We all love mystery. Take risk in the direction of your relationship—enliven it.

The challenges couples face today are many, notes Love. The most significant involves unrealistic expectations. “We say we have to work at our relationships, but few of us understand what that work is,apostrophe she says. “To me, it’s doing what you’re not inclined to do. Most of us think it means working at the relationship during times of financial strain, sickness and other external problems—but not on internal issues. Often, the bigger problems include a lack of realistic expectations. We need to take ownership of making ourselves happy rather than expecting our partners or marriages to do it for us.apostrophe

Love places much of the blame for these unrealistic expectations on Western culture and the U.S. lifestyle. “We’re addicted to stimulation and the belief that life should always exciting. If you look at divorce statistics, about 80% of couples will cite as a reason that they ‘grew apart’, meaning ‘you don’t make me happy, I don’t feel as passionate, therefore there’s something wrong with the marriage.’ This is a very Western way of thinking, that the marriage or the partner is supposed to make us happy. If you talk to someone with an Eastern point of view, it’s much more considered your own responsibility to make yourself happy. In the West, we ask, ‘are my needs met; love is what I feel when I am appreciated or supported’. The Eastern view is more the desire to make someone else happy. Our whole culture supports the view, ‘what have you done for me lately?’apostrophe

Again and again, Love stresses the importance of altruism in relationships. She believes it keeps relationships fresh long after they have passed the stage of infatuation. “The only thing that truly makes us happy is making others happy,apostrophe she says. “But how many of us consider marriage as an opportunity to develop this in ourselves? The entitlement and autonomy so reinforced in our culture has translated into relationships.

“In the infatuation, early stage of a relationship, we all want to give and be generous, and the energy is going both ways. Once this passes, however, you get a look at who you’re with and your own ability to create happiness within the relationship. The very nature of spending time over and over with the same person takes away the novelty, which is a major component in attraction, so we need to be fresh and energized. But the relationship can’t do it for us. We have confusion around what love is and what it isn’t.apostrophe

Complicating couples’ efforts is a dearth of cultural support in the U.S. “Our American ways of long work hours and immediate gratification are antithetical to long-term happiness in relationships. It’s sort of like the saying, ‘I gave at the office.’ Only in this case, it’s ‘I gave my energy.’ We come home and expect home to be a place where we recharge instead of thinking of it as a place where we can get recharged by loving and caring.apostrophe

So what are the keys to success? Commitment, time, energy, and in some cases, the money to sit down for a period of time for counseling. “So often couples say the same thing,apostrophe says Love. “They say, ‘We haven’t talked this way in years.’ The interest is still there, but each person has expected the other to make it happen. Rather than place the locus of control for happiness on you, us, or the relationship, the individual needs to ask, “What do I need to make myself happy, to make myself happy with this relationship, and for me to want to make my partner happy?

“If your thought is that your partner needs to do this and that, you’re on the wrong track. That’s not being generous, that’s bartering. Altruism is giving without expectation. It’s helping someone, surprising someone, giving what you want to get.apostrophe

Here are Love’s tips for success:

  • 1. Make sure you know what makes your partner happy.
  • 2. If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask.
  • 3. Give generously.
  • 4. Take pleasure in giving. The natural response will be to get to know you well enough to make you happy. Altruism is what drives a relationship to a higher plane.

Pat Love, Ed.D., is a graduate of West Virginia University. She began her professional career as a Counselor Educator at Texas A & M University, Commerce, in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy. She went on to co-found the Austin Family Institute where she continued to train, supervise, write and lecture. She is also a charter faculty member of the Imago Institute for Relationship Therapy. She has co-authored three books including Hot Monogamy. Her other books include The Truth About Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How You Can Make it Last Forever; and How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Relationship; and Emotional Incest Syndrome: What To Do When Parent’s Love Rules Your Life. For more information go to her website at