Are You Trapped In The Relationship Maze?

Are you trapped in a relationship maze?

Many women today, from various walks of life, are making the same complaint; they can’t find a decent guy to settle down with. Most of my single girlfriends voice the complaint, that there seems to be a shortage of good men. Not to be left out of the fray, many males by their defining behavior seem to believe that the girls should perhaps just learn to share. And therein lies the problem. One of the defining characteristics of the male has been his propensity to be fairly generous in his affections and this happens to be the one trait which most of us women find intolerable! We love generosity but not when it comes to intimacies like love and sex.

So what should a girl do? Should she settle? Relax her standards a bit? Get rid of that old, never to be fulfilled impossible list? Accept the “generosity” of her erstwhile male friend? Forget her idea of an exclusive relationship which will lead to marriage? Or should she just settle for spinsterhood? Certainly, critical questions requiring critical answers.

Like any other aspect of life, relationships and our perception of them have the power to define us. From which ever quarters we gather our information, most of us have a fair set of defined standards and I’m not here to suggest that we lay them down by the riverside. It is important that we know what we are looking for, especially in the area of a life-partner. However, having had a couple of conversations with men, I am not at all convinced that the good breed has become extinct. Somehow I believe that the lines of communication have become crossed between today’s men and women and the result has been a polarization of both species. We think we know what each others’ problems are, so we have perfected the art of accusation without pausing long enough to really listen to each other. As it stands, the guys with the really canine activity get all the attention and the really decent ones get branded with the same brush and could perhaps be overlooked time and time again.

In the war of the sexes the fight is not always fair.

Now I really believe that men and women appear to be at cross-purposes because we have easily become locked into exclusive communication styles designed to keep each other out. We have developed an adversarial “us versus them” mentality which deepens our mutual suspicions and keeps each other at arms’ length. But let’s face it, in the war of the sexes, the fight is not always fair. So then how is a girl to spot a decent guy in this crazy relationship maze we have created? More so, how can such a guy get through to a girl without having his tail whacked in a trap as it were? Have we perhaps become trapped in a complex maze of our own making, guaranteed to keep us apart?

The relationship maze speaks in fact to the walls which are built between men and women, as a consequence of our flawed perceptions and mindsets; walls of misunderstanding, distrust and generalization. If we are to surmount the relationship barriers which we have erected, we first have to recognize, understand and then hopefully circumvent them in our quest for true love. Here are a few examples to go by:

What Women Say What Men Think
  1. I’m confident, independent and capable of making my own decisions.
  2. All a man wants from a woman is sex.
  3. I’m not yet ready to take our relationship to the next level.
  4. My biological clock is ticking.
  5. I wish you would be more supportive.
  1. You don’t need a man because you have it all going on; so I’m not that important to you.
  2. You don’t plan to give up the apple without a fight.
  3. You think I just want to use you.
  4. You’re ready for a marriage proposal and I’m the lucky guy.
  5. You want me to agree with everything you say.
What Men Say What Women Think
  1. I want to spend more time with you.
  2. I can’t get you out of my mind.
  3. I want you to look out for my needs; I have feelings too.
  4. Maybe we can start an exercise routine together.
  5. I want to take care of you.
  1. You want another opportunity to jump my bones.
  2. You want to wear down my resolve with sweet, flattering words.
  3. I can’t stand a sniveling guy and I’m definitely not your mother.
  4. You think I need to lose weight.
  5. You want to control me with your money.

Of course these are just a few examples which are not exhaustive by any means and according to culture and socialization they may change. They however do bring home the point that what we hear/think, is often filtered by our past experiences, the stories we’ve been told by our friends, what we witnessed as children and even by the male-female script presented in the media. The problem with this super-script is when we allow it to become gospel and accept it as the defining parameter for all of our relationships.

There will always be men who are unscrupulous and women who are users. This tendency to look out for numero uno at all costs is just a part of human nature which is unlikely to change. If we hope, however, to find true love, then we have to be willing to give each man or woman we encounter the courtesy of a “clean slate”. So if you’re hoping to get yourself out of this maze, take some advice.

Try not to lump all male and female behavior into the same mold, no matter how tempting it is to do so. Yes we do share several traits but give your new interest the opportunity to shine. Allow a guy or a girl a chance to prove themselves. Keep the channels of communication open and don’t assume that this guy is exactly like your last. Resist the urge to channel your past pain into a new relationship prospect. This does not mean acting naively or putting aside our common sense or our intuition, but it means giving that individual a brief opportunity to prove us wrong. It means keeping hope alive and not being deliberately adversarial or negative in our expectations. Basically it means practicing grace and graciousness, while admitting our own foibles.

Navigating the relationship maze does not mean dropping our guard or lowering our expectations or standards but it does mean adopting a mature response to the exciting opportunity of meeting new people. More importantly, navigating that maze also means looking inward to ensure that we are perhaps somewhere close to the ideal, we are so steadfastly looking for in a mate.

Keeping Love Alive, Fresh and Kicking

Much has been said about the four-year itch. For the uninitiated, this refers to the period after marriage where both husbands and wives begin to develop a roving eye (or so the theory goes). There develops according to this trend of thought, a decided propensity for looking for greener relationship pastures. Scientific research already confirms that we humans are creatures of habituation. This simply means that after exposure to a particular stimulus over a period of time, we exhibit a decreased response to the said stimulus.

In psychology, this particular form of learning is called dis-associative learning. This simply means that through repeated exposure, we actually learn how not to respond to the stimulus in question. When we make the connection between this phenomenon and an institution like marriage which is based on longevity and over-exposure, we can begin to see the problem on our hands. In other words, if there is any credence to this theory, the more we are around someone, the more non-stimulated we are by them.

This brings us to the question of the nature of the marriage relationship. If we are to be guided in principle by this philosophy of habituation, then chances are none of our relationships would last as long as an ice-cream in the Caribbean sun. Marriage by its very raison-d’être connotes permanence and repeated exposure in the context of a voluntary and mutual agreement.

When we sign on the dotted line, we more or less agree to wake up next to that other face for the rest of our lives. We in addition make a commitment and at the highest level a covenant to keep all of our sexual eggs in one basket. When we look however today at the number of incidences of infidelity and of divorce, we must begin to question the extent to which our behaviour, may perhaps be shaped by this notion of habituation.

As a proponent of applied psychology, I take particular interest in this concept. If studies prove that adults and infants tend to gaze less at a stimulus the longer it is presented to them, what are the implications for my attempting to appear sexy to my husband after twenty-five years? Is he psychologically bent towards ignoring the body he has seen for so long and directing his gaze elsewhere? Are we human beings helpless cogs in a wheel of behavioural determination against which we have no willpower? Are we really programmed by our human DNA to become sexually bored after four years or so of being together? Can we do anything to turn this situation around in our favour?

The question of whether our adapting to the familiar automatically brings less pleasure is somewhat debatable. As much as science would like to render us human beings as entirely predictable, there is much of our behaviour that still remains a mystery. For example, if habituation is always true why do people become addicted to porn or to food or to anything else for that matter? There is in fact, an entire slew of human behaviour that thrives on and is empowered by repeated exposure.

Just take a look at our current cosmopolitan lifestyles which are defined by our addictions and dependence on a number of media-driven technological gadgets and gizmos. What is it about these inanimate or non-relational things which keep us coming back for more, while the people or institutions that should mean the most to us (our spouses, marriages and families) become expendable entities to be changed with every passing wind?

I think the answer lies in another lofty term called acculturation. We have been cultured into believing that these modern trinkets are things we cannot do without. Our commitment to “things” is sold to us on the basis of how such are essential to our quality of life. At the same time, every new version or upgrade keeps our interests alive. Maybe we can look at these ideas as a means of tricking the brain into not getting bored by the overt familiarity of our relationships.

If we take this at face value, then this may mean that as individuals in a relationship we have to assume responsibility for keeping ourselves fresh and literally “upgraded”. Lest I be misunderstood, this is not meant to absolve our partners from the responsibility of commitment but should act rather, as a vital accompaniment to it.

Explosive passion after a planned sex-break can do wonders for a marriage.

The following ten tips represent some of the strategies we may use, to actively keep  ourselves fresh and interesting to the one who sees us and lives with us daily:

  1. Preserve a sense of mystery in the relationship by not doing every single thing together; whether man or woman pursue your own interests, bring something back to the relationship that you can discuss with your spouse; something with which he or she is unfamiliar
  2. Occasionally reinvent yourself; a new wardrobe, a fresh hairstyle, a manicure and pedicure can add some pep to your steps causing you to exude confidence and an irresistible sexiness; having the exact same hairstyle, using the same fragrance or the same method of applying make-up as when you first met spells bore, bore, bore. The same goes for the guys; keeping yourself well-groomed and making sure your wardrobe is current, shows that you understand that your woman is visual too
  3. Develop a new skill or pursue a new course of study, learn a second language or pursue a new hobby, which confirms that you are all about developing you
  4. Keep some personal rituals private; intimacy does not mean you have to “do the bathroom business” while having a conversation about the kids or the mortgage
  5. Keep your date-nights diverse; going out regularly does not mean eating at the same restaurant for five years in a row; introduce each other to new cuisine, remembering that eating together is a terrific way to bond
  6. Do something spontaneous and adventurous together; (bungee jumping, hiking, paragliding?) something that may reveal a whole new side of you that your partner may be totally unaware of (I remember during my second pregnancy climbing fearlessly down the side of a cliff (at about seven months), with my husband holding me firmly of course, just so that I could get some new rocks for my rock collection)
  7. Switch up your sex life as regularly as your busy schedule will allow; try sex in a new location, a different position, with new trinkets (lingerie, feathers, candles, music, silk, mirrors), you get my drift
  8. Agree to fore-go sex for about a week or so or longer if you can handle it (the longer the better for this experiment); practice lots of teasing touching and hot glances during this time with zero sex; come together afterwards for a night of explosive passion guaranteed to wake up the neighbours; this can definitely add some freshness to the routine which sex may have become
  9. Call your spouse with a surprise suggestion/plan that knocks him or her for six; for example, “your bags are packed and we’re spending the night/weekend at a hotel”, “I’ve arranged baby-sitting and we’re going out tonight”, “I’ve booked a spa day for you just so you could unwind”; being thoughtful or showing that you have your partner’s best interests at heart, is a sure-fire way to inject some needed energy into a flagging relationship
  10. Travel together as much as possible; being tourists in a foreign location can affect the way you see each other and you get to experience new sights and sounds in a mutually fresh environment

The Score: What Type of Lover Are You?

If you were to be rated by your partner as a lover on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you score? For those of you who are wondering why we would want to go about the business of being rated as lovers, it is important to note that everything in life has a value. We value things as fickle as our cars, our clothes, shoes and even our smart-phones. We want specific brand-names because they come with a specific reputation of quality. It’s no different when it comes to relationships. We can be considered good, bad, mediocre, excellent, moderate, or poor as lovers and these descriptions are by no means exhaustive.

How you rate your partner as a lover is, however, heavily contingent on what your “lover” expectations are. The same holds true for how your partner rates you. How we were socialised into relationships, our gender, the quality and nature of our first love affair, how we saw our parents experience love, what we expose ourselves to with respect to the media, (television, books, film) will to a large degree influence what we hope to get out of relationships. These factors not only affect what we demand from or hope to get for ourselves out of a relationship but they will definitely colour the lens through which we see our partner.

When we speak about our rating as a lover, this does not only concern how good we are or hope to be in bed. This ‘lover’s rating” covers the whole gamut from how we communicate, how we are emotionally intimate, how we play together and yes of course, how we have sex. The ticklish part about being perceived as a lover is that there can be a great disparity between how we perceive ourselves and how our partner views us. At face value a rating may not seem to be that important, but if you think about it, at the most intrinsic level of the relationship, it speaks of our ability to satisfy the one we have chosen to be with. When we know that we’re doing a great job as a lover, it can do wonders to our self confidence and this validation makes us try even harder to please. At the other end of the spectrum, being rated as a poor lover can really place our self esteem in the toilet.

If we women were called upon to rate our husbands or boyfriends as communicators, I’m sure that most of us would give them a failing grade with a Capital F. Science has it that we women are wired to be great verbal communicators. From an early age we girls show a greater inclination and comfort with language and not just any old words. We show a superior ability at expressing emotion.

Men on the other hand, generally speaking, prefer the “less is more” dictum when it comes to word-use. They seem to view words as priceless commodities which should only be used on very, very, rare occasions and then only sparingly. This in turn, seems to have some influence on their ability to be emotionally exposed or to be emotionally vulnerable in their relationships.

When it comes to play and sex, however, the levels of testosterone carried by men, apparently help them to show a much greater interest in these areas. What they lack in language they definitely make up for in the love-making department. Many husbands nonetheless complain that their sex lives leave much to be desired because they never seem to get enough.

With these critical differences in key relationship areas identified, it may be interesting for couples to examine how they would rate each other as lovers. The following reflects an attempt at combining some of the traits/qualities which men and women are likely to prefer in the critical areas of communication, emotional intimacy, play/recreation and sex. If we give each quality two points (except in the category of sex where we should give one point to each) and understand that some of us will sometimes score half because the described trait is not consistently shown, then we may get a pretty good idea of how our partner is rated

HOW A WOMAN RATES HER MAN

Communication

v  Values hearing his woman’s opinion and communicates this by listening patiently in an atmosphere of encouragement and unconditional positive regard (not sure that this guy actually exists)
v  Is not threatened by his woman’s comfort, skill or facility with language but sees it as a plus for the relationship; therefore listens and responds without getting on the defensive
v  Responds with honesty, whether angry, sad, disappointed, overwhelmed or just plain happy
v  Is open to other opinions and points of view
v  Maintains eye contact

(10 Points Max)

Emotional Intimacy

v  Understands the importance of sharing his feelings and practices this actively in the relationship

v  Is not afraid to show weakness or vulnerability

v  Does not hide important elements of his present, past or future from his wife or significant other; has no secrets

v  Affirms and validates his partner

v  Accepts personal responsibility when wrong and does not project by blaming

(10 Points Max)

Play/Recreation

v  Is willing to do some recreational activities with his partner just as a means of having fun and also to strengthen the relationship bond

v  Does not allow recreation or sports to become a wedge in the relationship; puts his partner first

v  Is willing to be open, responsive and spontaneous in the relationship

v  Does not use play to compete with partner

v  Likes partner and shows it

(10 Points Max)

Sex

v  Understands that sex begins long before the actual touching starts

v  Will give it the way his wife wants it (hot, fast and passionate or long, tender and romantic) and not the way he thinks it should be given

v  Will not judge his partner based on her previous sexual experiences

v  Will not compare wife to his own previous lovers

v  Understands that superior testosterone does not necessarily make him a “master strokes-man”  where sex is concerned; he should demonstrate a willingness to learn new things and new ways to please his wife

v  Focusses on his woman in bed and not the fantasy in his head

v  Adores his wife with his body and uses sex to communicate love so that she feels valued and not used

v  Does not use sex to manipulate or control

v  Is considerate even if partner has a reduced or smaller sex drive than his

v  Is adventurous and spontaneous in bed

(10 Points Max)

HOW A MAN RATES HIS WOMAN

Communication

v  Values constructive conversation and does not talk unnecessarily

v  Is articulate and logical about sharing her issues and concerns; does not get personal

v  Communicates to affirm and validate and not just to criticize

v  Does not use nagging to wear down her partner or to influence his decision-making

v  Allows her partner to express his opinion without belittling him with her “superior” language skills

(10 Points Max)

Emotional Intimacy

v  Understands the importance of sharing her feelings honestly in the relationship, practices this actively but not excessively

v  Shares her personal life-story and especially her sexual past voluntarily; does not spring sexual surprises on her partner

v  Is not afraid to show both her strengths and her weaknesses

v  Although independent, allows her man to feel that he can still “take care” of her

v  Cries if she needs to but does not use tears to manipulate

(10 Points Max)

Play/Recreation

v  Supports her man unwaveringly and cheers him on from the sidelines when he competes in any field of play

v  Knows when to let her hair down and be carefree, spontaneous and playful

v  Is willing to share some sporting or recreational activity with her partner

v  Is not afraid of competition

v  Is a good sport whether she loses or wins a game or an argument and knows how not to hold a grudge

(10 Points Max)

Sex

v  Is free and uninhibited in bed, is willing to be sexually adventurous and tries new sexual positions

v  Initiates sex other than when she’s trying to get him out of a bad mood

v  Praises his sexual skill and his penis

v  Does not even think about comparing him with previous lovers/husband

v  Has sex regularly without having to be begged or persuaded

v  Refrains from using sex as a bargaining chip

v  Does not laugh at or belittle his efforts in bed

v  Is very enthusiastic about sex with her husband

v  Calls his name loudly at the right moment

v  Understands the value of sex to the marriage relationship

(10 Points Max)

While this rating exercise may not be terribly scientific, what it serves to drive home is the reality that men and women often expect different things based on their peculiar gender-based needs. It is worthy of note that what women desire in men and what men desire in women, is often linked to their own strengths and preferences. This is where the problem lies.  If a guy must choose between an evening of deep, meaningful conversation and a roll in the hay, the latter will win hands down every time. In the same respect, we women can enjoy deep emotional connection even when this does not progress to sex.

Instead of expecting that we will become clones of each other in every respect, as lovers, we must progress towards celebrating each other’s differences. These peculiarities are in fact the factors which fuel the energy and excitement in this man to woman tango called love. Striking a happy compromise is essential if couples are to experience any sense of relational well-being.