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Have you ever been in love? If so, you know how great it feels to love and be loved by someone. When a romantic relationship is on track, you never want it to end. But, as you've probably noticed, it's hard to keep one on track. After starting out as terrific, your romantic relationships may have turned terrible or even terrifying, leaving you wondering what happened. If that's been your experience, you are not alone-most romantic relationships end up that way.
You've probably asked yourself the question, "Why? What makes my romantic relationships go from great to gone?" You may think that you just haven't found the right match yet, and that it's only a matter of time before the right one comes along. But I have another explanation, one that has helped keep thousands of romantic relationships on track-for life.
If you've come to a point where you're tired of revolving-door romance and want to create one romantic relationship that remains passionate and fulfilling for the rest of your life, this book is definitely for you. But even if you're not quite to that point, this book will help you understand the ups and downs of yourcurrent romantic relationship and help you accurately predict its future.
What's So Great about Romantic Relationships?
Let's define the most important term used in this book-romantic relationship. A romantic relationship consists of two people in love who meet each other's emotional needs for intimacy. My definition is admittedly narrow. Some people may believe they are in a romantic relationship, yet they are not in love with each other. Others may feel that a romantic relationship doesn't have to meet their emotional needs for intimacy. But from my perspective, people are not in a truly romantic relationship unless they are in love and meet each other's needs for intimacy.
Intimate needs are among the most important emotional needs we have in life. Affection, intimate conversation, sexual fulfillment, and admiration are just a few examples of these important needs. We cannot meet any of them by ourselves-they can only be met by someone else. And not by just anyone else. Only someone we love and who loves us can meet these needs in a way that is completely fulfilling. In other words, we're wired to be in a romantic relationship. And when we are not, we feel that something's missing. That's why we find a romantic relationship so compelling-we need it.
Over the years I've written several books that explain how intimate emotional needs should be met in a romantic relationship. The most popular of these books is His Needs, Her Needs, where I show couples how they can identify each other's intimate needs and then become experts at meeting them. If you're not sure how to meet someone's intimate emotional needs in a romantic relationship, you will find that book valuable reading.
In this book, however, I will assume that you already know how to meet emotional needs in a relationship with someone you love who also loves you. What still may be a mystery to you, though, is how to keep a great romantic relationship from turning into a disaster. If you could figure that out, your revolving-door romances would finally end. You could stop wasting your time and energy replacing one disappointing relationship with another. You'd finally have one that would last a lifetime.
Romance Is a Science
I've been married to my wife, Joyce, for forty years, and our love for each other is as strong and passionate today as it was when we first married. In the beginning, I really didn't know what made our relationship work so well. I had to spend a few years counseling those whose relationships were failing before I was able to clearly see what Joyce and I did (and still do) that made and kept us such passionate lovers.
Now, as I look back on the rocky beginning of our dating relationship, it all makes sense to me. But back then, my relationships with Joyce and everyone else I dated seemed like a frightening roller-coaster ride where I had no control. Dumb luck seemed to rule. How else could someone be crazy about me one day and loathe me the next? And how could I be crazy about someone for a while, only to become disinterested eventually? It seemed like I and the women I dated were the victims of magical spells.
But it wasn't magic. What made my dating experiences sensational one day and boring the next was scientifically predictable. It had to do with the quality of care I gave the women I dated and the care they showed me in return.
People show care for each other in a romantic relationship by meeting each other's intimate emotional needs. But a romantic relationship rarely begins with much of an effort to meet intimate needs. In fact it usually begins with little or no effort at all. That's why so many romantic relationships have trouble getting out of the starting blocks. Did you (or do you) look forward to first dates? I didn't. That's because there's such a high likelihood that the care you give each other on that date will be mutually disappointing. You are both shopping around, and rejection is almost a certainty. One or both of you are likely to find the other lacking.
If a relationship does survive the initial introduction, and neither person does any rejecting, they often move on to a tentative willingness to provide mutual care-as long as the relationship is mutually advantageous. It is in this intermediate stage of creating a romantic relationship that two people can fall in love with each other because their care hits the mark. Rejection can still take place-it did for Joyce and me-but the couple knows better how to avoid it.
Finally, if two people who are in love decide to commit their care to each other exclusively and permanently, they have completed their creation of a romantic relationship that will last a lifetime. This highest level of care guarantees their love for each other for life. There are millions of fulfilling marriages that prove it, mine included.
I've written this book to help you understand the three levels of care I have just described. They have almost everything to do with the success and failure of your romantic relationships. I call those who operate under these levels of care Buyers, Renters, and Freeloaders. Each differs from the others in several important ways that I'll explain in the next few chapters, but their main difference is the quality of care they are willing to provide to make a relationship mutually fulfilling.
A Freeloader is unwilling to put much effort into the care of his or her partner in a romantic relationship. He or she does only what comes naturally and expects only what comes naturally. It's like a person who tries to live in a house without paying rent or doing anything to improve it unless the person is in the mood to do so.
A Renter is willing to provide limited care as long as it's in his or her best interest. The romantic relationship is considered tentative, so the care is viewed as short-term. It's like a person who rents a house and is willing to stay as long as the conditions seem fair, or until he or she finds something better. The person is willing to pay reasonable rent and keep the house clean but is not willing to make repairs or improvements. It's the landlord's job to keep the place attractive enough for the renter to stay and continue paying rent.
A Buyer is willing to demonstrate an extraordinary sense of care by making permanent changes in his or her own behavior and lifestyle to make the romantic relationship mutually fulfilling. Solutions to problems are long-term solutions and must work well for both partners because the romantic relationship is viewed as exclusive and permanent. It's like a person who buys a house for life with a willingness to make repairs that accommodate changing needs-painting the walls, installing new carpet, replacing the roof, and even doing some remodeling-so that it can be comfortable and useful.
As I mentioned, it's not uncommon for most happily married couples to have worked their way up from Freeloaders to Renters and finally to Buyers. I know that's how my wife, Joyce, and I developed our relationship. There's nothing wrong with being a Freeloader, when first trying to create a romantic relationship, or a Renter, as the relationship is developing. The problem arises when partners do not eventually become Buyers. As I will show you, Freeloaders and Renters cannot create a lasting romantic relationship, and, as a result, they make very disappointing marriage partners because the romantic part of their relationship disappears. Only Buyers can create the permanent romantic relationship that keeps marriage passionate and mutually fulfilling.
The unspoken agreements of care between a man and a woman influence the course of their romantic relationship, both positively and negatively. Relationships thrive on mutual care, and they die when that care is not forthcoming. By the time you finish reading this book, you will be able to identify the agreements of care that characterize your present relationship, and you will be able to predict with near certainty the future of your relationship-unless your agreement changes. You'll also learn how you can try out the Buyer's agreement without actually becoming a Buyer. That way you can see for yourself why it will guarantee the success of your relationship and why the Renter's and Freeloader's agreements will cause it to fail.
Finding a fulfilling and permanent romantic relationship is one of life's greatest achievements. But failure to find such a relationship can be one of life's greatest frustrations. If you have almost given up hope of finding a romantic relationship that doesn't end in disappointment, don't despair. This book will provide the formula you need to make your current or next romantic relationship last a lifetime.
Buyers, Renters, and Freeloaders-What Are They?
The Freeloader's Agreement
Before we go any further, I want you to understand that I am really past complexities now. I don't want to work at making love work. It must never be hard or it is just not worth it. I do what I do because I like to do it and I never expect anything in return.
I will never again be the crutch for someone else. I won't be drained by someone else's needs, someone who is too crippled in his own emotions to be able to give me what it is I need or deserve too.
I am not sure what it is that you want from me, Frank. But I am happier now in my life than I have ever been. I have finally given myself permission to enjoy life and to love me, and I have no desire to take myself on a backward spiral ever again.
Sounds harsh, doesn't it? Not all Freeloaders state their position as bluntly as Brenda did to Frank. In fact few do. But Brenda's letter, which was sent to Frank in the beginning of their dating relationship, does accurately describe some of the attitudes all Freeloaders share.
Brenda has very limited objectives for a romantic relationship and is only willing to give and receive care if it comes almost effortlessly. She obviously has issues that have an impact on her attitude. But even if her past relationships had not been so unpleasant, she may have taken the same position in the beginning of her relationship with Frank.
Behind every romantic relationship, there is an agreement between the partners. Sometimes it is unspoken and poorly understood. But sometimes it is as clear as Brenda's letter to Frank. The ball is now in his court as to whether he will accept or try to modify her agreement. If he wants to create a romantic relationship with her on her terms, it will develop as a Freeloader's relationship.
As I mentioned earlier, a Freeloader is like someone who lives in a house without paying rent or doing anything to maintain or improve it unless he or she feels like it. This willingness to provide very limited care in a romantic relationship is usually based on certain beliefs that make it seem reasonable. These are some of the beliefs that support the Freeloader's agreement:
1. There are romantic relationships that are right for me and those that are wrong for me. Those that are right for me make me happy without my having to put much effort into making my partner happy. He or she should be happy with what I do that comes almost effortlessly for me. But romantic relationships that are wrong for me require me to do things that do not come naturally.
2. If I am in a romantic relationship with someone who criticizes me, it is a sign that the relationship is wrong for me. It's a mistake for me to change my behavior to accommodate a critical partner, because I'm only prolonging a relationship that isn't meant to be.
3. A romantic relationship that is right for me requires unconditional care and acceptance. If my partner expects me to do something in return for what he or she has done for me, it's a sign that the relationship is not based on unconditional care and, as such, is wrong for me. It's a mistake to try to change my behavior to make a relationship seem fair to my partner, because I should be unconditionally accepted for who I am and what I do.
People who use the Freeloader's agreement are not usually selfish misfits. In fact most of us have been in relationships with Freeloaders who have turned out to do just fine in life. And we ourselves have been Freeloaders at some time in our life.
I began dating when I was fifteen. Prior to that, I had girlfriends but never went on any official dates with any of them. My first real date was with Joyce, the girl who eventually became my wife. My sister, who was her best friend, told me that Joyce would go out with me if I asked, so I asked.
Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, I was a Freeloader. I expected the girl I dated to put up with whatever I had in mind, and Joyce was my first test case. If she was right for me, I figured, she would want to be with me regardless of what we did. So I didn't always tell her what we would be doing when I picked her up for a date, and I prided myself on getting through an evening without having to spend much money. I also expected her to drop any plans she might have had for the evening if I were to decide to go out.
Excerpted from BUYERS, RENTERS, & FREELOADERS by WILLARD F. HARLEY JR. Copyright © 2002 by Willard F. Harley Jr.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.