Falling in love is never a straight line to “happily ever after.” Relationships go through seasons of change, renewal, darkness, and light.
So promises long-time therapist and couple’s coach Linda Carroll in Love Skills: The Key to Unlocking Lasting, Wholehearted Love, which offers specific, effective solutions to the most common struggles that couples face.
We hope you’ll enjoy this interview with Linda about the book.
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Tell us what you mean when you say in Love Skills that, “Love is an inside job.”
Many of the troubles we experience in relationships emerge from conflicts to which we ourselves contribute, behaviors we simply tolerate that cause silent resentment to build, and unexamined parts of our own psyches. The health of our intimate connections depends on how we deal with our own lingering demons and on our own motivation to grow and change.
What is the difference between love and loving?
Love is a feeling. Loving is a skill set that depends less on how we feel and more on what we do.
You say that a key message of many of the lessons in Love Skills is that “The wave is not the ocean.” What do you mean by that?
The times that feel the most perfect or intolerable between you and your partner will pass. There will always be another wave, another change. The ocean is made up of millions of individual waves, and a long-term relationship is made up of millions of moments, seasons, and times that are both delightful and painful. None of it is permanent; there will always be another wave.
The heart of Love Skills comes from the Love Cycles model you shared in your previous book, which explains that relationships develop in predictable stages, each of which presents its own challenges. What are the five stages of lasting love?
The first stage, fueled by a powerful love potion and marked by brain chemistry changes, causes us to become obsessed with the wonder and delight of our new partner. In this stage, we tend to see only the good, the similarities, and the possibilities.
The seductive power of this stage may also cause us to fall in love with an inappropriate partner. With consciousness and effort, we can choose what to do with our feelings. Do we fan the flames of a potentially dangerous fire, or do we control our passion and turn our attention elsewhere?
If we choose to move with our partner into Stage Two, Doubt and Denial, we wake up from the infatuation and begin to wonder whether this relationship is really the best choice. We find that our feelings of love are becoming more conditional, and power struggles are arising. We wonder whether our partner has changed.
During this stage, the spotlight shines on our beloved’s flaws. We now invest a lot of energy into getting our lover to become the partner we thought they would be. We are forced to give up our dream of perfect, unconditional love in which our partner always sees the best in us, says the right thing, never embarrasses us, and reads our mind so that they can please us in every way possible.
As our disappointment escalates, so do our biological responses to stress; we prepare for war, retreat, or don camouflage. Welcome to the third stage: Disillusionment. As differences continue to emerge, our proclivities to defend and preserve ourselves may grow even stronger; we may believe that we’re always in the right. Alternatively, those of us who cannot bear conflict shut our ears to every dissonant chord and pretend that everything is wonderful — or at least tolerable.
The point is that we choose how to respond. In this stage, it is particularly vital to move from reactivity to rationality. When we are calmly present, we are free to act for the good of the relationship rather than out of fear or neediness.
Of course, because we’re thoroughly human, we won’t always respond to our lover from our highest selves. Then what? Can we apologize, make amends, and take responsibility for how we’ve behaved, despite what our partner has done? We have the power to make that choice.
Let’s say that when we reach the fourth stage — Decision — we part ways. Can we wish our former partner the best? If that’s too hard, can we at least not wish them the worst?
If we remain together, we have the opportunity to learn lessons that will help to make us the best person we can be while also giving our relationship the chance to grow and deepen. This is where we enter the fifth stage: Wholehearted Loving. No longer two halves trying to make a whole, we are two complete people learning about love. Passion, safety, and generosity return to the relationship, along with humor and empathy.
You say that there are three magic words when it comes to communicating with our partner. What are they?
We often equate the expression “three magic words” with “I love you.” But there are three other magic words that can allow you to discover important things about your partner (and others) that you’d never have imagined. Just as important, these words will help your partner to feel deeply cared about and seen — and to want to respond to you in kind. The words are, “Tell me more.”
“Tell me more” is a powerful phrase when backed by a genuine willingness to pay attention to the answers. Listening with true presence — that is, taking in what the other is saying without judging, suggesting, or trying to fix — is a gift that we can offer another person.
You encourage couples to pay attention to four transition times throughout their day. What are they, and why are they important?
It actually takes very little time to feed and nourish a relationship if we do it consistently. Big trips away and long weekends are great, but research clearly shows that it is steady, consistent, and frequent nurturing that makes a real difference. The four transition times are waking up, parting for the day, coming back together at the day’s end, and going to sleep. If we put three minutes’ worth of connection into each of those times, we can have a huge impact on our relationship.
What is the main message you hope readers will take away from Love Skills?
Love is a feeling. We call it “FALLING IN LOVE”; it takes no skills, decisions, or mindfulness. Loving is a skill set, and we can all get better at it. I have spent my lifetime teaching the skills to hundreds — actually, thousands — of students. I have studied with the smartest people I could find to learn them; but, most importantly, I have practiced them in my own life — in my relationships with the people who matter most, especially my partner of 35 years. We can all get better at loving, and Love Skills offers a tried and true roadmap for how to do that.
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Linda Carroll is the author of Love Skills and Love Cycles. While she has worked as a therapist and couple’s coach for over three decades and has acquired numerous certificates and degrees along the way, she says that her own thirty-five-year marriage is the primary source of her knowledge when it comes to the cycles of love. Visit her online at https://lindaacarroll.com/.