What’s the secret for lasting love? In my 25 years of conflict resolution work, I have mostly dealt with armed actors, gang members and drug dealers. Working in places around the world where violent conflict happens has being a great laboratory to understand the most destructive patterns we humans are capable of.

Thus, I have been in the business of figuring out how people and groups can transcend their conflict and find a way to connect in order to overcome tough problems and have a better life.

This is probably why more and more couples approach me today asking me to help them rekindle their love, to resolve a conflict, to take their relationship to the next level. They tell me they like to hear from a conflict resolution specialist and a high-end mediator. I guess, for these couples, sitting down with me feels like getting a second trusted opinion. “If you dealt with terrorists, they say half jokingly, you can help me deal with my partner.” [You can check out here

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my website with more tools on conflict resolution].

As my Valentines Day gift to you, let me share with you some of my observations and lessons learned in the field, but also in my own love relationship. Rather than focusing on what doesn’t work, let me highlight today what I saw and experienced is working.


#1. They share an ultimate vision about their relationship.

Every time I am asked to coach individuals or couples, I am amazed how the majority have a clear vision for what they want for their careers or they children, but instead have a hard time to articulate what’s their vision for their romantic relationship. When it comes to love, we are just not used to ask our selves: what is it that we want? What is it that we really want?

Some time ago, while coaching a woman who would like to enter into a relationship, I asked her to give me a portrait of her ideal man. I asked her: how do you want to be loved by the man of your life? What would you see, feel and hear, as you are loved like you want to be loved? There were a few moments of silence and then she uttered: “I’ve never thought about that!”

To have a shared ultimate vision of your intimate relationship is fundamental to build a rock solid relationship. To the contrary, it’s like getting into a taxy without giving a direction to the cab driver and instead just saying, “Don’t take me to the airport.”

#2. They are committed to unconditional Love.  

Authentic love is about unconditional love. There is no way around it. It’s not about trading (“I give you this if you give me that”), but it’s about giving. Love is not about “Me” it’s about the “Other.” When people come to me and share a problem they have with their partner, they hope to get advice on how they can change the partner. They highlight how they are not loved enough and cared enough.

That’s not a good starter, because you are not in control of the other’s change. The only control you have is over the meaning you give to a situation and the actions you take. When a relationship is in crisis, it’s not about waiting and hoping for the other to change, or to give more or to love more.

Waiting for the other, isn’t love. Rather, it sounds more like egoism. It’s you who has to turn up the love. As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in others. I know it takes courage, because we fear not to be reciprocated and to be hurt. But there is no short cut when it comes to love. And love, to be love, has to be unconditional love.

#3. They fulfill each other’s needs.

And since love is all about the other, and not you, to love means to take care of each other’s needs. This requires having the knowledge and the understanding of what the other’s driving forces are. Is it feeling secure and comfortable? Is it to experience variety and many surprises? Is it to feel deeply connected and loved? Is it to feel unique and important? Is it to constantly grow and to contribute beyond one self? We all have a couple of the needs I just listed that are our driving force in life. Which ones are the ones of your partner?

I often think of my brother and my sister in law. My brother has a huge heart and a desire to contribute beyond himself and his family. It’s what drives him. This is why in our hometown in Italy he ran for office, and this is why right now he is in Lebanon where he helped to establish a humanitarian corridor that will allow a few dozens of Syrian refugees to travel safely to Italy. I admire the commitment of my brother and I equally admire his wife, because she understood and has been supporting my brother’s need for variety and contribution.

#4. They trust the good intentions of the partner.

When it comes to love, there is no such thing as perfection. It’s always a work in progress. A relationship is dynamic, always changing, as we too, as individuals, constantly change and shift. This is why a conflict or a crisis is per se not a problem, but rather an opportunity.

Therefore, mistakes happen. Words that you later regret are shared. Actions that might undermine trust are taken. It can be very painful at times.

Very successful couples have learned how to accept these difficult moments and turned them into a springboard to take the relationship to the next level, to build a more open communication, to deep their trust, to rekindle their love. What makes it possible is not to judge the event in itself, but to understand and to discover the positive intention, which lays behind a harmful action: that is, the intention to fulfill a basic need.

And while the action taken can be destructive, harmful and wrong, the urge to fulfill a need has to be acknowledge and taken into account. I see it again and again in my conflict resolution work: just to satisfy their needs, people are ready to contradict their values and ethical principles again and again. To recognize the positive intention behind a harmful behavior consents to find a way to meet that need in a more constructive way, one that turns the heat of love and passion up.

#5. They master the skills of effective communication.

The most important skill in communication is listening. In fact, to listen builds trust, connection and intimacy. Conflict is not only about conflicting interests. Mostly, it is about two people using two different maps of the world in order to attribute meaning to reality. Our maps are not the reality but a representation of it, and as we build our maps we make generalizations, we delete details and we distort some other aspects. When the maps contradict each other, then conflict arises.

Listening allows to appreciate and to connect with the other’s map. Listening permits to enlarge one’s own map and to incorporate elements of the other’s map. I see conflict resolution as the capacity to integrate maps and to bring them closer to reality.  This happens when we listen, when we ask questions that help ups to elicit the model of the world used by the other to navigate his or her reality. Listening interrupts the pattern of moral judgment and opens the space for understanding.

#6. They keep curiosity alive.

Very successful couples never get tired of discovering one another. They never put each other’s in rigid boxes. They don’t turn event of the past into a limiting dogma about how the other thinks and is. They make the effort to see each other new every morning, as they wake up. They are like treasure hunters, always looking and appreciating the beauty that dwells in the other.

#7. They never get tired of starting over again and again.

Very successful couples are not afraid of starting over again and again. As long as the heart beats, they recognize that every moment is an opportunity to start over again. It might be difficult, it might at times even feel overwhelming, it often doesn’t come spontaneously, but couples who are committed to each other to take the position of the victim, but rekindle love by starting over, by finding a way to reignite passion, to deepen intimacy, to start loving each other again. They know that love is not a passing emotion, but is also a muscle of the heart and the mind that needs to be exercised.  Therefore, nourishing our love relationship is a wonderful journey of spiritual growth.

Over all, very successful couples know that love rests on commitment and that commitment is about consistency: the consistency of being open and honest to each other. This requires another skill and attitude that is fundamental to experience lasting love: to practice self-acceptance. We are not able to accept the other, or even to forgive the other, if we don’t also accept and forgive ourselves. We are not capable of love, if we are no taking full responsibility of our actions, decisions, and words. Otherwise, as Tony Robbins likes to say, we get what we tolerate.

Aldo Civico

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is an author, anthropologist and conflict resolution expert. Beyond his work around the world, he has coached and trained executives, celebrities and members of family offices to acquire the effective communication, conflict resolution and negotiation skills that are essential to experience growth and to achieve high performance.

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