Archive for March, 2012


A love story can be beautiful, as when a couple reads from a script like the garden story — a relationship that grows from constant nurturing. It can also be nightmarish, as in the case of the horror story.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg in his book, Love is a Story, describes the good and the bad. He has identified 25 love story scripts and says there may be many more.

Do you recognize yourself or anyone you know in these love stories?

House and Home Story: The home is not only the focal point and the symbol of the relationship; it may be more important than the relationship itself. Depending on the people, this is not always a problem.

Travel Story: Love is a journey in which you encounter many challenges, continual change and unlimited opportunities to learn. Doing it together makes the ride more fun, special and enriching. Hopefully you’ll always have the same destination in mind.

Sewing and Knitting Story: A relationship is something you stitch with your own hands. It’s whatever you make of it. Hopefully you have the same garment in mind.

Garden Story: A relationship is like a garden that needs constant nurturing and care. When both actors are reading from this script, it offers the best chance of a happy ending.

Science Story: The couple may over-analyze their relationship, constantly putting it under a microscope. While a little science is good, so is a little passion. This story is often imbalanced.

Business Story: Efficiency is the watchword for the couple that runs their relationship like a business. While the players have a cooperative more than a loving unit, if this is what they want, they will renew the contract year after year.

Cookbook Story: A pinch of quiet time. A dash of shared meals. While there is much nurturing in this script, the couple usually feels that there are exact steps that need to be followed for a relationship to work.

Teacher-Student Story: This is one of the classic unbalanced relationships. One partner has an infinite amount to teach, the other has an infinite amount to learn. There’s often an age difference or an obvious experience gap.

Pornography Story: This script is driven by the need for novel and adventurous sex — lots of it and in ever intensifying ways. There’s often a subtext of exploitation and objectification from one side or the other.

Science-Fiction Story: Opposites attract, right? Perhaps you’re normal and your partner is weird beyond belief — as if from another planet.

Collection Story: The philosophy of a woman who reads from the collection script: “Always have a man waiting in the lurch should your first date bow out on Friday night.” The philosophy of a man collector: “Keep a black book with women’s names and a star rating beside them.” People in this story believe lovers are like CDs in a music collection-go with whatever you are in the mood for.

Art Story: Beauty is everything, personality nothing. People in this story are always ready to trade up to a newer model.

Recovery Story: She was abused or he was an addict. This is often a co-dependent relationship in which healing becomes the central theme. The couple may not be happier after recovery has taken place, if it ever does.

Religion Story: Version 1: Two people are united in their quest to know and serve God. Version 2: The relationship itself is a religion, and salvation is offered through the relationship.

Game Story: There is endless competition between the couple — and there can only be one winner. The line separating reality and fantasy tends to get blurred, creating both excitement and the potential for relationship destruction.

Fantasy Story: He meets the girl of his dreams, and she is swept off her feet. The couple believes that the honeymoon will never end, but it always does.

History Story: The couple ponders bloodlines, reconstructs anniversaries and landmarks, and gazes at photo albums. Lots of great memories, and a few unshakable grudges as well.

Theater Story: Usually we act out scripts without realizing it, but in this story, one person’s attention seeking and flair for the dramatic makes everything too stagy. The couple also may be very happy on the same script, but their friends are unlikely to think them very deep.

Humor Story: One or both of you is a comedian, and one or both of you is a captive audience for the constant jokes. Nothing is taken very seriously.

Mystery Story: One may delight in keeping secrets; the other in digging them up. She thinks, “He’s just the strong silent type.” But she may be disappointed if she learns he really doesn’t have much to say.

Sacrifice Story: Another unbalanced script, in the sacrifice story one is enslaved to the other and may even serve with a kind of worshipping spirit. Theoretically, both can be sacrificers, but it usually doesn’t happen that way.

Police Story: The perpetual themes are suspicion, surveillance and punishment. Jealousy moves the bad cop dangerously close to criminal behavior.

Horror Story: This script includes violence, stalking and terror. Deep down, the victim may not want to leave, deriving satisfaction from the relationship in ways most people don’t understand.

Addiction Story: Addiction here is defined as the need always to be with the partner. The addict goes through withdrawal as if from a drug. Meanwhile, the other may get a high from being needed to such a degree.

War Story: Perpetual war on the home front is not uncommon for the couple in this story. They may stay with each other despite the constant battle.

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Once you identify which scripts your relationship follows, you can begin to recognize the role you play. Let’s say you mostly follow the garden story, but you pick up the business script—organizing, budgeting and planning every last detail—every time you go on vacation. Your partner may feel overwhelmed by the urgency of your approach in this area.

One fascinating tenet of Sternberg’s theory is that some people may never find a mate who shares a given script. The best they can hope for is to meet someone with a more compatible script.

Not all shared scripts are matches made in heaven. Consider these “asymmetrical” relationships.

The Teacher-Student Story
Like Rita in the movie, the student is likely to assert herself after a time and ruffle the feathers of her teacher. If the student doesn’t progress, there can be other problems; the teacher grows tired of handholding. Either way, eventually resentments arise.

The Sacrifice Story
Some people are just happiest giving and serving and slaving on another’s behalf. Resentments may develop on the part of the giver, just as contempt may grow on the part of the receiver.

The Police Story
The themes are suspicion, surveillance and punishment. It is a mistake to assume that the man always plays the bad cop, says Sternberg. The biggest problem with this love story is that it frequently degenerates into a far worse script, like the horror story.

The Horror Story
A short distance stands between surveillance and stalking, scolding and battery.

O.J. Simpson may not have been found guilty, but the prosecution presented a case detailing his alleged progression from bad cop to terrorizer.

Unfortunately, many people don’t learn from the sad movies they’ve starred in, says Sternberg. They go right on to another relationship with the same typecasting, pairing up again with someone who works in their unhappy script.

The theory of Love Stories helps us understand our emotions and our values. By better understanding who we are and why we act in predictable ways, we have a fighting chance to combat the notion that history must repeat itself.

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In “The Drought” episode from the first season of Sex and the City, the very promiscuous Samantha decides to take a break from sex after an enlightening cup of coffee with her handsome yoga instructor who practices tantric celibacy.

The exercise in abstinence doesn’t last long. Rabid with desire by her next yoga class, a frustrated Sam propositions the men stretching and breathing within earshot until she gets a taker for an afternoon romp.

It makes for good cable, but can celibacy really put the va-voom back in your bedroom?

Oh, yeah, say relationship experts who believe that taking a breather from all sex, or from just intercourse, can rev up desire, promote greater intimacy (if you spend the time doing other things), and lead to new avenues of mutual pleasure.

“For long-term partners, sex becomes convenient — like going to the refrigerator and grabbing something to eat,” says Carol Kaplan, a marriage and family counselor in Monterey, Calif. “Sometimes by going straight for the dessert, we forget about the meal.”

If sex is the dessert, the meal is everything else that deepens your relationship and strengthens your bond.

Sex and marriage counselors have long used the sex moratorium as a way to see what’s going on in a relationship. Is he pressuring himself to perform? Is she getting the hugs and kisses she wants? Are they having sex because they think it’s something they should do?

Kevin Gogin, a marriage and family counselor practicing in San Francisco, says the bedroom is a “microcosm” of the relationship as a whole. Change the dynamic there, and you learn a lot about patterns of relating and communicating.

Even a couple that feels they have a fun and fulfilling sex life unburdened by large problems can benefit from a break.

A moratorium, writes Jack Morin, Ph.D., inThe Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, allows you to gain “fresh perspective” and detach yourself from “well-worn habits” that prevent experimentation.

You are voluntarily creating an environment of uncertainty that is usually the framework for discovery, he writes.

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