Modern Romance Authors help today's couples cope with new realities of love

Friday, June 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Maurice Taylor and Seana McGee are a husband-wife team teaching about love in the 21st century. "Human beings have evolved. Love partners have evolved. Let's speak the same language and get over the war," says Ms. McGee, a counselor.

"The old rules are obsolete today," says Mr. Taylor, also a counselor. "The major point is taking into account our higher-order needs. We propose a new model of love."

That model includes a new set of rules that a couple should follow if their relationship is to sizzle - rules such as treating each other as equals, listening deeply to each other, being able to stand on one's own if need be, and supporting each other's mission in life.

All of this is spelled out in their new book, The New Couple: Why the Old Rules Don't Work and What Does, (HarperSanFrancisco, $25).

Couples who follow these rules become what Ms. McGee and Mr. Taylor call a "NewCouple." NewCouples don't run from each other, but run to each other because they have the tools for a successful relationship.

One of the new rules is that couples do need chemistry. "The minimal requirement for a NewCouple is sexual and best-friend chemistry," Mr. Taylor says. "Without chemistry, it's bad news."

Chemistry is what some may call "love at first sight." This is the intoxication phase of a relationship and can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to two years.

Inevitably, that chemistry starts to fade, and a power struggle begins. This second phase is where many relationships fail. Conflictsarise and couples don't know how to respond.

Some couples do what their parents did. The woman complains. The man works harder at his job. Both find hobbies outside the home. The kids become the priority. And sooner or later, the husband and wife don't see each other anymore. And when they do, they don't know what to say.

Ms. McGee compares the power struggle to raising a child: The dynamics might change as the years go by, but even when problems arise, you don't talk about breaking up. "The relationship starts losing its spark, but you don't divorce your kids because they are adolescents. A healthy relationship is a lot of work. You have to learn the skills to advance."

To work through their problems, couples must create an "emotional safe zone," where both partners feel comfortable exploring and talking about anything. The partner becomes the best friend.

In this safe zone, partners must learn how to listen deeply to each other.

One partner talks for a minimum of 10 minutes. The other partner must sit still; look directly at his or her partner; not smoke, eat or drink; and not say a word. When he or she finishes, it is the other partner's turn. If one partner has nothing to say, the couple must complete the 10 minutes by sitting and looking at each other.

"This is giving everyone permission to feel everything, to identify and speak emotional truth," Ms. McGee says. "Men feel totally liberated. They don't feel like they are going to be emotionally invalidated."

In the deep listening exercise, no anger may be expressed. Partners explore their feelings about the relationship and will often begin making connections between their behavior and past hurts.

Most conflict, Mr. Taylor says, is the result of emotional childhood wounds inflicted by a parent, sibling or caretaker.

"It is not the partner's job to make up for what we didn't get in childhood," Ms. McGee says. "But unconsciously we are thinking: 'My father or mother didn't do it.' "

If deep listening is done consistently - starting with three 20-minute sessions a week - the relationship will be strong enough to take the next step into conflict resolution.

Anger can get in the way of resolving conflict. It can come in an aggressive form, such as hitting or throwing things. Or it can come in a passive form, such as teasing, denying, complaining, worrying, making sarcastic remarks or being silent.

"A lot of typical males don't know how to resolve conflict and find it painful to be intimate," Mr. Taylor says. "They have not had the education or tools to resolve the power struggle."

Ms. McGee and Mr. Taylor give couples a tool to help resolve conflict: the path to peace.

"[The ability to make peace] starts with an agreement," Ms. McGee says. "Step one is agreeing to what is considered acted out anger and saying 'time out' when it occurs."

For example, if a husband does not like the fact that his wife is always sarcastic, and she says, "Thanks for helping with the housework," the husband will say "time out." Even if she is right, and he didn't help, anger simply kills a relationship.

The wife must stop without a word. A time is set later when both can sit down and continue on their path to peace. On this path, the partner may use only "I" statements, such as, "I am angry because you were sarcastic to me." The partner repeats exactly what their partner says. They may not interpret, question or argue.

When one partner is finished, it is the other partner's turn. This process is limited to 10 minutes to ensure that it won't lead to a major confrontation. "It gets us back to trust and love," Mr. Taylor says. "It teaches us to be emotional."

When conflict is resolved and the path to peace is followed, couples find that sexual chemistry returns and best-friend chemistry is deepened.

Mr. Taylor and Ms. McGee met at the University of California-Santa Cruz and have been married for nine years. Both graduated with master's degrees in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

After graduating, they went to Asia to practice couples counseling. They stayed in Singapore, where they conducted training and had a private practice.

They started an organization that provides group counseling two years ago when they returned to the United States. They no longer have a private practice, but plan to teach the NewCouple model of relationships through their organization, classes, radio, TV and a dating service. In addition, they are hoping to establish a network of counselors and psychologists who endorse the NewCouple model.

"We are on the verge of a mega-rebirth of a new kind of relationship," Mr. Taylor says. "A NewCouple is a couple who knows basic self-skills and does whatever is necessary to keep the chemistry alive. They love learning and healing and embrace it together."

Karen Rangel is a Fort Worth free-lance writer.