My perspective on relationships is based upon the premise that healthy relationships require healthy individuals. Our pain, disappointment and anguish often come because we persist in expecting what we want, refusing to accept what is…..
Some people confuse sex or passion for love. My experience is that much more problematic is that need is mislabeled as love.
- When we need something, we naturally fear not having it.
- This fear leads to grasping, holding, or trying to control what we need so we can feel safe or unthreatened.
- Our “loved one” will experience this as an expectation or demand of what must be.
- While they may temporarily feel important, ultimately they will resent the restrictions or limitations.
- Need wants the status quo, at least until it isn’t needed any more.
- This naturally works against the growth principal in all living entities
When two people come together they each have a set of expectations1 that exist on three levels:
- spoken and conscious
- unspoken and conscious
- unspoken and unconscious
- These expectations can be about sex, friends, family, alone time, division of labor and many other things.
- When a commitment is made, a belief is that a contract has been signed by both parties agreeing to these expectations. When the inevitable occurs, and disappointment results the illusion begins to fade. I have been fooled or cheated is the reaction, and withdrawal or resentment result.
- Who doesn’t revel in the luxury of romance? What are its ingredients? How can we get it, sustain it?
- Romance requires obstacles2. Time, distance, people, circumstances or anything that prevents two people from forming a union. When the obstacles are overcome, romance begins to fade. This is not bad. It is supposed to be this way….. when romance fades, true love can emerge. If you identify love as only a romantic feeling, your search will lead to an endless cycle of relationships.
- Where does this leave us?
My view is that the goal of therapy is to help the individual :
- Understand themselves sufficiently to bring as many expectations into the conscious as possible
- Verbalize the expectations
- Risk being honest about who you are, what you want for yourself and ultimately with another.
- The real challenge is to reverse the instinctive reaction of human nature – to protect at all costs. The “games” we play are nothing more than maneuvers to get what we want (sex, love, intimacy) while remaining safe. That is where all the trouble starts. Because we have been hurt, we don’t want to risk it again, but we don’t want to be alone either…. catch 22.
- Therapy’s task 3 is to teach people to take the risk of pain by authentically exposing themselves to another accepting the possibility that there won’t be a match. This is the only way a real commitment can be made …. knowing what you are willing to give and what you want in return. With this the guess work, games and “work” are eliminated. My perception is that the only real work in a relationship is being honest …. everything else people describe as work, is really tolerating what they don’t like.
So when the individual discovers who they are, and are willing to disclose this to another, the stage is set for true intimacy. The challenge is for each of us to be enough aware of ourselves so that we can accomplish this.
Intimacy equals love. The honest authentic disclosure of one’s self to another(s). The courage to be inadequate or imperfect (Adler), sharing the differentness of our self honestly is effortful. Self-awareness is a prerequisite to differentiate the true self (Hutcheson & Macdonald)4 from the whole or false self. Conflict can be a valuable vehicle to facilitate the awareness and articulation.
A final point. Often we are attracted to the differences in another. We are drawn to and admire (even covet) qualities we would like to possess. The fantasy is that we somehow might be able to assimilate the quality or increase our value by adding this to who I am (e.g. a man choosing a partner for their beauty AKA arm candy).
When we are successful in capturing this “other” these differences pose a threat because they conflict with how we see ourselves suggesting we are less than the other – a threat to our self-esteem. So we set out to smooth away the differences, homogenizing the partner to be more like the “I”. To the extent we relieve our anxiety in doing this we obstruct love from being present. Fear is the opposite of love. The partner will likely experience a criticism or rejection for the difference and your fear prevents any understanding and empathy of the partner. So a prerequisite to love is the presence of two different and separate individuals. We can only experience the acceptance, feel the connection if a different one is present.
So my operational definition of love is the act of:
- 2 individuals focusing their attention3 on the other
- Each is willing to disclose how they feel, think, what they want at the deepest level
- Taking the risk of honoring honesty above all else in the process while disclosing
- Suspending the self, momentarily, in making every effort to understand and empathize with the other’s uniqueness and differentness
- Intimacy is achieved when the understanding connection that allows connection is reached
- Note this is a behavior or action. The result is the emotional experience often filled with intensity and even tension. This tension is the anticipation of the outcome. If this process is honored, regardless of whether approval is received then love is present. Our emphasis upon the emotion in our reference to love ignores the process and focuses upon the outcome. By focusing upon getting the feeling we choose a goal that seduces us into impression management, sacrificing the true self in exchange for the capturing. In this process we lose the chance at being known, accepted and truly loved.
- I acknowledge that many, even most relationships and marriage are based on other definitions. It can be justly argued that no single definition may be suitable for everyone. I have achieved no special enlightenment that bestows upon me the sovereignty to impose a single definition for others. This is my perception, opinion and experience.
- Clifford Sager’s Contracts & Relationship Therapy
- Max Learner’s America as a Civilization
- M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled
- Hutcheson & McDonald’s The Lemming Conspiracy