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Learning to Love

After a long life of loving different partners, and failing miserable in some, I write this from long experience of mistakes I and others make. My experience also arises from having worked as a therapist for 25 years, also from the experience of working with thousands of dreams people have sent me.

The whole feature is here below, but is also available as an eBook – in the UK or USA

The First Level of Love

We all know the first need of survival is to breathe. If a newborn baby fails to breathe it will die very quickly. After that comes water and food. Then there are less urgent needs such as shelter, ones without which life would be less comfortable, less satisfying, and would leave us ‘hungry’ for something. One of these needs is love.

However, in our times we have developed a rather strange definition of love. Somehow we have, in our literature and drama, and of course in our personal experience, believed love to be some sort of magic relationship, a sort of soul mate, that if we find, we will live ‘happily ever after’. But in fact few if any of us find such a mate, and ‘love’ relationships are usually only partly satisfying, or often deeply painful.

However, without love – defined differently – none of us would have survived physically or psychologically.

Birth has already been mentioned, and without someone there to meet us, and in meeting give years of their life to supporting and nurturing us during infancy, we would not survive. Not only is the giving of food and protection necessary, but also, if we are to grow into a reasonably well adjusted and happy adult, that caring person, and many others, also need to give a lot of themselves.

Somewhere in this giving and supporting of life lies a more fundamental definition of love. What has already been said above about birth is an introduction to this. Birth demonstrates to us some wonderful things about the mechanisms of love we might take for granted, but that are true at many levels. The forming baby links to its mother through the umbilical cord. This remarkable link brings nourishment to the forming child, and is an enormous self giving of the mother’s being to that of her baby. In a very real way, the umbilical cord is the flow of life. If it were cut without any substitute the baby would die.

Windhoek 106 The first thing the baby in the photo wanted to do was  to reconnect and wanted the breast..So we can define love as the giving and receiving from each other that happens through vital connection. Having been witness to many births a very obvious event is the cutting of the umbilical cord. What is not always so obvious is that the baby almost immediately tries to reconnect. It does this in two ways.

Firstly through the mother’s breast. Through that connection it again receives nourishment, but it also receives in the milk things that help it meet the infections and threats confronting it in the external world. Again, connection means survival.

Connection means life

At an even more subtle level another connection is attempted that isn’t always achieved. The baby attempts to form a living bond with its mother. In all mammals this level of connection is vital. Without it the baby will die unless it forms that bond with another adult. However, the bond is not simply that of having someone to feed you and protect you from harm. That simply feeds the infant body. But within that body is an infant consciousness, a living, feeling, learning and wonderful being. This ‘consciousness body’ also needs feeding to survive and grow. Babies abandoned and brought up by animals never become a human being. They remain at the psychological level of the animal rearing them. i Such connection means a sharing of caring love, of ideas and thoughts, and a way of helping the infant consciousness to find ways to learn, to explore, to be curious and adventurous.

These fundamental facts of biological and psychological life go on being true up the scale of human experience. They may not be as visible as the physical sperm and ovum merging, or the umbilical cord, but if you examine your own feelings and experience you can see them yourself. Understanding them and working with what is understood is vital for surviving in a changing world. A baby certainly faces change, and so do we. Love, in the form of vital connections at a physical and psychological level, is fundamental to human life. We need love, and we need connections.

Returning to basics again, it is obvious that the food we take in is central to our growth and continued existence. By food is meant the body and substance, and all they contain, of plants and animals. Those animal and plant substances are transformed into personal substance and awareness. Maybe this is a bit philosophical, but I believe that Life, in the form of its plants and animals, gives of itself to itself as a form of love. Life on this planet is fundamentally about giving and receiving from each other. You might view that as killing and taking; or you can see the wider picture or overview of it and see it as a universal process of symbiotic relationship.

However, we do not need the philosophy to see that the giving of language, the sharing of emotions and ideas, the flow that occurs in intimate relationships such as exist between mothers and their children, is what enables us to grow into a person who can talk and think. Without that you would, like the babies reared by animals, have no personal awareness. Self awareness, personality, personal existence, is not innate. It is not God given. It is a gift self aware people give to their children and each other. We literally create each other. Without such flowing, self giving – loving – connections we are either stunted in our growth, as are many fostered or abused children, or our growth stops at some point. We take each other in just as we take in the bodies of plants and animals. That is love. See Animal Children

Many of us have a diminished view of what and how love and sharing happens, The tremendous exchange of gases, fluids, bacteria – along with the social, verbal, sexual and sensual signals and interactions going on around us and influencing our own existence are not understood. Even bacteria share information with each other? They share what they have learned even with species of bacteria that are different. They give each other building blocks of what they have learned. If they have learned how to deal with a particular substance that is poisonous to them, then they will pass that information on to other bacteria. They give what they have learned. That is so fundamental to life even bacteria do it. Genetic studies in bacteria have revealed that extensive gene exchange is the norm between different bacteria even though they do not have formal sexual reproduction.

Enabling, fostering and developing that sort of love does not usually last long in the romantic ‘I’ll die without you’ feelings many of us associate with love in today’s world. But, to be honest, if we do ‘fall in love’ with someone, and experience the incredible intensity of connection with that person, a huge flow is created. In that magic connection enormous amounts of exchange go on. This is because it is exactly like a psychic umbilical cord through which we give of each other, usually without being aware of what is happening. If it works well we absorb different ways of behaving or responding, different ideas or information. Perhaps we experience a different way of seeing the world and our life in it. At its most profound it opens us to experience the huge universal truths underlying existence – the wonder of birth and motherhood; the universality of having a mate; the power of nest building and how it links us with countless other forms of life.

There is a ‘but’ though. It usually doesn’t last long. When it ends there is often an inflow of negative feelings, even a breakup of the relationship, along with the accusations of failure and betrayal aimed either at ones partner or oneself.Let us be clear about this. We are the product, an end of the line creature arising out of the need to survive incredibly challenging environments and earth changes. The imperative through our evolutionary past was to survive and procreate – whatever that took. On top of that, as is clear from the animal reared children, who we know ourselves to be is largely a product of the programming and responses other humans put into us. Living completely out of context with what was natural for us over millions of years, being raised in ways that very often lack the intense body to body, passionate emotional caring connection we need to nurture our growth, we are out of touch with what might instinctively create individual and social groupings to satisfy us.

Devoid of the innate guidance animals have that relates them spontaneously to each other and their environment, we are stranded, left largely to our own resources. For many of us, having our instinctive love injured either by parents who themselves didn’t know how to really connect physically, we do not know how to love fully – except maybe in a very dependent, needy and painful way. As such perhaps we need to learn how to ‘make love’. Not being able to rely on our rather disturbed habitual responses that were put into us as we grew; put in by a society that in no way demonstrates real lessons of love and survival; we need to form our own loving relationships out of an awareness of what is fundamental.

Having sex as a pastime, as a form of no handed masturbation in which we make no real connection with a partner, is not fundamental. Making fun relationships is not fundamental to the way life works. Most interactions in nature, even to the frequent sexual interactions of Bonobo apes, have individual and social meaning. Such interaction are for bonding and connection. But those are just suggestions, and the best way forward for each of us is to honestly admit what is or is not working. And when something is not working, we need to avoid blaming everyone and everything else. That doesn’t mean completely blaming oneself. That is anti-productive. It means daring to look closely at what assumptions, pains, feelings of dependency, loneliness or other factors contributed to what did not work – in both partners.

It might be easy to completely blame a partner who simply walks away from a relationship. However, you were the person who chose to connect with that partner. Why? If you don’t understand that you might do it again, or avoid all further relationships.

Pain in relationships, tremendous dependence, fear of abandonment, jealousy and desire to control or constantly reject or hurt ones partner, can all be understood if we recognise and work with what has been explained about the fundamental process of love.

So let us revisit some of what has been said in a new way by seeing how love passes through very clear stages.

First Stage – The Womb

Life in the womb is typified by complete dependence and helplessness. This means enormous possibility of feeling vulnerable. And if you don’t believe a foetus can feel or experience anything, think again. There is enormous evidence from the various approaches to psychotherapy that there is great sentience from the beginning.ii While there is not personal awareness, there is certainly a process of learning that involves developing responses to what is being met. For instance it is now understood that the developing child can be powerfully influenced by what the mother eats, drinks or experiences. Some recent findings show that the foetus actually adjusts to foods and other external conditions. There is in fact a growing body of research which attempts to understand the prenate as an intelligent and sentient being.

The picture shows a tiny arm reaching out to hold the surgeons finger. It is an operation on the womb because of a difficulty. It shows how life in the fetus is still aware and reaches out for support.

However, the aim here is not to explore the proof of prenatal sentience, but to summarise what problems might arise in adult life due to disturbances at that period of our development. Remember that this period of development is one of incredible sensitivity to influences such as drugs, including alcohol and nicotine. It is the most fundamental level of love, during which complete dependency and vulnerability exists.

Basic to stages of growth is the understanding that further development takes us into the next stage. If the particular stage is disturbed or injured in some way, then further development can be obstructed. What often gets in the way of us seeing that such damage to further development has taken place is that the body continues to mature and grow. However, the psychological or emotional development can remain at an infant or fetal level while the body ages. In fact some people remain deeply dependent throughout life, and find it impossible to survive alone.

Stage Two – Infancy

At birth we slowly emerge from the complete dependency experienced as a foetus. But we are still deeply dependent upon the loved person for ones needs, physical, emotional and social. The only difference is that if our connection with the mother fails, another person can take over our caring. If this has actually happened in ones own infancy, it can lead to the need always for more than one source of ‘love’.

This stage is typified by great anger, jealousy or pain if the loved one relates to anyone else, is lost, or threatens to leave. In an adult who has not matured beyond this stage, threatened loss of connection leads to enormous feeling reactions that may also be felt at a time of emotional withdrawal of the partner, even if there is no sign of them withdrawing physically. There is a desire for unconditional love and a need to be always with the loved one. In an adult with this level of love, sex may be a part of the relationship, but the main need is a bonded connection. This is sometimes felt as a need to have the loved person want you as much, or as desperately, as you want/need them.

Possibly the greatest fear, one that can trigger great anger, or an enormous desire to placate or earn love, is the threat or fear of being abandoned. Many so called adult relationships have actually not matured beyond this stage of love. The loss of a partner results in enormous emotional pain, anger, attempts to placate or regain the loved one, and feelings of personal worthlessness – I’m not good and unwanted – can haunt the abandoned partner.

It is from this level of emotional development that the frequent refrain heard in popular music arises – I can’t live without you. True – the baby cannot live without a loving mother.

 

Stage Three – Adolescence

This stage of love is about the long process of gradually becoming more independent of the parent or parents. There are many strategies people use to attain this or move toward it. Anger or loathing for parents can enable the risky move of leaving them. ‘Falling in love’ with someone else can unfasten the emotional and economic dependence on parents or carers and fix it on another person. The break may be made without this transference of affection by fixing ones attention on attaining a degree or new situation in life.

Other possible facets of the adolescent stage of love may be anxiety, uncertainty or clumsiness concerning emotional and sexual contact with the opposite sex; desire to explore many relationships; discovering what ones boundaries and needs are; powerful sexual drive.

In this stage any partner will probably be loved for the person’s own needs – for example the person might need to get away from family and the ‘loved one’ is an aid to this. There may be great romantic feelings and spontaneous love which are hard to maintain in face of difficulties.

The signs of this stage of love in adulthood are usually seen as enormous emotional responses, highs and lows, to relationship. This can lead to depression, alcohol dependency and active aggression or desire to break up the relationship because of the emotional turmoil they bring about. Part of the stress is linked with the drive to become independent, so the dependent connection with a partner can result in a see-saw – be with / get away from – response.

Remember, this is a time of enormous adjustment and change, physically, emotionally and socially. If these changes have not been navigated in actual adolescence, they will still be facing us as an adult in the relationships we enter into.

Stage Four – Adult Love

We do not usually emerge into the ability to love without the dependency, pain, jealousy and angers of infancy and childhood in easy progression. Many adults never manage adult love, but remain stuck in various adaptations to infant, child or adolescent love. Adult love brings with it a growing sense of recognising the needs of our partner yet not denying our own. It enables the ability to be something for the partner’s sake without losing ones own independence or will.

This means a real awareness of the issues that colour or influence relationship, and meeting them as partners. Independence and closeness or connection is achieved together. We become caring sexual partners through discovering each others needs and vulnerability, and supporting each other in them as far as we are able. This is done not through fear of abandonment or losing love, not through fear or avoidance of loneliness, but through admiration, respect and a working connection that has mutual advantage and nourishment in it.

A great deal of insight into your patterns of response can arise from an honest assessment of your own romantic history. What type of partner has attracted you – even temporarily – and who have you felt ready to explore a relationship with? Such a review will help you become aware of your predispositions and patterns. But it is important to realise that we are all dual beings. We exist strung between enormous duality – sleep and waking, male and female, pain and pleasure, light and darkness, life and death, and death and resurrection. To be whole we need to accept and meet these opposites. In the pursuit of love we need to recognise that that we must integrate the other gender to become whole.

What happens in a relationship that doesn’t integrate ones own inner opposite is that when we take a person into a close partner we actually integrate them into us as our male or female. Then if the relationship breaks up it feels like a part of us has been torn out – painfully. If we have become whole however, not such pain can occur, for we have our own inner male/female. See archetype of the anima and archetype of the animus

My partner is a grown up child

Taking all the above into account, what do you think it would be like to fall in love with or get married to someone who is only four or six years old emotionally? If you can’t remember being that young, love at that age means being incredibly dependent, with an enormous need for attention, possibly very jealous if someone else gets the love you desperately want; and if you lose a parent/loved one at that age it is devastating, even life threatening. But it may mean, because of early hurts, being unable to feel or express love.

I know this story very deeply, because it happens to be mine. Soon after my premature birth my ageing grandmother took over my rearing – my mother was working almost every day – so my grandmother became my first great love. But this first love of mine died before I was two. It left a very sensitive wound of loss in me.

I suppose I was one of the lucky ones as my mother took over after my grandma’s death. However, the wound was pierced once more when I was put in a hospital at three without any warning. The terror of feeling I was unwanted and was now losing my mother was beyond easy description. Then, at five my mother decided to punish me for being late home from school. Okay, she was worried, but she said to me, ‘You hurt me, and now I am going to hurt you.’ She did. She stripped me, bathed me, telling me she was sending me to the orphanage.

Remember the wound of loss? Well that really opened it up and deepened it. I was on my knees begging not to be hurt like that again. But it didn’t have the effect my mother wanted. Of course it was only an awful threat, but it was real to me, and I responded by cutting my mother out of my life as completely as I could. I cut out all love I felt for her and killed any emotional connection. It wasn’t a conscious act, more like an attempt at survival as I struggled with the apparent fact that my mother could get rid of me at any time.

It was a tragic act, and unfortunately the tragedy went two ways. My mother never received the love from her son that she could have had, and I never learned to let my love grow beyond that of a five year old. I married and helped raise five children, was capable, a hard worker and provider, but didn’t know how to love. My mother and father had never showed me, but I did have the buried memory of my grandmother.

Part of the tragedy of the lost love that had occurred in my life and can be seen in countless other lives if you look around, is that most of us have actually buried our childhood so have no awareness at all of what love is or what has been lost. So as a married adult I thought that what I was experiencing daily was natural. What gradually woke me up was what I could see concerning the way I dealt with my children.

It horrified me enough to start probing to find out what the problem was. Also there was something like a buried agony in me that set me searching for something I couldn’t define. I was desperately lost in ‘normal’ life. It was and is the ‘normal’ life I see many people still lost in. Maybe your child self didn’t get buried for the same reasons mine did, but are you still searching? Do you sense something is missing? Is there a hole inside that you try to cover up with enormous external activity, ambition, alcohol or medication – or even frantic meditation? Do you recognise some of the signs from what was described above about the ages of love?

My story continues in both a tragic and a transformative way. My terrible need to find what was missing drove me to leave my wife and children. I found a woman who for the first time in my life I could explore a loving relationship with. To my amazement I discovered I was a five year old emotionally – even though in other ways I was a capable and creative adult. I couldn’t let my new wife out of my sight. I was intensely jealous, and was terrified of loss. But like a shattered war victim who has buried awful memories I gradually uncovered my past. Slowly I learned to grow up to love. The empty space has gone. I am no longer desperately searching for someone who will make it alright. Loss is no longer a terror, and I honestly believe I can love without those pains.

We are all different, and I am not suffering the illusion that if I pay thousands of dollars to a millionaire she or he will be able to tell me how to get rich. It is pointless to tell you the circuitous route and the magical moments of my personal journey. But I can tell you some of the landmarks of the road to transformation from being a baby in love.

Opening the doorway to love

The doorway to change is opened by honestly admitting your emotional age and recognising that it is not normal, as our culture suggests, to feel agony or huge grief in loss. Those arise, as do jealousy, rage, and all the other responses to relationship we develop, through childhood hurts, from an almost universal sickness of our times. The fundamental needs of childhood are almost never met by modern parenting within the environment of today’s commercial and industrial world. The love sickness is seen everywhere.

There is an enormous amount of ways we could have reacted to our own love problems as a child. Those reactions remain almost totally unconscious in adulthood. Some that I have witnessed are:

  • Being intellectually capable and dealing with love and relationship like a captain in command of a ship – in control – never letting it get out of hand or allowing the emergence of emotions.
  • Enormous pain or discomfort if you become intimate or get emotionally close to the person you are involved with. This causes a kickback that leads you to pull away from the person. The approach and retreat goes on again and again.
  • Terrible urgency to avoid being alone or without a partner. This can lead to the awful feelings that you are unwanted, unloved, or of no account in the world.
  • Dreams or fears that your partner will leave you for someone else – or even die.
  • Avoidance of the opposite sex, sexual connection, or of a loving, caring and prolonged relationship.
  • The inability to love – i.e. to deeply give of oneself – or the rejection of love from another.
  • Enormous introversion or enormous extroversion
  • Brutality or hurtfulness in relationship. This can be in the form of subtle accusations or criticisms masked as rational comments.
  • Fear of death.
  • Release through pornography or sexual diversions.

After the admittance of your emotional age, the next landmark is to recognise what the signs of adult love might be. This may be an ideal goal as few of us reach the zenith of adult love. However, having walked some of the way myself and seen it in others, the sign of adult love is its unconditional nature. We see this in some parents. Their love doesn’t change or diminish when their children leave home and go with other partners. Such love is unconditional. It is not grasping or controlling. It does not lead to sulking or great pain, but has achieved emotional independence. Therefore it offers these things to those loved.

As I say, this is an ideal, but mature love is when we accept that the person we care for is a separate and unique individual with their own needs and directions in life. We do not love them if they obey all our needs arising out of our fears and pains. We love them simply because they are who they are, because we respect and admire them, and we allow them the freedom that hopefully we give ourselves.

Caring and honesty are a part of this acceptance into and allows us into a wider life. One needs to be honest in ones dealing with other people and oneself. This is obvious in that the wider life IS made up of other people. Unless one has achieved a trustworthy place in the hearts of friends and those near you, then you are obviously not let into the deeper aspects of their life because they cannot trust you with little things, let alone their soul or affections. This means there are various levels of marriage and love arising from this trust. There is a form of marriage that spans time and different personalities. In this form of marriage you have learned to trust someone so well you had agreed deep within self to unite your life with them for ones entire existence. This was not a conscious decision and ritual. It happened because there was nothing between yourself and the other person that could interfere with continued sympathetic contact no matter what the life situation. It didn’t matter what the gender situation was between people who married in this way. The link was one of care and trust, and it spanned many physical existences.

This is an unconditional love. It doesn’t place the conditions on the other person of only being loved or lovable when they remain our satellite. When we do that we make of them a possession, somebody manipulated by our own moods, fears, emotional blackmail, or underhanded tricks. If we are grown up in love and our partner leaves us or goes with someone else, having matured we will have already seen that as a possibility (come on, look around). It will mean difficult changes, but not ‘heartbreak’, not depression or long years of grief or anger. It will also mean that because we love that person we will continue to be interested in their welfare and be glad if they are happy. If that sort of love is not possible for you start asking yourself why, and look at the roots of your own love. Remember your youth and childhood. It is a slow thing to regain such memories, but that is the way to becoming whole. If you don’t know who you are you are really only half a person, only half remembering who you are.

To grow up and become a mature lover takes courage. Each time we try to possess the other person, lash out at them through jealousy, curtail their life through our fears and insecurities, we need to stop and say, “This is childhood behaviour. I will not let this anger, possessiveness, jealousy or emotional blackmail be perpetrated on the person I presumably love. I will face this and deal with it as my personal difficulty. I will not rationalise and excuse it by saying to my partner that I love them. That is an underhanded excuse. It is not love.”

Recognising the Face of Love

The next stage in growing up to love is another act of recognition. What you are looking for in this is whether you are seeking someone else to assure you of love. You cannot find love while you believe it depends on someone else. That is child love again that depends on the parent for all needs – perhaps even for survival.

This is a difficult one as our whole social and cultural mythology surrounding love is that we need someone else to provide it. That is true in childhood, but not in adulthood. The lie of it can be seen when we look at those abnormally dependent partners who constantly clamour for attention for fear of loss or competition. If we see that as abnormal and childlike, what is the opposite of it?

If you honestly explore where jealousy, fear of abandonment, dependency on your partner arises from, I know from experience in tracing my own and many other people’s love problems, that they arise from childhood.

Perhaps you will have to accept this on trust, but love is not something you possess or develop. It is like life itself, given to you as a part of your existence. It flows through you, and that flow may have been damaged or twisted during your life, but it is still fundamentally there in you and can be released by undoing the knots. Then it is yours whether you are with a partner or not. Love is then a meeting of equals who shine the precious flow of this wonder on each other and magnify it. We do not claw at each other trying to get what is missing in ourselves.

There are no quick fix tricks in this opening to love, just as there are no quick fix tricks to growing physically from childhood to adulthood. Both of them flow from the core processes of life in you, and need you to work with and honour that process. Physically you do not honour it by not eating good food, not sleeping, exposing yourself to excessive stress and ignoring injuries and sickness. You do not honour your personal growth to maturity by denying you have a relationship with the Life that gives you existence, and that its gift of love and wellbeing may have been injured or twisted in some way.

Just as you would tend a gash in your leg, so you need to heal the wounds to love. A wounded leg would severely limit your ability to function in life. Wounded love is no less a difficulty in living your best.

Surviving Love and Relationships

A loving relationship is one of the most sought goals. It is also one of the most difficult to attain and maintain. A major reason is that most of us fail to understand some of the fundamental aspects of what makes us love, and what might make us destroy what love we give or receive. To call most of today’s relationships loving is incorrect. They are often best described as featuring possessiveness, jealousy, fear of abandonment, emotional blackmail, aggression, and huge dependence. If things go wrong retaliation, blaming, anger, malice and open warfare frequently appear. Or if one partner leaves the relationship there may be enormous pain, the sort of pain a child feels when abandoned by its parent. All of these are the emotions and fears that are part of baby and child love, along with sibling rivalry. How else can you explain the emotional devastation that frequently accompanies the break-up of a relationship?

In fact Dr Harville Hendrix, like so many other experts who have investigated the ups and downs of love and relationship, says that when it comes to love many of us have not managed to develop emotionally beyond childhood. Hendrix is a psychologist specialising in marital therapy, and is the author of four books on relationships, including Getting the Love You Want, a guide for couples that became a New York Times Best-seller and sold 1.5 million copies in the US.

Also, not only may you not have grown emotionally beyond childhood, but very often the lessons in love you picked up from your parents or carers, leave you in no fit state to really love an adult partner.

Perhaps you are like our friend Michael. He falls in love, begins to get close, and even manages a heterosexual physical relationship, but then the pain and confusion hits him and he pulls away fast. With Michael it is easy to see the reasons. He was put in an orphanage at an early age and was never in a relationship in which he could learn to love without fear of losing. That fear arose from the pain of having lost his first and most important love – his mother. He never had the chance to grow beyond childhood dependence and needs. As soon as he gets emotionally close to his woman it opens the wound of pain from those years of abandonment. Unable to face the enormous emotional pain of childhood he pulls away.

But sometimes the reasons are obscure or forgotten. Even so, many of us either cannot manage a full heterosexual relationship, or can only manage one filled with insecurities, jealousy, the need to make our partner into a satellite who can never be allowed real freedom, or even the anger and hurt that leads to violence. Some of us constantly feel a victim to our partner’s independence because of our own insecurity and emotional dependence. We blame them for all the hurt felt and changes made.

To get a grasp on your own skill in loving, it is worth briefly considering the levels of love we pass through in childhood, and what we might achieve in real adulthood.

Ages of Love

The many years of psychological research enable us now to definitely know the minutes, hours and days that followed birth, are of prime importance in the fundamental development of relationship. This is true of most warm-blooded animals, and some cold-blooded. It is vital for us mammals to experience a powerful and lasting bond with our parent or parents. This bond has to work both ways, otherwise the newborn baby will soon die. In human terms this means the parent(s) must want the infant as much as it wants them. Without this strong bond there is not a full satisfaction for either the baby or the parent. This need for complete bonding has arisen out of millions of years in which without it the baby would die. For a baby this bonding means being close to its mother all the time – flesh close if possible.

Although as a baby we have no verbal language and thus no thoughts, we are still highly intelligent in an instinctive way and can learn. We can also makes decisions, just as animals make decisions, by learning to avoid pain or dangerous situations or forms of relationship. So if birth has been a tough journey, or if the bonding and warm body of mother is not there after birth, the ‘life decision’ can well be that of withdrawing from involvement in living and relating. If we put this into words it could be, ‘I am not welcome here. Everything hurts. I don’t want to go on with this.’

Often this creates a huge conflict that for many people is never resolved. On the one hand childhood has helped us put in place decisions that tell us close relationship is full of pain or actual danger, as with children who are beaten or abused. But real pain can arise from much more subtle things such as emotional and physical distance and absence of appreciation and support. An intellectual and emotionally distant parent can create as much pain as one who beats. Then, alongside those inbuilt urges to avoid full relationship, and innate in us, is the drive to procreate, to enter the intimacy of a sexual or emotional relationship. These push us into the very horror of what engraved past experience tells us we must at all costs avoid. The result – difficulties in relationship.

At this earliest stage of love there is TOTAL dependence. That is a difficult place to be if your need isn’t fulfilled. If there is still a scar in adulthood from lack of bonding and warm love it leads to great vulnerability in relationship, and an urge to never quite make a full connection with anybody. The love is dependent, jealous, possessive and fearful. There might be genital connection, but not a full giving of oneself to another.

Lifeline of Love

There is another aspect of this early love that is often never understood or written about.

Birth demonstrates to us some wonderful things about the mechanisms of love we might take for granted, but that are true at many levels. The forming baby links to its mother through the umbilical cord. This remarkable link brings nourishment to the forming child, and is again an enormous self giving of the mother’s being to that of her baby. In a very real way, the umbilical cord is the flow of life. If it were cut without any substitute the baby would die.

At a psychological level losing the connection gives rise to the fear of dying. Having the connection brings the ability to meet life’s difficulties with confidence and resources.

Love – the giving and receiving from each other – and connection, are vital to survival.

Connection means life.

We know that if we do not feed the baby and protect it there will never be the full development or flowering of it in a physical way. That is equally true of the infant consciousness, and the bonding it is attempting is the formation of another type of umbilical cord, but this time a more mature one that flows two ways. If this does not form the child will be as restricted in the growth of its psychological and spiritual potential as the infant body is when not fed.

This connection is subtle, and if it could be seen, it would appear as a cord of energy connecting mother and child, or carer and child. Through it the child and mother exchange vital psychological and spiritual nutrition. If the mother is emotionally, intellectually or spiritually impoverished, then so will the child be – and by spiritual in this context is meant an awareness that extends beyond the mother’s physical senses, her external environment, and the limits of her own mind and understanding.

What the baby learns at this point about making a connection at this level forms the foundation of all later relationships. However, like any living and growing thing, what is established or learned at this basic level can be extended and transformed later as long as the feelings evoked at the time can be met.

Although this new umbilical cord is subtle, we can of course see when such a living link exists between mother and child. The exchange of glowing pleasure in each other is obvious, as is its absence. With such a positive experience of relationship the baby soon starts, as it grows, to reach out to others to enjoy the wonder of that exchange with those who can respond. Even when very small such children reach out their arms to those they recognise as being able to exchange what we usually call love, but might be defined as a sharing of their own feelings, responses and pleasure, at a physical, emotional and mental level appropriate to both of them.

Tragically, if this early connection does not occur in a satisfying way, even though the child’s physical environment is fine, it may find it difficult or sometimes impossible to risk the building of such an intimate connection with others.

Those are the growing buds that later flower as fully as they can into adult love. Fortunately, even when there have been missing areas of nourishment in the flow from our parent or parents we can extend some degree of connection with others who can nourish us more fully in our emotional, mental and spiritual development.

However, the joy or pain of relationship we learn in the early attempts at bonding leave lasting patterns that can either be built upon, or act as huge difficulties. Such a negative influence can leave a variety of responses to seeking or finding love. Considering that the earliest stage of love is enormous dependence and fear of abandonment, this, or the avoidance of further loneliness and despair can haunt adult relationships.

Because of the child rearing methods in western countries, and because of the preponderance of nuclear families that make it difficult for a child to find a nourishing connection elsewhere if its parents are not fully engaging, many of us become adults for whom love is difficult. We take it as natural that loss of our partner can result in prolonged pain. Jealousy and fear of abandonment are accepted as normal, even though they are obviously traits from early childhood. Inability to find meaningful and supportive relationship is almost an epidemic. And unless we can find ways of dealing with or healing those early wounds we cannot fully and creatively meet the confrontation with change. A part of our nature will still be looking for the love we missed, the nourishment we never had, the glow of wholeness and pleasure that comes from knowing love.

Our Old Brains

Most of these responses to relationship go on under the surface of our awareness. They occur in older levels of the brain, and we now know there are at least three levels of brain. Beneath the large brain we use to speak, problem solve and deal with being self aware, there are two older brains. These are the mammal brain, and the reptile brain. Both of them are still very influential in directing our behaviour without us being aware of where our impulses, reactions and inclinations are coming from. Mostly we rationalise them by telling ourselves ‘that is what I wanted to do’.

The mammalian brain deals with the intricacies of social behaviour, top dog – under dog relationships, emotions and caring for offspring. The reptilian brain is basically dealing with survival, reproduction and flight or fight reactions. i

These old brains are always on the alert. They constantly pose the questions, ‘Is it safe? What am I learning from this? How shall I respond next time?’ Hendrix says they put people into categories. They ask, is this someone to nurture, be nurtured by, have sex with, run away from, fight, submit to, or eat? It is from those impulses the baby learns, and they are only slowly transformed as the baby absorb language and grows toward maturity. Like any mammal, conditioned reflexes are imprinted within us from hard experience. So the lessons learned are still active in adulthood unless made conscious and changed – or our brain connections re-wired. See Avoid Being Victims; Reptilian Brain and Conditioned Reflexes

A woman, who described two relationships in which the child level was still very active, said they were very passionate. The men were incredible emotional, passionate and aware of her connection with them. But one of them, when the woman’s mother visited and took her attention and time, wept because for a while there was less emotional flow between them and less attention given to him. In two relationships of this type that she described, both the partners lacked practical abilities, and did not manage to actualise their talents in the ‘world’. So although the relationships were satisfying emotionally and sexually they did not last, as they never managed to manifest anything solid in the social and material side of life. We need to be a whole person to form a lasting bond with a whole person. A whole person is capable of giving themselves emotionally, sexually, culturally in working and providing, as a mental being, and also a spiritual being.

Growing up to Love

Moving beyond the sort of love that is still at the baby or child level we first need to admit that we are still reacting to love from early patterns and life decisions. It is vital to define what those patterns or life decisions are, otherwise they will unconsciously dominate the way you choose a partner, and will flood old disruptive emotions and fears into all you attempt in the relationship. The self-watch and imagery approaches described elsewhere can be great tools in arriving at such insights and definitions. So when you observe yourself in the sort of painful, blaming, jealous or possessive response to your partner take time to ask yourself where the feelings are arising from using those tools. See: Exercise Four; Self Observation.

A great deal of insight into your patterns of response can arise from an honest assessment of your own romantic history. What type of partner has attracted you – even temporarily – and who have you felt ready to explore a relationship with? Such a review will help you become aware of your predispositions and patterns.

Theories of what attracts us to a partner suggest a man is attracted to a classically beautiful and healthy women, especially if she shows indications of being in peak childbearing condition. The same theories say that women are attracted to men for different reasons. They instinctively choose mates with leader or outstanding qualities, the ability to dominate other males and bring home real substantial rewards. Therefore it often happens that an ageing wealthy executive is as attractive to women as a young and handsome, but less successful, male.

However, there are many things that filter such possible urges. Our own self image if it is low might well stand in the way of going for someone more successful or socially achieving. So, physical attractiveness, personal confidence, social rank, financial status, property and goods, all act as powerful barriers or attractors, depending on your own situation. Pride or embarrassment at how we feel our mate will be seen by others also plays a part.

What attracts us might therefore be a lack of status or confidence, and this because of our own situation and self image. However, a major conclusion Hendrix reached was that after years of theoretical research and clinical observation he was led to see that we are each looking for someone who has the predominant character traits of the people who raised us. He goes on to link this with what had been presented above regarding old childhood decisions and wounds.

He says that from his clinical experience with thousands of couples who have stated what they want from their partner he concluded that what is driving them is a compelling need to heal old childhood wounds. iii In most cases this is not because we were abused or traumatised by our parents. However, it is almost impossible to have our enormous needs for contact and security fulfilled in a modern family setting. Being raised in a primitive tribe where, as a baby, we were carried next to our mother’s breast till we are emotionally ready to begin separation, would be ideal. Most of us are still yearning for what we didn’t get. We seek a partner urged on by such yearning. Strangely, we mostly seek someone as damaged or inept as we are. If we don’t know how to love, we find just such a partner. We long for them as an infant does, and are open to the same misery and pain when it doesn’t work. And unfortunately it is almost impossible to find a mate that will be for us the loving parent/partner who will caringly raise us from the emotional age of a child. That is a job for us to do – raise our own child. See the book All MY Children by Jacqui Lee Schiff. It shows how even severely disturbed children can be re-parented.

We may think ourselves adult, we may be in responsible and top paid jobs, but when we enter a relationship the truth of our inadequate and infant coping strategies is revealed. The misery and pain we feel after the initial utopia of falling in love, the return to the Garden of Eden, confronts us again with the need to help our own inner child grow toward adulthood.

Unfortunately, the partner your inner longing felt sure would make everything fine, is having the same problem.

What follows is that we return to using all the tactics we used as a child in our attempts to get the love and attention we so desperately needed – anger and placation are two fundamental ways. Buy flowers, cook great meals, be caring, or feel frustration and rage. We cry, withdraw, try a new approach, experience depression and even try being alone to see if it helps. Then a feeling of failure or inadequacy overcomes us. Maybe we or no-good as a person. Perhaps it is that we are un-lovable and we feel guilt and shame. If that doesn’t satisfy we turn to blaming. It is all our partners fault. However, if you fail to understand this situation, if you do not have the tools, this struggle can go on, and on, and on, with partner after partner.

So What do We Do?

Whatever partner we are with we still carry our problems unless they have been resolved. Also, nature itself is dynamically in states of opposition that attempt resolution. It is a resolution that never arrives. Thus the earth swings around the sun. The great ocean currents are constantly on the move as warm and cold meet. Compatibility is impossible. Marriage simply puts us into close contact with challenge. To meet this needs real personal and interpersonal awareness – self awareness. It needs honesty of a type you may previously not have developed in yourself. It calls for this honesty to be used in communication of great intimacy in which, although great emotions may throw their lightning bolts, there needs to be underlying good will – in fact love and respect.

This awareness, honesty and communication needs to be learned. It is not usually natural to us. Learning it immediately confronts us with the enormous defences we usually live within. We find ourselves face to face with shocking revelations about ourselves, and the opening of doors that reveal secrets that are difficult to speak or even feel. This growing up, this move toward real adulthood is only for those who are determined enough and strong enough to move through their own defences, lies and unconsciousness toward their own truth.

It is for those who can actually admit to themselves and their partner such things as –

  • I am being defensive.
  • This really frightens me.
  • Sorry, but I am blaming you again.
  • Be careful, I am feeling enormous anger.
  • I know this is in regard to my mother/father, but you are now in the place of them.
  • I have cut off from you emotionally and sexually because I have been hurt too many times.
  • I am trying to move through this, but I feel so incredibly vulnerable.
  • This is hard to say, but I feel inadequate – a failure – unwanted and unlovable. Try to understand that emotionally I am only a child.
  • You treat me like a heap of shit and I plan to leave you.
  • I do not understand how you do not walk the talk. I thought we were partners, not combatants.

In such exposure by both partners we come to see that love, marriage, or partnership, is about learning to support each other in what is needed to take the amazing journey toward adult love and adult life. It is hard, but as we move on the journey, what we find is truly amazing. We slowly recreate ourselves and discover the holy secret that is self.

We need every resource we have to make this journey toward wholeness in love. Even our partner, as caring as they might be, cannot be seen as the all dependable source of parenting for our own inner child. You must yourself help to raise your child. You must parent yourself. Compassion for each other must emerge.

All your rational skills are needed to do this. It needs clear awareness of what is involved, and what ones unconscious child can do in a relationship and what its needs and emotional responses are. On top of that you have to state exactly what is happening to you in any encounter, and change the habitual response of anger or defensiveness to another less fraught response. What you are dealing with are lifelong habits that have been unconscious. The first step is to recognise them, and the next step is to make a different linkage. So instead of feeling guilty and defending yourself by being angry, you could admit to your partner what is happening and being felt and suggest another way of dealing with what you are both facing.

As an example of what the lack of honest and in depth communication can do, a few weeks after their marriage, Tim got into bed with Peggy and found her withdrawn and unapproachable. Previously they had enjoyed frequent love making, but now Peggy wouldn’t be touched, she wouldn’t speak to him, and making love was out of the question. Eventually Tim managed to get an explanation. Peggy said she would have nothing to do with him because he had argued with her mother. The row had been about Peggy’s mother attempting to dominate their newly founded household.

Tim wanted them to make their own decisions, but Peggy said unless he changed, there would be no sex. Tom felt he could not change and develop their life together as he wished it to be while his mother-in-law was running the household. Peggy therefore maintained her no sex policy for six months.

The event took place twenty years ago. The intimacy and trust that were emerging in their relationship never fully returned. Unfortunately almost anything we feel strongly that conflicts with our partner cannot help but change the subtle feelings of warmth, respect and pleasure that are basic in sharing not only our body, but ourselves. In a long relationship even small unresolved conflicts or hurts build up into a wall that separates, even while sleeping in the same bed.

Integrating our past loves

Also each person we spend time with, fall in love with, make love to or grow up with, or even animals, we develop an incredible and often invisible bond. For instance many women and men write and ask why they keep dreaming of partners, parents of even old friends they have moved on from.  You keep dreaming about your ex from years ago or old friends because while you lived with them you experienced millions of memories, situations, conflict and learning experiences. So you carry them with you as memories, lessons learnt, love or anger still trying to find a way of being absorbed.

The best way to deal with our past is to work on integrating the influence left in you from the relationships. You can do this by thinking about the feelings and problems about your ex and drawing on all you got from him or her. So I would suggest you integrate all the good and bad things. Try doing this by taking the dream feelings and memories of your ex and pulling them back into your body. Yes, literally making him one with you. Do this slowly and allow any feelings that arise. This may sound strange but all the feelings and memories in us are projections from you inner world onto the screen of mind; so taking them back into you is like owning them and integrating them. It is called honouring what we learned, bad or good, from the relationship. Think of it like digesting something. In a relationship, whether a feeling relationship or one in which you are learning something, you often absorb things from the person. You might take in such things unconsciously, as you did many things from parents and from the culture you were raised in. So the process of absorption in a dream may refer to such influences you are taking in. Obviously you need to allow your feelings to flow. Integration only takes place when we allow ourselves to feel deeply. See Life’s Little Secrets

 

The Old Story

In human life I have had this insight or feeling that each woman – and I suppose each man too – has an innate feeling that they have something very precious to offer.  In a primitive way they sense they have something extraordinary.  Because awareness is so centered in the personality this often causes great confusion or pain.  The woman for instance links this feeling with love, or wanting to be loved.  She knows she has something splendid to give, but she confuses it with her personality, perhaps even with her body and its outer appearance.  But the treasure of course is her genes, her amazing and precious eggs.  With a man of course it is living seeds he carries as sperm.  These are unique treasures that we hold within us.

In the widest sense life simply urges us to procreate and play with these infinite patterns and possibilities.  We, in being involved with this, have a personal experience.  But why?  The sex urge pushes us because of the sense of wonder that we carry within us, to be recognised, to be wanted, to be treasured and loved.  If we are healthy we are crying out, “Me!  Me!  Me!”  Of course all natural things do that.  Plants cry out with their colours and perfumes.  Women do it with all manner of clothes, colours, perfumes, hairdo’s and makeup.  Men do it with physical display, poses of power, social positioning and recognition of, or feigning recognition of, a woman’s unique wonder.

Of course, some women and some men give out the, “Me.  Me” signal a lot stronger than others.

How many girl’s dreams have been dashed when her period has started after being in bed with a pop star or man she really connected with?  A leader figure perhaps?  How many caught fire when the period didn’t come?  They knew they had the fire burning inside them.

I suppose much of that drive is to explore the possibilities of one’s own uniqueness – to play it out.

The Tools

With the sort of difficulty Tim and Peggy found themselves in there has first to be the decision in both of them that they want to repair their loving connection. This is often the first step in actually moving toward a mature love, and the child in us often does not want to let go of hurt feelings and forgive. After all, we may have been hurt so many times that we are very cautious about opening ourselves to that possibility again. Some tools that may help are as follows. They need to be practised as most of us do not have these skills naturally. These approaches were developed many years ago in such groups as re-evaluation counselling, but Hendrix calls them ‘dialogue’, and they can be understood as listening skills.

To start with you have to understand that in using these tools as a couple you are going to create a different setting than the normal everyday scene in which talking to each other often leads directly to disagreement and argument. This is like entering a circle in which all weapons are left outside. It is helpful to have practised the ’self watch’ method before you use what follows.

Step One: Sit with your partner in a comfortable way and in a setting you will not be disturbed in. Decide who is going to start, and what the issue is you want to explore. Only deal with one issue at a time, not all the pains you might be blaming each other for.

The partner who is going to speak now says what they need to without any interruption – that means NO interruption. If you are the one speaking you say what you want to without blaming your partner for your hurts or what you feel. You do this by explaining what you felt in what happened. So instead of saying, ‘You walked out and slammed the door in the middle of me trying to talk with you and made me feel shitty for the rest of the day,’ you could say, ‘When you walked out the other day and slammed the door while I was trying to talk with you, I felt as if a door had been slammed on my feelings of connection with you.’

As the listener you do not respond until your partner has finished. Then you repeat what you understood was said. This is not a game of win or lose. It is about real working partnership, so if your partner does not agree that you understood what was said, they should repeat the bits you failed to grasp until you can repeat clearly what their statement was. Very often we don’t listen, but are just waiting for them to finish so we can put forward our own argument. This requires us to actually take in what our partner is saying and what they need.

You then change roles and repeat it the other way around.

Step Two: When you have learned how to do that to your mutual satisfaction you now actually change roles. You get up and sit where your partner was sitting. Then you see if you can be them as fully as possible. This is not about repeating what they said accurately, it is about sympathetically or even empathetically seeing if you can feel what it is like to be them, and speak or express from that place.

The first step was about learning how to listen and actually hear each other without argument or conflict. This step is concerned with learning how to understand your partner, to stand in their shoes. It might take a while to learn, but believe me you have it in you to do. You cannot live with someone and have any degree of sexual relationship without absorbing an enormous amount of insight and knowledge about them. Maybe it happened out of the corner of your eye, unconsciously, but it happened. Now you are tuning into it and letting your partner see and know how much they have entered into you. As with the other skills, it needs practice, but you can do it. See What we take in from others

Repeat this until you are mutually satisfied. This may take many sessions, but it is a pathway to real marriage. It leads to the recognition that your partner is not you. They are a wonderful unique being who you have chosen to build a life together with. If you truly meet this unique being, then you can develop ways of living together and working toward a future with each other. From the understanding arrived at you can begin to make adjustments to how you deal with each other and your way of life together. As one woman said, ‘When I tried to explain things to my husband he would just grunt. In fact that was the nickname his friends gave him, ‘Grunt’. If I was enthusiastic he would tell me to shut up and be quiet. But now I am with a man who listens and appreciates me. He explains his difficult responses if we hit them, and tries to understand mine. So I feel so much love and support now.’

Quite honestly it is worth learning this before you get married with any partner you want to find out about. Heart to heart communication between family, friends and associates is still a problem for many people. Some further tips on creative and healing listening are:

1) Take time fairly frequently to really share your feelings. This involves exposing what you feel, your vulnerabilities and failings in some degree. If you find it difficult to talk about such things as love, sex or anger try using an analogy. A client, when asked what his difficulty was with his wife appeared to talk about something else. He told how he often went to lean on his garden fence, and sometimes a woman neighbour goes by and they talk and laugh together. He obviously didn’t know how to define his problem, but the story told it all. He needed more times of happy talking and laughing with his wife.

2) We all want to be heard, but often we don’t let our partner finish a sentence or explore their theme. We don’t participate, or maybe we pull back because feelings other than positive ones disturb us. It is enormously healing to be able to accept your partner’s pains as well as happiness. So a great way to help them unfold their feelings is to ask questions that show interest, and not criticise or pull back from their difficult feelings. Also, what are they suggesting ‘between the lines’ of what is being said, and what is their body language saying? Occasionally summarise what words and body have revealed and give feedback.

3) Have controlled arguments when needed. We cannot agree with each other all the time, and creative arguments can unveil important realisations that were lost in difficult feelings. Such creative arguments can only occur if you both avoid blaming your partner for what you feel. Better to say ‘I’ instead of ‘you’. Avoid criticism, contempt and defensiveness. Keep in mind what you are trying to resolve, and that you ARE trying to resolve it rather than win an argument, so take stock every so often.

4) Great and deeply satisfying communication is a skill and needs us to learn to meet each other from a different standpoint than we may have learned in life so far. It is not simply conversation. It is communication. To emphasise this it is worthwhile suggesting you spend a certain time together in this way. For instance most of us are reared in a way that suggests things can be right or wrong, and that we are either good or bad. These types of judgments and attitudes do not allow great communication.

Supposing, as an example we say to a child, ‘You are really naughty.’ If we took time to really examine what was happening, it might be that we felt anxious or angry about what the child did. So creative communication needs you to say just that. ‘I felt really scared when you did that.’ Or perhaps, ‘I am feeling so tired and vulnerable at the moment I keep snapping at you,’ instead of, ‘If you don’t stop upsetting me I am going to kick you.’

To Love or Not to Love – That is the Question

There are skills to use and things to recognise even before you enter a relationship though. Recognising your ‘age of love’ as described above is a first step. From that you will be able to predict what you are going to need or be like in the partnership.

Another helpful approach prior to any real connection is to look at the track record of the person you are thinking of starting a relationship with – and of course also your own. ‘Falling in love’ is no real guide to the success of the relationship. The hormonal rush that is behind such feelings, the crazy hopes and dreams, the sexual impulses, the loneliness, along with the childhood and ‘older brain’ urges, can all lead you into a labyrinth. So check out if your partner has already been through several or many failed relationships. Are they independent emotionally and economically? What resources as a person will they bring to the partnership – and of course, what resources and track record will you bring? What is the emotional age of both of you?

If it is possible for you both to take a long cool look at such questions and talk over how you can deal with them, you have a lot more chance of success. But beware of this silly idea that ‘love’ will change your partner and heal their damaged soul. A couple we know fell into that trap. The man tried to tell his new partner that he experienced a life long sexual problem. The woman assured him she would soon help him overcome that. She never did and it became a mutual agony.

The Long View

You also need something of a long view, again difficult when you are ‘in love’. This is like people refusing to talk about death. We are all going to meet it, so why not face it now and work out a strategy to deal with whatever your feelings are?

Relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, fail, even with the starting point of intense love. Figures differ from fifty percent failure in the US, to one in three in the UK. Hetro or homo are about the same. Statistics show there is a huge decline in marriage, with a swing to living together without the ceremony. Also there is a massive increase in adults without a partner. It has risen from six point five to thirty percent since 1960.

To avoid recognising that the social and personal climate surrounding marriage in our own times has changed is to invite heartache and feelings of failure. Best to recognise that a huge percentage of marriages and partnerships founder, and being human you face that possibility too. With that in mind you can start your partnership with understanding and planning in place to meet and deal with difficulties as and if they arise. In the US a pre-nuptial agreement can save a lot of misery and causes for anger and conflict. But in English law such agreements are of little value under current law.

Of greater benefit though is honest discussion of exactly what you both expect of your partnership. Do you want children, and how many? What things do you need or want that make you happy (I love having a birthday party – I love lying on a warm beach – I love being alone sometimes – I really need to feel wanted and attractive to you – I want to have children but go to work – my great love is art/music/writing, so I need a lot of time to spend with that). Emotional needs are important and if not met you or your partner cannot help but start to look for them elsewhere. It is like being very hungry. You will look for food.

So identify your emotional needs at the start, and if you find that difficult, get help from a trained marriage counsellor. Dr. Willard Harley, after interviewing hundreds of people about their needs, found that the most universal were:

Admiration, affection – physical and emotional, conversation, domestic support, family commitment, financial support, honesty and openness, physical attractiveness, recreational companionship and sexual fulfillment. So take time to define for each other how you relate to these needs. Talking them over is a beginning of real intimacy other than sex. How do you want to deal with your personal incomes for instance? Men often accept they will share it, but women have been found to feel differently about that.

Harley found that the top of the list of needs for women was completely different than that for men, and the recognition of that in partnership is very important. So before you even start a relationship it is worth remembering that what holds a couple together isn’t just one thing such as good sex or having fallen in love. In the UK statistics show that men and women aged 25 to 29 have the highest divorce rates. This shows that it is first time marriages and partnerships that fail most frequently. So you both need to understand that unless you fulfill everyday needs as well as sexual and emotional, there will be big gaps in satisfaction.

Of course, the same thing applies if you have had a series of relationships that break down. Don’t take it personally by believing you are a failure, or start blaming all your partners. The truth is more likely to be either that you haven’t learned relationship skills, that your emotional age is still very young, or that you keep relating to a particular type of person. Take advice on this. iv

Also, don’t measure yourself against your parents or grandparents in terms of how long their marriage lasted. Cheryl Turner, head of public policy for Relate, the marriage counselling charity, said the increase in marital breakdown is related to a “changing society” in which life was “moving at a faster pace. As this happens, the pressure on families grows.”

Figures also show that many of us are much more independent financially and emotionally than in the past, and this means we want and expect different things from a relationship than our parents or grandparents. Again this points to the need to be very clear at the start about what you want in a partnership. Such clarity may not be ready made. Perhaps you need to be in a relationship before it clarifies, so don’t rush into marriage. If possible try living together.

Observation has shown however that living together often goes well. Troubles start as soon as marriage or commitment takes place.

Scanning the Future

The long view also tries to scan future trends. The move toward independence and being married but living in different houses or parts of the world is only one facet of the changes going on. When our ancestors married for life they often didn’t live very long. Young brides in different cultures was often accepted because of that shortness of life and the prevalence of disease. Longer life offers more choices in a variety of ways. But the future will open even greater opportunities and/or challenges, depending upon how things develop.

Whatever the future might bring, you are facing change now, today. And one of the biggest hurdles to meeting personal or social change is that we tend to hang on to the past. However, the influence of the past is often difficult to recognise, and we need to be aware of it before we can let go of its influence. Perhaps one of the first signs of past attitudes and behaviour weighing us down is in a feeling of struggle, of conflict or lack of ease in what we are trying to do, or the way we are trying to live.

Marc is as an example of this, he is a man in his late fifties with two previous marriages that had lasted in total for nearly forty years. He tried to be committed in a new relationship. Commitment had always been second nature to him with his two previous partners. Now, although the desire was still in him, he couldn’t maintain any desire for it. What he eventually realised was that an emerging drive toward independence was pushing away his old feelings. What made it difficult was that his parents had been together all their life. So Marc was applying that standard to his present situation and choices, making him judge himself as failing in some way. Marc wasn’t failing, he was evolving.

Present and future times will offer us, and maybe even call upon us, to break free of old patterns of relating. What this means in practice we will have to wait to see, but it is worth remembering that there are already many marital styles. In the west we have somehow taken on the attitude that monogamy is divinely ordained. Of course that is the Christian view. However, Islam teaches that polygamy is divinely blessed.

If we cut through this fog and look at how these different practices originated, they arose out of environmental and racial needs.

Recent documentaries on tribal life showed clearly how polygamy in such groups was a powerful force in child care, women’s support, and leaving no one unmarried and uncared for at the death of parents. It worked well in a group that had no social welfare and survival in a harsh environment that was hard for all. An argument against polygamy is that of females being subordinate to males, but in some cultures the polygamy is that of a woman having several male partners.

Polygamy – A marriage showing how it can work in different ways.

This is not said to promote polygamy, only to show that different styles evolve in different situations. The point being made is that the future may well push us into very different needs. Be prepared to let go of the past and innovate! Recognise that such innovation might be hard, so be ready to evolve.

Fundamentally a partnership is about mutually seeking support in meeting your own needs, and therefore surviving more comfortably in life. If you can accept that, then remember that mutual support can occur in many different ways.

More than anything else, accept that you are both female and male. Integrate your innate opposite gender. Become both male and female. Avoid the awful separation many of us exist in. Integrate, not separate. Transcend the old barriers and gender formulations. Become whole. See: Bliss.

This is not done by becoming butch, dressing up in a woman’s clothes, being transsexual, or being fixedly heterosexual or homosexual. It is arrived at by an inner process of real acceptance of your unique core self that stands beyond gender, culture, and even your body.

Love is a great force in nature and the universe. It does not belong to you, but flows through. The flow may at first carry debris from your life experiences. Unblock the flow! See: Life’s Little Secrets

A lesson I learnt late in life is that we are not in control of love. It dances and shifts all the time, and if you do not learn from Life it may trample you underfoot. It can hurt and of course it can uplift. You can never say “I love you” because love does not belong to you. Like your heart beat it is not yours to control.


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Comments

-Helen 2014-03-31 16:17:40

WOW….What an interesting article….i could read and re-read as there’s so much info…Thank you!

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-E 2014-04-26 23:24:09

How true this rings. I am only a child emotionally, even though I am very grown up in other ways. My parents were completely undemonstrative in love and non-supportive emotionally. As a result I found myself attracted to unavailable partners, like married men. When I learned to look for wedding bands, I started dating and found myself involved with selfish, unloving partners – essentially, I kept recreating the loveless environment of my childhood.

I had a child and learned about unconditional love. But that immature emotional attitude did rear its head, when I saw her getting attached to other people. I held it in check however, as I was consciously aware of how I was behaving and how inappropriate it is.

To this day I do not have any examples of loving “emotional adults” in my life. You are right; they are a rarity. I had to go through a harrowing process of learning to love myself, because that was the only place it could come from.

I remain alone at this time, just my child and I. I am looking forward to learning more on the art of growing up emotionally, so with a little luck I can outgrow my old patterns and perhaps even change my fate.

So much of what you say is so true. And being “emotionally immature” is highly unattractive to me, which may explain why I haven’t found a partner who is grown up in that respect. I am going to try to become what I want so hopefully I can attract it one day.

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    -Tony Crisp 2014-04-27 10:46:00

    Dear E – I believe the awful great rocks that are dropped onto our life’s path are the wonderful gifts that are the means by which we gain great strengths and abilities – if we can face them.

    I do not say that as one who is preaching the good news or positive thinking, but as someone who by amazing grace was shown it by meeting some bad times. I am still very much a learner, but life has such blue skies also. Also we do not walk alone – ever. Walk a little way with me by reading http://dreamhawk.com/approaches-to-being/lifes-little-secrets/

    Tony

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