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.
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.
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, the 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.
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 probably 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 is fundamental to life. We need love, and we need connections.
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
hese 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. ii
Therefore the baby level of love is completely dependent upon the loved person for its needs, physical, emotional and social. Great anger, jealousy or pain occur if the loved person relates to anyone else, is lost, or there is a threat the carer will leave. In an adult this enormous feeling reaction may also be felt at a time of emotional withdrawal of ones partner, even if there is no sign of them withdrawing physically.
The baby has a desire for unconditional love and a need to be always with the loved one. In an adult only capable of this level of love, sex may be a part of the relationship, but the main need is a bonded connection. Possibly the greatest fear, a fear that can trigger great anger or an enormous desire to placate or earn love, is the threat of being abandoned or the bond severed in some way. If you experience great jealousy, possessiveness, fear of abandonment or desire to placate or be violent with your partner, you are still in the throes of baby or childhood love. Great pain if your partner leaves or dies has the same roots.
A woman who described two such relationships 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.
Adolescent love is typified by initial uncertainty or clumsiness concerning emotional and sexual contact. There is often the desire to explore many relationships, and you are still finding out what your boundaries, needs and ability to attract and relate are. This is a time of great sexual drive, and your partner will probably be loved for your own needs. For example you want a family and so love your partner to gain that end. Or you love the partner because in that way you can get away from your parental home. This is a level of growth that gives rise to great romantic feelings and spontaneous love that are difficult to maintain in face of difficulties.
Adult love is shown by a growing sense of recognition of your partner’s needs, yet not denying your own. You have the ability to be something for your partner’s sake without losing your own independence or will. You have become aware of the issues that colour or influence the relationship, and are able to deal with them as partners through open and honest communication and support. You are independent and yet are capable of closeness together and are caring sexually through discovering your partner needs and vulnerabilities. There is no attempt to own or control your partner in a fully mature relationship.
Growing up to Love
Moving beyond the sort of love that is still at the baby or child level first needs the admittance that you 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.
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 need 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 two.’
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 beingfelt 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.
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 centred 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.
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.
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.’
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 difficult was with his wife appeared to talk abaout soemthing 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 judgements 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.
Barry, a forty four year old man we worked with, had cut off from his mother emotionally at the age of five because she threatened to abandon him. His cut off was so extreme he married but never managed warm feelings in the relationship. When he did start loving he realised he was still five emotionally and needed to learn how to grow up within the marriage. He managed this by honestly admitting his difficulty and defences to his wife.
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 gret 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.
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: LifeStream.