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poem of mine states. . . "Their relationship consisted in
discussing if it existed." This statement sums up what seems to me
to be a frightening state of confusion in current discussions
A plethora of
self-help books claim to tell us how to get love right (a strangely
moral term), and advise us that if we are not successful in love it is
because we do not know the right techniques, or understand that men and
women speak totally different languages.
well-intentioned these books are, they have severe limitations. Most
are devoid of any real clinical evidence, and are based on the
underlying assumption that a significant relationship is a "problem"
that can be solved. In short, these books present themselves as
"salvation systems," even though several of the authors have bought
degrees and are unlicensed, and one has been married five times. Most
alarming is the fact that many of these books negate the drama,
difficulties, and living mystery that forms the core of human love and
excellent clinical studies available which offer extensive research on
what factors constitute well-functioning relationships. These studies
have also predicted with 94% accuracy what factors, when chronically
present, will lead to misery, separation and divorce.
relationships are characterized by people who understand that love is
something you don't get "right." It is a mystery to be lived, not a
problem to be solved. The studies on stable, well-functioning
relationships point to the fact that the people in these relationships
understand that as humans they are imperfect and that there will always
be some limitations to their happiness with each other.
People need to
understand that there are problems inherent in all relationships, some
of which can be solved and some of which cannot. I can think of several
such relationship problems:
Covert beliefs about the nature of love
result from our most significant way of mattering in our family of
origin. For example, "she always tries to take care of everybody's
needs," or "he always acts like a spoiled child needing attention."
The Hatfields and the McCoys
In other words,
the two sets of family rules that have to be negotiated regarding:
money, parenting, sex, work, play, etc.
This one is a
biggie. . .her family was penurious, his extravagant. Her family
believed in spanking, his in "time-out;" she wants sex occasionally, he
wants it all the time; she believes in working till you drop, he
believes that enough is enough; she wants to go to the opera; he wants
to go to the baseball game.
The nature of language
understands the same sentence that same way. The problem of
which is rooted in the nature of language wrecks havoc in marriages--at
work, in raising children and in caring for aging parents. This can be
a horrendous problem until a dialogue that fosters love can be learned.
This is an easy
one to explain: people want their own way.
The wounds each person carries from the past
contaminate the present. For instance, she is a "Lost Child," he is the
Sex differences and idiosyncratic differences
responsible for a lot of issues.
The level of solid selfhood
In other words,
the authentic presence each person has achieved.
Familiarity, boredom and routine
Hegel once said that the more familiar something becomes, the less we
know it. Two hundred years ago, the average marriage lasted fifteen
years. Today they are twice as long, since our life span is so much
The mystery of each person's unique self
At the deepest
level we do not even know ourselves fully. There will always be a space
in our journey to know each other. There are things we can do to
achieve healthy relationships. We can challenge our unconscious beliefs
about love, change or compromise our family rules, learn new
communication skills, grieve our un-grieved childhood wounds and move
past them, work on our sexual issues, creatively deal with fate and
commit to some spontaneity and renewal.
In the final
analysis though, love cannot be defined because it exists between two
utterly unique beings. I personally believe that "in the evening of
life we will be judged by love alone" and I think that this belief can
help us to face these relationship challenges courageously and with
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