Solving the Mysteries of Love
Feb 01, 2016 03:00PM
By Steve Ross and Karen McChrystal
Although it may surprise some people, relationships aren’t about “makeovers”. The search for an ideal mate is less about finding one than about becoming one yourself. It’s the continuous, intentional effort to be as self-aware and real as you can be that ignites the fires, making you magnetically attractive to people who like what they see.
Getting real (becoming ever more mindful and authentic), provides the emotional safety needed to bond and stay solid. It’s not a daunting task, but we will need to confront old conditioning and self-sabotaging behaviors that may still be with us from long ago, and which are no longer useful, beneficial or even functional.
Our cultural values have shifted. It’s far more acceptable these days to marry late or not at all. We’re still looking for our soul mate, and it is okay to not compromise or “settle”. Compromising is something almost all of us have done too much of. Too rarely are we aware of the common, important, yet hidden beliefs that compel compromise and cause us to sabotage promising relationships. These include the fear of being too much, too strong, too successful, too needy or not good enough. We can learn to navigate and overcome these perils—the “Jaws” of the emotional ocean.
According to Lew Engel and Tom Ferguson in their landmark book, Imaginary Crimes: How We Punish Ourselves and How to Stop, notions like these are not only common, but also unconscious. They are self-denigrating and/or self-limiting beliefs and are usually false.
If, for instance, we get lost in the expectations others have of us, we might discover a hidden fear from our early years that our own assertiveness and independent success would somehow threaten or be disloyal to the family system and to our (often) less-than-happily-married parents. It’s not so hard to see how we could project that fear into a current or potential relationship, inhibiting our own strength, needs and wants, in order to comply with what we assume are partners’ expectations.
No matter how much we may have endured at the hands of our parents, their bad behavior—like any bad behavior—is a reflection of suffering. They loved us, wanted us to be happy, but had genuine trouble expressing that. Seeing this in context, it’s easier to forgive them and understand how our own youthful assertions of independence and strength could have been something our parents would have been proud of, not threatened by. Looking at this in a new way helps, but, nonetheless, these unconscious beliefs need to be identified and dismantled.
On the other hand, if a prospective mate (or current partner) is threatened by our own success and assertiveness, that’s a sign the match might be in trouble or might never work out. We’ve known many people, ourselves included, who’ve “made do,” by trying to minimize or overlook the mismatch in an unequal situation (for example, with someone not as mature or intelligent). These relationships prove difficult from the outset and the dice are loaded against their long-term success.
Another “imaginary crime” we commit is feeling guilty based on the hidden belief that it’s selfish to expect (or even ask) that our own needs be met. If indeed we feel that our own needs are either unjustified or too hot to handle, then expressing them would feel like weakness or poor judgment, and be seen as burdensome or even harmful. For someone who feels that way, the give-and-take of intimacy could feel uncomfortable.
The fact is that under most circumstances, adults don’t really need that much emotionally. Basically, we want to feel listened to, understood, respected, appreciated and cooperated with. These are basic human—and utterly justifiable—desires and expectations, completely harmonious with the values we all live by. In an honest relationship, the gift of intimacy is a gift of self that includes what we have to offer as well as what we need to receive.
Here are some guidelines to help develop personal authenticity:
• Dealing skillfully with all of our feelings, especially anger and resentment
• Communicating openly, honestly and non-judgmentally
• Listening non-defensively (includes the use of respectful silence)
• Staying present (mindfulness)
• Taking emotional risks
• Letting go of trying to control how other people behave and the end results of our actions
• Forgiveness and compassion (for ourselves and others)
There is no need to be cynical. To gain insight and increase the chances of a happier life is a worthy goal. Once on this path, we will attract others who are also on it. As we become more transparent and aligned with our core values, we can be “seen” by potential partners who are looking for these very qualities, who share these values and who therefore can appreciate and experience us fully. Graced by such companions, trust grows, making true intimacy possible.
Steve Ross, MA, and Karen McChrystal, MA, are two long-time marriage and family counselors. Their book, How To Get Married After Forty: A Radical Approach to Finding and Keeping Your Mate, is available in paperback or as an eBook from Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. For more information, email [email protected] or [email protected].