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A new reader asked in either ema...

Posted Sep 28 2008 1:32pm

A new reader asked in either email or a comment what real love is. Here are some of the posts on real and healthy love. I’ve put them here instead of just inserting links. I think the last one answers the question about “is real love a feeling or what?”:


My God, these folks don’t know how to love - that’s why they love so easily. - David Herbert Lawrence

Many people want to be in relationships without really having a clue what it is all about. It’s akin to getting married, having babies or even getting a dog. Everyone has some romantic fantasy about all of the above without looking at the work involved.

Being able to love and love for many years in a good and healthy way takes work.

It doesn’t take work to “get” married. It takes work to BE married and STAY married. Every time I see the show Bridezillas I think “Have you thought, for ONE MINUTE, about BEING MARRIED and how much compromise it takes, because if you can’t do GETTING MARRIED in a semi-compromising way (”This is MY wedding!!!”) then you have no business GETTING MARRIED. (Oh, and gents–if your beloved qualifies for the show–run the other way.)

It doesn’t take work to MAKE a baby, but it takes a hell of a lot to raise one. And while you may be in love with your sweeter than sweet niece or nephew, you could have a colicky child that never sleeps and/or has 2000 food allergies and requires trips to the doctor every other day. Or a special needs child who needs and deserves love and special attention on a consistent basis. A child whose demand are astronomical compared to non-special needs babies. Are you ready for THAT? No? Then birth control is your answer.

And while that puppy in the window looks awesomely CUTE, do you know how to train a puppy? clean up after a puppy? do you know what a pack mentality is and how to let the puppy know, without abusing or harming it, that you are the leader of the pack? No? Then put the puppy back and worry about yourself. We do not need one more abused or abandoned animal in this world.

Do you know what it take to be in a long-term healthy relationship? No? Then I suggest you continue to WORK ON YOURSELF.

It doesn’t take work to be in a long-term sick relationship or to take someone hostage.

People do it all the time…sick relationships are the same old same old over and over again. Taking someone hostage or allowing yourself to be taken hostage is boring and predictable. It might be chaotic, destructive and dramatic, but again, boring…same old same old.

To love someone, REALLY love someone who really loves you is about being a good and sane and supportive and caring partner…knowing how to understand and compromise…knowing to accept your partner for who he or she is without trying to change (much) about them (I admit I had to change my husband’s wardrobe when we met…egad someone had to).

It’s not about taking someone away from that which they love or those which they love. It’s not about co-signing their crazy crap with the world…it’s not about being locked into some strange desperation with each other, hoping and praying that no one cracks the shell.

Too many sick relationships depend on each person convincing the other that the world is out to get one or both of them (shiver).

As I’ve said in other posts, real love is an ENLARGING experience and sick love is a NARROWING experience. And anything that is enlarging comes with work and responsibilities. Responsibility to self and each other and each other’s hopes, dreams, aspirations and day-to-day responsibilities.

If people understood what real love entailed they would be less inclined to go in and out of relationships where they will experience anything but…


Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience. - M. Scott Peck

Dysfunctional and destructive love affairs make our lives smaller. We lose sleep, family, friends, material things, money and time at work. To the extent we ever had it, we lose self-respect and self-esteem. We lose our ability to think clearly and independently. We become used to losing things, we become used to the narrowness of our lives and our willingness to let this other person narrow it even further.

When we have true love, real love, functional love, we don’t lose the people in our lives. Real love does not demand that you give up friends or your time for your friends, in fact it encourages independence and being fulfilled by other people, places and things.

Real love is secure to the point where you can fill your life up with other things. You are a healthy and functional person and your healthy and functional mate trusts and supports you. (and you are both trustworthy–that’s the important part).

Real love does not purposelly or unwittingly engulf you. I’ve seen people claim to be healthy but be in completely enmeshed relationships that are unhealthy and they cannot see the enmeshment for what it is. I’ve seen people get taken hostage by someone and taken away from their family, friends, interests and hobbies all the while CLAIMING that the person who is taking them away is just really into them. No. Blending family, friends, interests and hobbies with a new relationship is never easy…but real love not only allows it, but demands it. What is important to you should be important to them.

Real love is not jealous and can let go enough to let someone go off and fill themselves with their friends, their interests, their very important solitude time….knowing that a fulfilled person comes back to the relationship a happy person and that makes the relationship better.

Real love doesn’t make us worry needlessly. It doesn’t make us wait and wonder and watch. In dysfunctional and destructive relationships we are forever hypervigilant…always off our pins, we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, we cannot figure out, from one day to the next, what is real and what is not. If you are wondering that, chances are NONE OF IT IS REAL. Chances are you are in a bait-and-switch relationship which is designed to keep you forever uneasy.

It is that uneasiness that captures our attention. So long as our attention is captured, we are not thinking about leaving or making ourselves and our life better, we are always focused on our dysfunctional mate. It is hard to FIND the energy to leave so long as we are embroiled, constantly, in nonsense.

Real love is a PERMANENTLY self enlarging experience. There are many people in bad relationships and in denial about how bad those relationships are who will point to the few times the dysfunctional and destructive other allowed for their growth. But chances are, they took it back at some point and the growth was diminished or permanently stomped out. Real love gives without taking it back.

Real love does not HURT.

Real love does not play mind games, does not send mixed messages and is not passive-aggressive. If you’re in a relationship where these things are present, chances are you have felt crazy a time or two. That is a narrowing experience. You become so nuts you can’t live your life to the best of your ability. And that is not self-enlarging. It’s damaging and narrowing.

Real Love doesn’t say sorry very often. In the 1970s there was a movie called Love Story whose tag line was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love Story is the ultimate schmaltzy movie and the line became the punch line for years after its release. However, there is some truth in the much-maligned line. Real love needs to apologize very seldom. And it’s not “doesn’t apologize” because most controlling, anger people never apologize, but “doesn’t NEED to apologize” very often. Love is about taking care of self and taking care of your mate. And those things are in balance to the point where they seldom collide.

Controlling and abusive people get to the point where they cross so far over the line that the controlled person has had enough and is ready to split. It is at that point that the abuser engages in, what I call, “abusers remorse.” I qualify it like that because it is NOT real remorse. It is the remorse necessary to get the other person back in the game and under his or her control. It’s a cat and mouse game played by the cat so the mouse doesn’t get away. Once the mouse believes it is safe to move, the claws of destruction come back out.

The abusive partner will even cry and beg the other person not to leave.

They will swear UP AND DOWN that they “get it” and things will be “different this time.” and SWEAR they will go to counseling, go to anger management, go to the ends of the earth just to keep you. They will SWEAR that they saw the light because you were leaving them and they suddenly realized what you meant to them.

Don’t believe it for a second. Again, it’s not REAL remorse. It’s remorse just to keep you in the game. And guess what? Real love doesn’t see this kind of scene EVER. It’s just something that does not happen.

And what happens to abusers remorse? How does the abuser “change back” and reel the contrite stance back in? Why it’s you. It’s YOUR FAULT when things go back to the status quo. You’re not being nice enough, tolerant enough or too bitchy, whiny, clingy — whatever. Name that behavior of yours that will cause the destruction and abuse to return. If you fall for abuser’s remorse, this is what you will get…not only an abuser who’s even more ticked off at you…but an abuser who is blaming you for everything that is going wrong.

Real love is the furthest thing in the imagination from this scene. Real love does not seek to place blame. Real love looks for compromise and solutions. Real love does not cause one partner or both partners to stand there wringing their hands endlessly because of what is and is not happening.

Real love does not seek another person to fill up what we are lacking. It takes a complete, whole person to REALLY love and overly needy people cannot do it. Real love is balanced. Both partners love in fairly equal amounts. While the balance may shift back and forth, it is not lopsided. If you are loving someone who is NOT loving your back, or not loving you the way you love them, then it’s not real.

If you are putting expectations on people to fill your empty places, that is NOT real love. It’s nice to have a partner, a companion, someone to help you weather life’s storms, but it is NOT okay to look for someone to complete you or fix your broken places. That is not real love. That is dependence, codependence and unhealthy neediness.

Real love does not play games, it does not cause us to lose sleep, friends, jobs, money, time and value in our lives. Real love is an ENLARGING and not a NARROWING experience.

And finally, real love exists. But–and this is a big BUT–it is true that in order to find the right person, you need to BE the right person (I have no idea where I heard this quote, but it’s SO true).

To be the right person you have to do your work. As I say over and over again, WATER SEEKS ITS OWN LEVEL. If you are attracting and attracted to unhealthy and dysfunctional, you are unhealthy and dysfunctional.

Do your work and they disappear and real love has a chance to walk in.


“…since the quality of emotional interplay in healthy relationships is often much subtler than the blatant drama of unhealthy relationships, its dramatic potential is usually overlooked in literature, drama and songs. If unhealthy styles of relating plague us, perhaps it is because that is very nearly all we see and all we know.” - Robin Norwood

It is not just popular culture that feeds dysfunctional relationships to us, but it our frame of reference from our own background telling us what relationships should look like.

If our parents were battle-scarred and/or battle-weary, we will be bloody and bruised before we know it. We can choose their style to take up arms against our partner or we can go to the other extreme and refuse to battle anything out. Then we become unnecessary to the dynamic, forever frustrating (and ultimately losing) our partners.

We can think that love is about breakup to makeup and that our relationships need to be played out like a high wire act otherwise they are meaningless.

As we’ve said in countless posts, real love and healthy love is anything BUT dramatic. Usually our drama is our own unfinished business playing itself out with someone else’s unfinished business. It has nothing to do with our present and much to do with our pasts. We are unfinished and if our parents were unfinished, we just continue to play out the historical dramas in our lives.

Real love and healthy love is quiet for the most part. The drama is minimum.

If we are playing out our relationships on the high wire that usually means they are not healthy and we are not healthy. It means we have work to do.


There is a Hollywood hype to what real love / true love feels like. It’s hyped as fireworks and big drama.

But it’s not.

Real love/healthy love is very quiet. In the beginning it just feels right…you know it without being knocked over
by it
.

For many years I beat the healthy drum and espoused the “ build your own life ” and live your own life and know who you are. Then, as my friends will tell you, all of a sudden I met a guy and got engaged two weeks later and married less than 6 months later. People who knew me and women who followed my advice (both my friends and women who were in my groups) were convinced I had lost my mind. They asked, Weren’t we in the heady honeymoon period? How could we possibly know? I was the queen of take your time, figure it out, observe and figure out if you like them and not if they like you (as many of you regular readers know I STILL say that all the time .

But I had gone on lots of dates and had gotten to a place where I did know what I wanted and what I didn’t want. If I HADN’T taken it slow with others, if I hadn’t pushed back against living with someone else (who, incidentally, I had known over two years), if I hadn’t taken it SLOW and OBSERVED with my dates and relationships, I am pretty sure I would not have been AVAILABLE when Mr. Right came along.

Even though I had become known as being level-headed and my friends admired me for refusing to move in with Mr. Two Years, they STILL said, TWO WEEKS? Are you crazy? And me with all my abandonment issues and insecurity…what would happen when he “ lost interest “? Would I go completely crazy and be saddled with another jerk? One of my biggest reasons for not moving in with Mr. Two Years was because I had a feeling that 1) the relationship was NOT going well and moving in was NOT the answer and 2) I would never get rid of him if we co-mingled our stuff. EGAD. Most people thought it was a well thought-out and wise decision not to move in with Mr. Two Years and now here I was getting engaged to Mr. Two Weeks. Was I CRAZY???? How could you KNOW this is the ONE?

Well we’re going to celebrate our 11th anniversary in November so I think we know. Actually I know that we know. And I’ve never had a moment of insecurity.

I don’t talk about my marriage to brag or to say I’m better than everyone else or hey, look at us. I talk about my marriage so people know it’s possible…to recover from bad, VERY bad, relationships. To recover from low self-esteem and raging codependency and relationship horror. I was in very abusive relationships for a long time. Then I was in pretty bad relationships and then okay but not great and then good but not great…so I’ve been there…I’ve run the gamut….and I got to a place where I decided to be alone and live my life rather than put up with anything.

I talk about my relationship so that others know it is possible and know what it looks like. It’s something I wish for everyone.

When I met my husband, I knew who I was and what I wanted and he knew who he was and what he wanted.

We did not need another person to complete us. We were, thank you very much, complete on our own. Living nice lives and having a decent time without a partner.

Neither of us wanted all the crazymaking games we had both experienced with others. We both were raising our kids as single parents, trying to build a healthy life for said kids despite interference from nutty ex’s, and just trying to live our own lives.

We each had distanced ourselves from families of origin who were nutty in their own right but had tried to paint each of us as the black sheep.

When we met it was a matter of, “ I know you.” because it was a mirror image: you are like me.. (but not totally)…

And I know YOU and I know you’ll be good for me because I KNOW ME and I know what I want and what I need and I recognize it when I see it.

When we met we were both very upfront about who we were, what we wanted, where we were going and the fact that our kids and their physical, mental and emotional well-beings were our first priority with our own health and sanity the second priority. Love and a relationship came a VERY distant third. We both had been dating without success but neither of us really cared that much about the lack of success. We would rather be alone than try to force something. We didn’t need each other, we wanted each other.

We both were working hard, going to work, tending to our homes and our kids…and we were both okay with that. When we met we each wanted to ONLY be with someone who would be a helper….not another child or another problem or crisis.

We became partners. True partners. Helping each other with kids and homes and life.

We both approach life the same way and value the same things. But we are very different people who like very different things. He likes fishing and Nascar, I like books and theater. He would be most comfortable in a boat on a deserted lake in Tennessee, I am most comfortable in Manhattan. He’s a Red Sox fan, I’m a Yankee fan. He’s a dog person, I’m a cat person (but I took care of his dog and he took care of my cats). I’m a people person and he tends to be a loner.

For all intents and purposes, we are opposite, opposite, opposite.

But we don’t sweat the small stuff and we are fiercely loyal to each other and our family. We both have the same morals and standards. Neither of us can be bothered having a round and round and round argument that lasts and lasts. We say it, we get it out there, we discuss it, we work out a solution and we move on. We have each other’s love and respect. Deep mutual respect for how much of a stand-up person the other person is. And we let each other have the space to be who we are.

When I first met him and he fell in love with me, I asked him what he loved about me and he said, “ You are who you say you are.” If I asked him today what he loves about me, he would give me the same answer.

It’s what matters to him…that I am who I say I am…and it still
matters to him. It’s a pretty good thing to value and he gets it every day (and some days he might not be crazy about it).

It was a quiet thing when I met him and knew he was the one. I just knew.

I knew because I had done my work and there was no noise clogging my ears. There was no unfinished business skewing my view. I wasn’t thinking it was one thing when it really was another. I was clear-headed and logical and didn’t lose my mind because I developed feelings for someone very quickly.

It was fun and exciting on one level but on another level it was just so quiet and so peaceful. I had NO nervousness, no anxiety…no insecurity and I am the QUEEN of abandonment issues (both real and perceived). I’ve never felt abandoned by him in 11 years. But I did work very hard on my abandonment issues for 9 years before I met him…the combination helped a great deal.

And yet, being with this person has helped my wildest dreams come true. Many people have all the fun times and fantasy times up front in the beginning and then spend the rest of the relationship wondering what the hell happened. They long for and are in love with the beginning which never comes again. For us, we didn’t build a fantasy out of the gate…we built our fantasies over time…

….for my first birthday with him, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I didn’t really answer him and he asked me to please think about it and let him know if there was something I always wanted. So I thought about it and I said I wanted to spend a night at the Plaza Hotel. It was something I had always wanted to do. He didn’t book a night at the room in the Plaza…he booked a 4 day weekend in a suite overlooking Central Park. We had the most glorious time. And even though he’s not a city person, he appreciates that I love it and he accompanies me to the city when he can.

We went back and got married at the Plaza…again spent 4 days in a suite. We went to Italy on our honeymoon and had a wonderful time. In our first year we bought new motorcycles and the first summer spent a glorious summer break tooling around Vermont staying at a romantic bed and breakfast and taking pictures of covered bridges and old cemetaries (we both love motorcycles, old things and photography).

We’ve biked all over the east coast and all over the west coast. Some of my best memories are us on motorcycles tooling around together.

BUT we didn’t START out having these fantasy weekends and then wondering when the honeymoon ended. We started out doing the nitty gritty, what Steven Levine calls “ the terrible dailyness ” and helping each other help the kids with life. THEN we took time out for ourselves and had a marvelous time.

Our fantasy days and nights came AFTER we settled into “wow you’re the one” and were a result of our easy kinship and partnership. A beautiful weekend is going to BE a beautiful weekend, it’s not going to be fraught with tension and unfinished business AND it wasn’t covering up problems either….and that is the stuff fantasies and fireworks are made of…and when we go back to our “normal” life, we’re not much different than we were on a fantasy weekend…we are who we are…and I have beautiful memories of us being us at home and in many different locales doing some great stuff…who we are as a couple doesn’t become different depending on where we are or who we are with…we are who we are and have been since day one.

And we both wanted a baby together. I was 38 years old and my oldest son was 18 and his daughter was 2. I had done a lot of raisiing of children and was about to do a lot more. We thought about it and knew the window was narrow to make the decision. And like I spoke about in the post above, we thought, long and hard, about having this child. We both wanted a child together that we could raise “right” in a home where two people loved each other in a healthy way. We had the money to deal with any medical issues regarding fertility or anything prenatal.

But the bottom line was that I could and would raise the ideal child. The non-fussy child, the child you have in your head when you think about getting pregnant. But I did not think I had it in me, anymore, to raise a colicky child (been there done that) or a child who was less than almost-perfect. And while I realized I could stay home with the baby and give it whatever care it needed if it was indeed colicky or even a special needs baby, the thought of doing that for a child who never stopped crying (like my second one had been) or had other “non-regular” demands made me want to jump out the window. So for as much as we wanted that child together, we decided to just concentrate on the ones we had and make their lives the best they could be.

Sometimes NOT doing something is the healthiest decision you can make. Our wonderful dog died last year and we’ve wrestled with the idea of getting a puppy ever since but, truth be told, neither of us look forward to the training. And I’m a good trainer. Almost dog-whisperer type with dogs, but part of me is thinking I don’t want to do it. I have so many other things that need my attention. I’d love a dog, but it would not be fair to that dog right now. And so to delay it (or forget about it) is a good and healthy decision.

When I met my husband, I was head over heels in love but it wasn’t an out-of-body experience. It just felt good and right and comfortable. From day one. And it’s still good and right and comfortable. I don’t need good drama or bad drama. I don’t need drama at all.

I am a separate being and have never, from the beginning, spent time fantasizing about him or casting him in a light he doesn’t really deserve or earn…he is who he says he is and I have great memories of incredible trips but also great memories of him being by my side during difficult times and tough times…I think of him all the time but I’m a functioning and healthy person separate and apart from him and our relationship.

That’s how it works. It’s true love.

But it starts with you…. always with you ….finding true love starts with loving yourself….finding the right person starts with being the right person….so start today….

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