In the words of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke it appears that ‘for one human being to love another is the most difficult of all tasks’, and this is true for parents and children, friend and friend, lover and lover and husband and wife. For the purposes of Valentine’s Day I am going to focus on adult relationships. In the USA, 60 per cent of marriages breakdown and, poignantly and significantly, 80 per cent of second marriages end unhappily. Those statistics do not take into account the high percentage of intact unhappy marriages. It is a real conundrum that if, on the one hand, love is the greatest power on earth – the force that sustains human life – how, on the other hand, is it that many relationships are a near-certain prescription for unbelievable pain and emotional devastation?
There are hundreds of books available that offer relationship fixes in one form or another; there are also many couple-therapists that partners in conflict go to to mend their relationships. The reality is that book solutions and very often therapeutic interventions, turn out to be plasters that fall off because the deeper wounds have not been identified and resolved. In my experience, all the unhappiness in human relationships can be traced back to an unconscious and wise expectation of not being loveable just for who you are. Nevertheless, I believe that your nature is love but when your earlier relationships, particularly, with parents, did not result in being loved for self, you creatively hid away your true and unique self and are slow to trust that another will honour your presence with unconditional love. Not feeling genuinely held in the arms of love, you fall into the grip of fear of re-experiencing the horrors of abandonment. In order to fill the resulting void, you cleverly create substitute ways of gaining attention – being the ever-so-pleasing child, being perfectionistic, being a ‘winner’, being shy and timid, being manipulative and controlling, being sick, being the carer, being difficult, being the rebel. Without these substitutes, life would be unlivable, but there is nothing compared to the real experience of being loved and accepted for self.
Later on, as an adult, when you feel attracted to another you will operate from a defensive, substitute place rather than an open and real place. Quickly, your fears of not being good enough will determine your interactions with the person of your affections. You may be passive, hesitant, possessive, jealous, success addicted, workaholic, irritable, eager to please, reliant on the other to love you, dependent, threatening. Your hunger and thirst for love will intensify your defensive responses, inevitably, resulting in conflict. The relationship quickly becomes co-dependent as your partner is also operating from his or her repertoire of defences. Unless a consciousness of how each is within self arises, the relationship is doomed to a defensive cycle that will escalate.
The resolution of falling in and out of love is to fall in love with self, so that when you seek intimacy with another, you do so from a conscious place of your own fullness. When you become one with yourself, you are one with life itself, you are conscious of your essential beauty and power. This al-one-ness sets you free from hunger and from fear. You experience the uniqueness, essential dignity and nobility of your true self, which does not depend on anyone else’s approval or validation. Love between two people is essentially a coming together of two individuals who each hold themselves in love and from that inner sanctum, unconditionally hold the other. Once again, the poet Rilke puts it well: ‘Marriage consists in this, where each appoints the other the guardian of their solitude.’
However, for a person who did not feel loved as a child, to dare feel and express his lovability is a monumental task for fear of a recurring of the daily rejections experienced. Nevertheless, the pain and conflict between people are the allies that are attempting to draw attention to a deeper powerful reality – the fear or terror of revealing your lovability.
If it is relationship that sends you into hiding the unique pearl of self, it is relationship that provides the safety for you to emerge. However, to find such a relationship – of unconditional love – is very elusive. Sometimes, there is a need to seek such a relationship with a therapist. Whatever it takes, it is in the experience of unconditional holding that true love for self and another ultimately lies.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker.
His book ‘Myself, My Partner’ is relevant to today’s article.