“Romance is love’s appetizer” and 2 other secrets to know before love can ever happen.
If you’re over the age of fourteen you know the joys of falling in love and the agony of experiencing the unravelling of a relationship you were sure was going to last forever. If you’re still in a relationship you want to know how to get things back on track or figure out if the relationship is beyond repair. If you’re not in a relationship you hunger for real, lasting love, but are wary of making the wrong choice and being burned again.
Most of us grew up with two models for a long-term committed relationship. The first was what we experienced in our families and most likely our parent’s marriage left much to be desired. Though we may have vowed that we’d do better, we often fall into the trap of living out many of the same dysfunctional patterns we grew up with.
The second model was the one we learned from watching movies or T.V. sitcoms. I grew up watching Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver and watching movies like Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, From Here to Eternity, An Affair to Remember, West Side Story, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We were offered a view of love and marriage that was either simplistic and unrealistic or tragic and doomed.
With these kinds of models, it isn’t surprising that the divorce rate is so high or that we try again and again to get it right. I’ve been counseling men and women for more than 40 years. I’ve helped people deal with the stresses that come from a difficult relationship including, depression, erectile dysfunction, and even diabetes. I was also married twice and divorced twice before I decided I’d better learn some things that would give me a better chance to be successful, the third time around. Carlin and I have now been married for 35 years and I’d like to share some of the things we’ve learned.
Whether your relationship is struggling or it’s wonderful, here are some things we’ve found to be most helpful:
The Unit of Creativity is Two
We live in a very individualistic society. We grow up with images of the “Lone Ranger” facing danger on his own and triumphing over the bad guys. We honor entrepreneurial, self-made millionaires who become rich and famous. We pay homage to creative artists who work alone to produce books, paintings, and poems. We struggle to become “self-actualized,” self-made men and women. We fall in love and work hard to get our own needs met. We pay lip service to partnership, but believe we have to look out for #1.
“For centuries the myth of the lone genius has towered over us like a colossus,” says Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity. But Shenk suggests that the real genius of creation comes from the confluence of pairs and offers deeply insightful examples from creative pairs such as the following:
- Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr.
- Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- Simon de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre
- Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
- Pierre and Marie Curie
- John Lennon and Paul McCartney
“The smallest indivisible human unit is two people,” says Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner. “One is a fiction.” When my wife, Carlin, and I got together she told me she was making a commitment to the relationship, not to me. At the time, all I heard was the “not to me.” It took me awhile to realize that committing to us was much better than committing just to me.
We know that each of us was formed when a single sperm cell merged with a single egg cell and a new cell was formed that eventually became me and you. Each of our individual cells still carries the genetic chromosome pair of XY if we are male or XX if we are female, but the larger whole of me or you is the basic unit. I’ve learned that when people merge in love, the basic unit becomes we, not just you and me.
The more we commit to us, as Carlin did 35 years ago, the more our individual selves will flourish. I’ve found that when we become insecure and afraid, we begin to focus on me and mine, rather than we and ours. As we pull into ourselves and go into protective mode, the flow of love gets blocked and the nourishment that keeps us alive and well gets cut off. But when we trust in us, in the power of two, we find our own hearts and souls expand. The best way to support me and insure that I get what I need is to support the we of creative love.
Romance is Love’s Appetizer, Not the Main Course
I often hear people say, “I’m no longer in love with you.” Usually they are recalling the head-over heels, “crazy in-love” times, early in the relationship. It’s wrapped up in the lust and longing we felt for sexual connection. Love flowed effortlessly and we walked around with a glow, lost in the world of our lover. We were safe in the embrace of love and nothing could harm us. All the pleasures of life seemed wrapped up in the gift of our being together.
From an evolutionary perspective, the survival of our species depended on our lustful attraction to a potential partner, developing a romantic connection that kept us together long enough to make babies, and bonding with the child so they would survive.
I believe that real love, the love that can only develop over time, often begins when we “fall in love,” but like a good wine it matures and becomes more complex through the years.
Incompatibility is Required to Make a Real Marriage
Falling in love tricks us into believing we have found the perfect partner who will love us forever and who we can love in return. As I say, the real purpose of romance is to bond us together to make children. Even if our conscious goal has nothing to do with making babies, our subconscious, evolutionary imperative causes us to “fall in love.”
But soon, the spell wears off, the veil of love is lowered, and we come face to face with the witch from our childhood fairy tales who seems bent on destroying us. The qualities in our lover that we once thought were so wonderful, now seem like “problems.” His independence that we once loved, now looks like indifference. Her attentiveness now seems smothering. Our separate lives, which initially brought so much creative excitement into the relationship, now seems like incompatibility.
Sometimes the honey-moon stage of romance lasts a few months or a few years, but inevitably we reach a point where we think “I made a big mistake. I’m with the wrong person. How did I ever think this would work?” Often we seem to flip back and forth between “You’re wonderful. I’m in love” and “You’re hateful. I’ve got to get out of here.” I often think of this in terms of the illusions we learned about in basic psychology class.
When you look at the picture from one point of view it looks like a beauty with a lovely chin line and her head turned away. From another point of view, we see an old woman with a big nose, chin, and droopy eye.
We can’t see both at once. Either we see the “witch” or the “beauty.” It used to drive me crazy with my wife. For a time she would do things that made me feel she was out to get me. All I could see was the “witch.” Then it would flip and she seemed to be the “beauty” I married. I began to question my sanity. Is she really wonderful? Am I really in a great relationship? Or am I fooling myself. Are we really incompatible? Should I run the other way as fast as possible?
Romance is an illusion that lets us enter the temple of love. Incompatibility forces us to address the fact that we had projected the things that were missing in us on to our partner. We thought they would heal all our old wounds and give us back what was missing in us. We were under the illusion that we could build a whole person from taking the things we thought was missing in us from our partner.
The biologist, Bruce Lipton, uses the analogy of how atoms bond together to illustrate this idea. An atom of sodium has one electron in its outer shell. An atom of chlorine has an empty space it its outer shell. “Neither sodium’s nor chlorine’s outer electron shell is complete,” says Lipton. “Separately their spin behavior resembles the wobble produced by the imbalanced blanket in a washing machine. But when sodium and chlorine atoms get together, “they ‘make chemistry.’ They fulfill this Universe’s tendency to find balance by combining—they lose their wobble and stabilize.”
Sodium and chlorine come together to form sodium chloride, and we have a totally new, and very important, compound known as “salt.”
Humans come together and fall in love. We all have incompatibilities and “wobbles” that we are drawn to a partner to balance. Incompatibility is not grounds for divorce as some people would claim, but grounds for developing a real marriage. What’s been your experience? I look forward to your thoughts and ideas.
Originally posted on MenAlive. Reprinted with permission.
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