|CREATING UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
Love, commitment and relationships seem to be in disfavor these days. I’m seeing a lot of articles and TV shows saying love doesn’t last, so why bother. But, I believe that all of us want to be loved, and I know from experience that a relationship can work, and that a great partnership is a joy not to be missed. A lot of people come into my office searching for love, especially unconditional love.
I tell them “be careful what you want.” Unconditional love can be interpreted to mean “You can be abusive to me, you can cheat on me, and I still have to love you.” If you want really unconditional love, you might want to invest in a puppy or give your mom a call. But, if unconditional love is interpreted as “uncritical love” or “accepting love” it is attainable. What we really long for is the security of knowing that we'll be loved in spite of our shortcomings and mistakes. When a couple builds a successful working partnership in which each person feels supported and respected by the other and each feels that the other has his or her best interests at heart; problems are solved not “my way” or “your way” but so that both are happy with the solution. Mutual partnership creates a loving environment where deep trust can grow. When trust, respect, responsibility and love feel mutual, that's when we feel secure in love.
Almost everyone has an “ideal relationship” in mind, which includes both realistic and unrealistic fantasies. Often this ideal is unconscious, and can result in a sense of loss, hopelessness or anger at times when your actual situation falls far short of your ideal.
You can hope, for example, that your partner will be delighted with all that you are, flaws included, and would make absolutely no demands on you. If these hopes go unexamined and untempered by the realization that they are unrealistic, and your partner does inevitably get annoyed or upset, you might overreact with hurt, anger, or despair, when simple recognition and discussion of the problem is all that's needed. You can reduce the negative impact of expectations by sharing your hopes and dreams with your partner, and working together to set goals and to realize more of your dreams. For example, if you understand an intimate partner will get irritated with you from time to time (and vice versa), you can be open about what is irritating, negotiate ways to minimize the frustration and friction by building in more space to be yourselves, and also work to improve yourself where you see fit, which will reduce the number of times your partner is annoyed, and make your real relationship seem more like your ideal of receiving unconditional love and approval.
Most people have some unrealistic expectations about love and partnershipeither they expect things to be easier than they turn out to be, or more difficult. Our yearning for an unrealistically ideal relationship begins with longing to find someone who will satisfy the unfulfilled cravings for attention, approval, companionship, support and love that may have been left unsatisfied since we were children. We formulate our hopes and fears about relationships from these initial feelings.
New love, in its stew of lust, adrenaline, excitement, exaltation, love, admiration, hope, harmony, laughter, suspense, despair, sensual pleasure, and joy seems automatically and effortlessly to fulfill all our expectations. But as soon as the first rush is over, reality sets in and the work begins. When couples begin believing that they'll live Happily Ever After in an effortless state of bliss, this natural subsiding of infatuation and confrontation with the reality of each other often seems to confirm their fears that love won't work, and lead to disappointment, pain and dissatisfaction.
A relationship model based on realistic analysis of who you are, what you want and what your circumstances are can be every bit as exciting and satisfying (more so, because you can actually accomplish it) as your most romantic fantasy. What is realistic will vary from couple to couple, will change with varying circumstances, and will also depend to some degree on what each of you wants in your relationship. You can have happiness, satisfaction, excitement, and fulfillment, even though life and relationships aren't effortless and perfect.
Everyone has different needs for closeness and space, for communication and silence, for accomplishment and relaxation. Being honest about what works (even when it's different than the accepted role models) means taking the risk that both partners will not want the same things. Equal partners take responsibility for revealing who they really are, asking directly for what they want and being honest about preferences. Thus, both partners take the risk of hearing “no”, and getting disappointed. These personal risks are the most challenging kind, because both partners expose the most private aspects of their personalities, and both risk being rejected.
The reward for taking this risk is a sustainable relationship that feels natural to both partners because it suits the needs and talents of both, and makes only reasonable demands on each. It will remain pleasant, satisfying and functional for a lifetime.
Your expectations about relationships can be either helpful, if they provide reasonable and effective goals to strive for; or harmful, if they are so unrealistic that you cannot ever attain them, and they become a source of ongoing disappointment and a sense of failure. A useful ideal allows for the realities and limitations of life without manufacturing needless barriers to growth and change, and provides an atmosphere that supports both of you to be the best you can be as autonomous, equal partners.
Here are 5 tips, for creating the real-life version of unconditional love.
1: Talk about your mutual expectations. If you discuss your hopes and dreams about marriage, sex, money, sharing a home, and the future in advance, you'll get a chance to see how well you work things out together. If you just struggle and get nowhere, you'll need some help to make your relationship work.
2: Remember that goodwill counts. Don't forget to say the nice things, complements, thank-you’sand request that your partner learn to do that, too. It’s as if you have a “relationship reservoir,” which stores up all the good feelings and memorieswhen times get tough, you draw on that. If it has lots of negatives, resentments, etc, your marriage will not have staying power. If your reservoir is full of goodwill and love, your marriage will survive the tough times.
3: Get relationship counseling. A good counselor or minister will be able to ask the questions that you may not have thought of, or may be avoiding. Because the counselor is not involved, his or her objective viewpoint can help you open up your communication. You can improve your already good relationship to the point where it’s completely satisfying.
4. Sex is important. A satisfying sexual life will do more to cement the security of your relationship than anything else. Don’t downgrade the importance of sex, be sure your communication about sexual issues is open, and be prepared to learn long-term sexual skills, which are different from pre-marital or newlywed sex. Sex in a committed relationship serves a lot of functions. It’s a great way to comfort each other, to reassure each other, and to heal emotional rifts, and it can be good for the life of your marriage.
5. Have a regular “state of the union” meeting, on at least a weekly basis, where you get together, without interruptions (turn off the computer, phone and TV) to talk about how well your relationship is working, whether you're feeling good about it, and to bring up any problems that need discussing. You’ll find, if you do this regularly, your problems will never becomemajor, and will always be easy to handle.
© 2010 Tina B. Tessina
Adapted from How To Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page)ISBN #1-56414-549-2
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books are Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and The Commuter Marriage. She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an e-mail newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog” http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/ and has hosted “The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious” a weekly hour long radio show. Online, she is “Dr. Romance” with columns at Divorce360.com, Healthapalooza.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina or www.facebook.com/tinatessina
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