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Late in 1992, Naomi, my wife of forty-six years, died of cancer after a brief illness. We had a good relationship and were very close for the six months that she was ill. Before she died, we talked honestly about the future and how I would conduct my life with regard to our children, grandchildren, assets, and work, and I have not deviated from what I promised her. We also discussed my personal life and, knowing me so well, she told me that I would need a new relationship and she hoped I would find the right one. I didn't anticipate that the loneliness would be acute, but she was right. After all those years of marriage, I am not a good bachelor.
There are a lot of advantages to looking for love at an age when many of love's usual problems—money, children, not enough free time—no longer exist. Still, finding someone was not easy. I met fine women, but the right one eluded me. I am not naive where women are concerned and, as a psychiatrist, I know a little more than most about love and sex. I had a good idea of what I wanted, and I did not want to settle for less. I expected that there would be mistakes, and there were. From these mistakes, I learned a lot and began to toy with the idea of writing this book.
Then I got lucky. Carleen Floyd, from Cincinnati, was an instructor in my organization. I had known and admired her professionally for almost ten years. Now I learned that she was getting divorced, so I wrote her a letter.
I told her that I found her interesting and attractive and I sensed that the feeling was mutual. I suggested that I could visit her in Cincinnati and she could visit me in Los Angeles to see if wegrew to love each other. I ended by saying that life is too short not to pursue excitement, adding that I believed Carleen and I could be exciting.
Carleen responded immediately—and positively. Two months later we got together for the first time in Cincinnati. We were powerfully attracted to each other and had what we agreed was close to a perfect weekend. We got together again Thanksgiving weekend at my home in Los Angeles and again in Cincinnati two weeks later, and things were still perfect. Two days before the New Year, even though we had made no plans to see each other over the holidays, I called and asked her to come to California. She came the afternoon of New Year's Eve.
When Carleen got back on the plane twenty-four hours later, it was no longer attraction—we were deeply in love and, equally important, we were becoming good friends. Inspired by that love and friendship, which continues stronger than ever, and in the hopes that what we have learned both before and after we met can be useful to others, I began this book.
Almost all of us fall in love, usually several times in our lives. Many fewer of us succeed in staying in love for any length of time. It is the same with sex. We find an exciting partner, but we cannot maintain the excitement. A good marriage (or long-term relationship) is the most difficult of all affiliations to maintain. Less than half of us are able to stay married for life. And of the half that do, few achieve the storybook "they lived happily ever after" ending.
Too many of us settle for much less. We stay together dissatisfied, long after both love and sex have all but disappeared. We do so for many reasons—children, money, religion—but it is the underlying pain, shame, and fear of breaking up and trying to start over that prevent us from divorcing or splitting up.
Since we all hope to keep love, sex, and marriage intact, we spend a lot of effort and even money trying to find out how to do this. We seek help ranging from Dear Abby to psychiatry, but much of this help is ineffective, usually because almost all of us are waiting for the helpers to tell us how to straighten out our partners. Few of the "experts" teach us that no matter what shape our relationship is in, only we can change. Also, most of us fail to see the obvious, which is that where sex, love, and marriage are concerned, the helpers for the most part are no more successful than the seekers.
The reason we are not taught that we must change is that almost all of us, including those who counsel the unhappily married, follow stimulus-response psychology, whose premise is that our unhappiness is caused by events or situations that are outside of ourselves. Simply stated, stimulus-response psychology leads us to believe that when we fail to find a successful relationship, it is someone else, not us, who is at fault.
Therefore, as we seek help from friends or professionals, we gain support for what we already believe: We are involved with the wrong mate and he or she must change for us to be happy. But we remain the same, our mate doesn't change, and our unhappiness continues. What we have to understand is that the only life we can control is our own and, in almost all instances, we can choose to change. Depending on what changes we make in our lives, there is a strong possibility that our mate also may choose to change. And if he or she changes in the right direction, our marriages can become much better. Therefore, we can change only our own lives; we cannot change what others do. It is to this vital truth that this book is addressed. Lacking this knowledge, we enter blindly into sex, love, and marriage, and many of us crash.
To make the changes that we must make if we are to improve our relationships, we must learn a lot more about ourselves, and it is to this task that this book is addressed. We will also learn a lot more about our mates and our relationships. To do this, I introduce a new psychology, control theory, that you can put immediately to work in your life. As you learn control theory and that we are all control systems, you will be able to stop using the destructive stimulus-response psychology that is the cause of so much of the failure and unhappiness we encounter in our relationships.
I have been studying and teaching control theory for more than fifteen years. At first I taught it to counselors and managers. It soon became apparent that the people being counseled and managed needed to learn control theory too. What is intriguing is that many counselors and managers who learned this theory to use at work told me that they found it very useful in every aspect of their lives, especially in personal relationships such as marriage. Although this theory does not tell you what to do, it clarifies that you, as a control system, are choosing all you do and, using this knowledge and other basics of this theory, you learn to make better choices.
For example, many times in our marriages we feel angry or depressed and, not knowing control theory, we don't even consider the possibility that we are choosing to feel upset. We think it is happening to us because of what someone else is doing or failing to do. When we learn control theory, we discover that we do not have to continue to make these choices and, because of them, behave in ways that may destroy our marriages. Better choices are almost always available.
As we begin to act successfully on this new knowledge, we gain a sense of control over our lives, which feels very good. It is this sense of control—over ourselves, not over others—that gives control theory its name. Of course, we don't have to know control theory to struggle for control; we do that all the time both in and out of marriage. But until we learn control theory, we struggle to control others, not ourselves, and so we fail. Gradually, as we put control theory to work on ourselves, it becomes increasingly clear that applying the control theory axiom—the only person we can control is ourselves—is vital if we are to have a chance for a more satisfying life.
Although I have written extensively on this theory, I realize that to apply this theory, especially to the problems of sex, love, and lasting relationships, I need to write in more depth about its most important concepts: the basic needs, total behavior, creativity, and, most of all, what I call our quality world. In this book, I apply these concepts to sexual relationships. But, as you learn them, you will find that they can be useful in every part of your life.
All living creatures struggle to stay alive at least long enough to reproduce so that their species continues to exist. Lower creatures are instructed by their genes to do this. For example, when salmon reach maturity, they struggle to return to the place where they were born. There, the females lay eggs, the males fertilize them, and then, exhausted by this effort and old age, both die. Few of us are unaware of this natural cycle and we know that salmon cannot choose to sit this struggle out. There is no escape from the suicidal reproductive behavior programmed into their genes.
As human beings, we have many more choices where reproduction is concerned. But for most of us, the urge to engage in sexual activity when we become sexually mature is as strong as that which drives the salmon to spawn. However this sexual program got written into our genes, it assures that from this activity enough human babies will see the light of day so there is little chance we will become an endangered species.