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How to Make Your Relationship Sweeter, Deeper and More Passionate
By DAPHNE ROSE KINGMA
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1991 Daphne Rose Kingma
All rights reserved.
Love Is a Process, Not a Destination
We often think, at least unconsciously, that when we finally fall in love and decide to share our lives with another person, everything in our lives will fall into place. We'll "settle down," as we say, and, the implication is, we'll stay settled until "death do us part."
I call this the Shoe Box Notion of love. In this view, a relationship is like a shoe box or some other rather small container in which you keep something precious like your wedding bouquet. You wrap the flowers in tissue paper, put them in a box, put on the lid, place the box on a shelf, and hope the contents will stay just as they are forever and a day.
Unfortunately, this is precisely how many of us think about relationships. We put our love in a shoe box, stash it, and imagine we can retrieve it unchanged anytime we want. We think we don't have to do anything to make sure it doesn't get moldy or motheaten.
In truth, however, a relationship is a process and not a destination. It begins with a love that captures our attention and ignites our passion, and goes through the innumerable and unending undulations and permutations that give it texture, character, and spice, and which, without our necessarily liking or expecting it, shape and reshape the two people who created it.
Consciously or unconsciously we undertake many things in our relationships. We review our history with our parents, we heal old wounds from childhood. In loving, we deliver ourselves to the nurturance and example of our beloved which enables us to develop numerous suppressed or abandoned aspects of ourselves. All these miracles of personal transformation occur precisely because, and only when, we abandon the notion that a particular relationship is a concrete monument occupying a fixed point in the universe.
A relationship is about movement, growth; it is a holy interpersonal environment for the evolution of two souls. The changes it goes through as an entity in itself are the measure of the changes being undertaken by the individuals in it. What we ask of our relationships is the measure of what they ask of us, and of what, in time, we will each become.
Therefore, remember that love is a process, and celebrate the changes it invites. To do so is always to be open to becoming much more than you were. To resist is to diminish yourself, to become, in the end, much less than you could be.
Everybody Needs More Love
In our relationships, that special, protective place we hope will be the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams, we're all looking for the love we never got (or never got enough of) when we were children. Unfortunately, in the midst of striving for what we need and want, it's easy to forget that the other person over there could use some more love too.
In relationships, as everywhere else in life, we each tend to think that we're the only one who's got it (the problem, the cold), or had it (the bad day at work) or needs it (more love). But that's just not the way it is.
Everybody needs more love. More love. More love. More love. The truth is that nobody had a perfect childhood and none of us got enough praise, attention, recognition, affection, coddling, cuddling, blessing, or encouragement. We all need more now.
Keeping in mind that everybody is as needy as you are is a way of making sure that the love you give is equal to the love you take. This goes a long way toward keeping us from being Scrooges in love, so afraid we won't get ours that we become withholding and stingy, thereby reducing both partners to desperate love-starved babies.
It also insures that we are careful to do all those things that are the outward expression of feelings of love we have inside. We often make the mistake of assuming that, just because we love someone, he or she knows it and feels it—no special behavior is needed. But the experience of feeling loved is developed through a myriad of specific attitudes, acts, and ministrations that are the playing out of what we hold in our heart. We need not only to "love" one another, but to act that love out in consistent ways.
So, remember that the other person needs just as much love as you do, and be generous with your love in every way—with praise, kisses, compliments, music, lights, camera, action. Love with silence, kindness, color, meditation, prayer. Love in ways you haven't even dreamed of yet.
The more love you give, the more you will receive;the more love is given and received, the more it will abound; the more love abounds, the sweeter life will be; the sweeter life is, the more love itself will be the atmosphere we live and breathe.
Everybody's Wounded: The Torn Ear Theory of Love
When we fall in love, we unconsciously or consciously expect that the other person will be perfect—the perfect companion, playmate, friend, lover, parent for our children. It's when we hit up against the truth that the person we love is a mortal human being and not the projection of our wildest unbridled fantasies that relationships run into problems. Suddenly the knight on the white horse has cracks in his armor and Rapunzel in her tower has burrs in her beautiful long hair.
This is the time to pull out the Torn Ear Theory of Love; it's a great antidote to outrageous expectations. The Torn Ear Theory asks you to accept that the person you love isn't perfect and to love him or her anyway. It was named in honor of my old cat, Max. In his youth, Max was a beautiful boy, a Maine coon cat with eyes to die for. He had style, he had class; he had winning social ways, a certain refinement of features, an admirable purr, and a mighty hunting wisdom. I, of course, loved him.
But one day in his adolescence, Max got into a street fight. He came home with his ear all bloody, torn half way down to his head. The wound eventually healed, but the tear was always there. The question, of course, was did I, would I, could I, still love Max now that the he was obviously flawed? And the answer was, and still is, of course, yes.
The truth is that all of us are like Max—we're all wounded, we all have torn ears in one form or another, scars on our spirits (and sometimes our bodies) where the ravages of childhood have left their mark: a tattered sense of self-esteem, embarrassment about a particular physical imperfection, fear that we may be unlovable, shame about some limited achievement, the feeling that, try as we might, we won't get anywhere in life. It's these things that cause us to act in less than perfect ways.
What is sad but true, however, is that we imagine or assume that the other person doesn't have any wounds. We forget that the desperate, afraid, and sad little child in ourselves has a counterpart in the person we love, a child who can match us scar for scar and flaw for flaw.
Remembering that nobody's perfect is the talisman that will help you accept your beloved in his or her imperfections. It will breed patience to remember that you are not the only person who is suffering. At a more profound level, it will encourage you to take the time to get acquainted with one another's wounds, to discover how you can nurture, cherish, and respond.
Best of all, remembering we all have torn ears will leave you feeling less alone. For to know that the person you love is also wounded is to know that we suffer not in isolation, but in unison.
Everybody Has Circumstances
In love we often expect our partners to do, stop doing, be, say, give, or receive whatever we want them to without remembering that they have lives of their own. Unfortunately (and fortunately) a relationship isn't a free-for-all for the indulgence by the other person of every one of our needs and whims, whether emotional or practical. Everybody has circumstances, pragmatic realities he or she is caught up in, shaped by, and trying more or less successfully to manage. This means that the person we love will not always be available or able to love us precisely at the time or in the ways we want.
Circumstances can seem so overwhelming—being stuck for years in a dead-end job to put the kids through college; having to cope with an aging mother who has Alzheimer's disease; trying to get a degree while working full-time—that we forget our partner has circumstances too. Because life can be so difficult, we want to be delivered and, in the love-should-give-us-everything mode, we expect to be saved by the person we love. If he really loved me he'd get us out of debt forever; if she really loved me she'd have sex with me whenever I want it.
Holding these hopes is a way of not acknowledging one of the basic disappointing facts of life: Life isn't fair. The burdens on all of us are enormous. Chances are that our loved ones, just like ourselves, are trying to cope with everything in the best way they know how.
Just like each of us, our partners have to suffer the wretched little insults of daily life: the conked-out battery, the office full of cigarette smoke, the put- down from the boss, the gravy stain on the new white shirt. She's had a bad day at work; his father is dying from cancer; and nobody's got enough energy to come home and make dinner.
Unfortunately, it's all too easy to forget about the other person's circumstances when we're at the effect of our own. I have a friend who used to have endless fights with her husband about his never being home until after 8 p.m. Finally he said to her, "Do you think I WANT to work so late every night? I'm sick to death of my job. But between sending you to graduate school and supporting the kids, I can't afford to quit." When she realized that he was as much a victim of circumstance as she was, she stopped picking on him and started giving him empathy and encouragement. Interestingly enough, not long after, he found a number of ways to come home earlier.
Remembering that everybody has circumstances is a way of joining each other in the human condition. When we acknowledge in our hearts, and through our actions, that the other person is also at the effect of daily life, we create another form of bonding. Instead of being at odds, we realize we're all in this together. We recognize that we neither live, love, labor, nor suffer alone.
Your Sweetheart Isn't You
It may seem absurdly obvious that your sweetheart isn't you, but one of the worst mistakes you can make in love is to generalize on the basis of yourself; that is, to presume that your partner is exactly like you in terms of hurts, habits, preferences, hopes, and expectations. Indeed, we fall in love with, and are mesmerized by, the magic of another human being precisely because that person is different from us. But all too often once we're ensconced in an intimate relationship, we tend to behave as if our mate is, or should be, an extension of ourselves.
This is visible in the matrimonial "we." "We don't like big cities." "We don't like swordfish." "We always ..." "We never ..." And it's invisible, but nonetheless present, in our private assumptions: "Because I like vacations in the mountains, so should you"; "Because I get up at the crack of dawn, so should you"; "Because I want kids, you should too"; "Because I love my mother, you will too"; "Because I express love in words, you will too." Countless fights come out of these seemingly harmless presumptions that because I do, so will (or should) you.
The consequence of these assumptions is that most people are giving and doing what they would like to receive in the form they would like to receive it in, rather than doing what the person they're related to wants. As a result, a lot of fights are occurring because partners aren't getting their needs met. They escalate because the person not getting his needs met complains, and the other person gets angry because what she perceives as a precious gift has just been rejected.
This kind of expecting the other person to be a clone of ourselves is an emotional hangover from infancy when, indeed, we were the center of the universe. When we were babies, the world DID revolve around us—if we woke up screaming at 5 a.m., then everybody else woke up too. But in adulthood, whenever you treat your sweetheart as if he or she is you, you disenfranchise him or her from the right to be a separate self. You reduce the person by your side to a kind of non-entity. You say, in effect, it's only my consciousness and preferences that matter here—what you feel or think is irrelevant.
The antidote to this stultifying situation is to learn to do one very simple thing: inquire. Explore. Ask. Let curiosity be your guide to finding out what your mate wants and needs from you. The more you know precisely who he or she is, the less you'll make this person-erasing mistake.
In the long run, remembering that the person you love is not you is a way of exposing yourself to the joy of knowing another soul in the truth and beauty of his or her own uniqueness. And it's celebrating the difference that's really what love's all about.
Your Sweetheart Isn't Psychic
If I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me: "But why do I have to ask? He should know what I feel/want/think," I could give King Midas a run for his money and live in a castle built of gold bricks.
Love does a great many magical things, but it doesn't turn us into psychic wizards. We need to tell each other what we want and ask for what we need. And I mean TELL and ASK. If nothing but the blue angora sweater will do for your 30th birthday—SAY that or you may end up with a set of kitchen canisters. If you want your darling to wear the black silk strapless dress to the office Christmas party, TELL her or she might just show up in that flowery number you hate. Not because he or she doesn't love you, but because he or she isn't psychic.
People often think that getting what you ask for makes the gift less special, but, in fact, discovering that the person you love has loved you enough to hear what you want, and gone to the trouble of giving it to you, is often even more special. It means that he or she wants to please you enough to give you your true heart's desire, whether that's a new living room couch, some time alone, that wild pair of earrings, or just a shoulder to cry on.
Of course wanting your sweetheart to be psychic is a wonderful fantasy. It would be great if he or she knew everything you wanted and could make it magically appear. Letting go of the dream that your honey will "just know" is really letting go of the childhood fantasy that your parents would always know exactly what you wanted. It's sad to think that love has limits, that getting what we want takes effort, but it does.
And once you've mourned your fantasy, remembering your sweetheart isn't psychic will encourage you to be more forthright and adventurous in expressing your needs and desires, which will make it more likely that the other person will meet them. Receiving what you want will make your heart soft and happy and open. You'll feel more loving and more love will start flowing back to you. So what's stopping you from asking? To remind yourself, put a note on your refrigerator that says: MY SWEETHEART ISN'T PSYCHIC!
Excerpted from True Love by DAPHNE ROSE KINGMA. Copyright © 1991 Daphne Rose Kingma. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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