During my 25 years as a therapist, I have seen hundreds of people disappointed
over unfulfilling relationships. I have seen passion turn to poison. I
have grieved with patients for the love they lost or never found.
"We seemed to love so much, but now it’s gone," one woman lamented
to me. "Why do I feel so lonely every night even when he is right there
beside me? Why can’t a relationship be more than this?"
It can. I was once invited to the 60th anniversary celebration of a remarkable
couple. I asked the husband, Peter, if he ever felt lonely and wondered where
the love between him and Lita had gone. Peter laughed and said, "If you
wonder where your love went, you forgot that you are the one who makes it.
Love is not out there; it’s in there between Lita and me."
I know we can love deeply, tenderly and lastingly. I have seen such love,
and I have felt such love myself. Here are the laws I have discovered for such
lasting and loving relationships:
Put time where love is. A fulfilling relationship begins when two people make
time together their No. 1 priority. If we hope to find love, we must first
find time for loving.
Unfortunately, current psychology rests on the model of the independent
ego. To make a lasting relationship we have to overcome self-centeredness.
go beyond what psychologist Abraham Maslow called "self-actualization" to "us-actualization." We
have to learn to put time where love is. Many couples have experienced
a tragic moment that taught them to value their time together.
In crisis, become as one. Just after a couple left my office
one evening, I heard what sounded like a gun-shot. I looked out the window
and saw the couple
backing toward their car, and the shadow of a large figure near a street
light. Clinging together, they couple kept backing away. The figure quickened
pace toward them. The couple joined hands and ran to their car. As I dialed
security, the figure came closer, and I saw it was one of our guards. I later
discovered that the "shot" was a noise that had nothing
to do with my couple, but they didn’t know that. Like herd animals, they had
reacted to danger by coming together, in a "couple caution circle." Threatened,
they had become one.
Take a loving look. How we see our partners often depends more on how we
are than how they are. The loved-ones in a relationship are not audience,
observers in each other’s lives. Author Judith Viorat once wrote, "Infatuation
is when you think he’s as gorgeous as Robert Redford, as pure as Solzhenitsyn,
as funny as Woody Allen, as athletic as Jimmy Connors, and as smart as Albert
Einstein. Love is when you realize he’s as gorgeous as Woody Allen, as smart
as Jimmy Connors, as funny as Solzhenitsyn, as athletic as Albert Einstein,
and nothing like Robert Redford in any category–but you’ll take him
anyway." This law of lasting love instructs us to look with instead
of for love.
Try another perspective. This law illustrates how some people spend their
relationships struggling to change a partner’s mind. People in lasting-love
relationships begin with the premise that there are many realities. They
learn to accept different points of view. When a couple breaks free of
trap, their problems are solved. The lasting relationship is never sure
of the seperate "selves" that
make it up. But it has complete confidence that the relationship will grow
in a never-ending process of learning.
Look out for No. 2. There is a power healing energy that emanates from loving.
Lasting love can learn to sense it, send it and make it grow. We are energized
by love if we put our energy into loving. Bad energy springs from conflicts
that arise when two egos collide. When I watch couples argue with each other,
I want to shout: "Grow up, stop fighting, start loving!" It is better
to learn how to love than how to fight. Don’t try to win in your relationship,
win for your relationship.
Relationship is designed primarily for giving rather than taking. It is meant
to be a permanent union of two unselfish people. As one person told me, "The
old saying was look out for No. 1. But we’ve learned to look out for No. 2.
If you fight for yourself, only you can win. When you fight for your relationship,
you both win."
* Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne State University School of Medicine
and former Director of Professional Education at The Kinsey Institute for Research
in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.