Search

"All you need is love" sang the Beatles. "What is this thing called love?" croons the famous song by Cole Porter. "Love will keep us together" declares Captain and Tennille.

Romantic love has been the subject of music, art, literature, cinema, philosophical thought and scientific research for some time. At AUT, we recently put together a YouTube video on "The Science of Love" in order to make sense of the topic.

The topic of love is one that fascinates us. The experience of love is one that can bring us joy, happiness or bliss, as well as pain, confusion and heartache.

To unpack this elusive but powerful force, for the next three weeks I'm going to do a short series on rethinking love. We need to shift our expectations of how love comes together, what it feels like, and how it can work as part of a functioning long-term relationship. To do this, I want to draw on the work of contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton, as well as sharing insights from my own research.

The way we love is heavily shaped by the outside world. It is influenced by the social, cultural and historic juncture we find ourselves in. The stories we hear about love (via media and historical narratives, for example) hugely shape our understanding and expectation of what love is, how it should unfold, and what it should feel like.

de Botton traces our current understanding and practice of love to an intellectual movement of the late 1700s, called 'Romanticism'.

Romanticism was heavily dedicated to the arts, poetry and literature, and it had a lot to say about love. First and foremost, Romanticism espouses that there is a 'soulmate' out there for everyone. A person who is your spiritual 'other half', and will not only complete you, but by finding them, all your problems, worries, concerns and daily burdens will magically disappear.

Once you've found 'The One', it will fix everything from your loneliness to your daily existential crises about the true nature of the world and what you should really be doing with your life. You will live happily ever after like in the fairy tales, and this will be effortless, almost magical and largely driven by your intrinsic understanding of each other. If only. But more on that next week.

So, how do we find this person? According to romanticism, and as deduced by de Botton, it is by mere 'instinct'. One day, somewhere in a public place, or at a party, or at work, you will meet someone and there will be a special, unexplainable feeling you get when you see them.

This feeling is now bound up with sexual attraction, but was originally more of a spiritual union. This odd but exciting stirring is to indicate that this person could be the one for you, even if you don't actually know anything about them.

The notion of 'love at first sight' captures the essence of the Romantics approach to love – you will one day, quite randomly meet your soulmate and you will magically know they're the one for you.

And hopefully you find this person as soon as possible (or at least by your 30s, in contemporary New Zealand). Here blind love becomes the basis of marriage-type relationships and the way to find said love is via instinct.

Before romanticism, marriages were focused much more on practicalities. They were about uniting certain family bloodlines, or combining certain bits of land or other resources.

They were marriages based on 'reason' versus 'love' and we often arranged by the elders of a family. Such dynastic marriages were how lifelong partnerships were made for thousands of years, before Romanticism ushered in the mystique of what we now consider romantic love.

What Romanticism also espouses is that you are meant to love everything about your partner, forever. You should find all their personal quirks or weird habits endearing and adorable. They should never get on your nerves or frustrate you, if you truly love them.

Romanticism dictates that love should come together rather magically, work instinctively and be painlessly harmonious, without any deep prior understanding of the other individual, or any ongoing work on the relationship by the couple.

Now while we gravitate to these beautiful ideals (and they are hard to fully dismiss), de Botton firmly contends that Romanticism has been an utter catastrophe for our capacity to have good long-term relationships.

He contends, and I agree, that if we are to ever have a real chance at love, or a functioning, thriving and loving relationship, we have to let go of the many romantic notions, thoughts and feelings that got us into certain relationships in the first place.

I know this may bring gasps of horror to some readers, but I will explain what I mean in the coming weeks. Next week, I'll offer some alternative understandings of love that can set us up to succeed much better at love and relationships.


Find the original publication here.

Last week I outlined how, under the tenets of Romanticism, we tend to rely on our instincts to find that special someone. Given that about half of marriage-type relationships dissolve, the way we are choosing our partners, and how we are conducting ourselves in intimate relationships, is not garnering any more success than flipping a coin.

Romanticism will have us believe that there is a special someone out there who is perfect for us, and we perfect for them. Yet, no one is perfect and imagining that they are not only sets us up to fail, but is rather toxic.

We are all deeply complex psychological beings who are often much more damaged than we realise. Philosopher Alain de Botton goes further to argue, not only are we damaged, but that we all 'deeply mad' in our own special way. He argues in jest, but rather accurately, that "none of us make it through the gauntlet of early childhood and adolescence, with our sanity entirely intact".

We are all psychologically patterned in very specific ways, and not all of these are constructive. Based on our background, our childhood, and the society we are raised in, we are intricately moulded in very distinctive ways.

If we've made it to adulthood, we are all, in one way or another, somewhat flawed. But this is not a bad thing. Instead, it makes us who we are in a rather a beautiful way, that reflects our life's journey.

What we need to have more success in love (and life), is not only a good grasp of the ways we are psychologically patterned, but to develop the capacity to accept this, and summon the courage to share it with those close to us.

The work we do on ourselves on understanding this patterning gives us much more self-awareness and therefore more options when it comes to the choices we make in love and life. Yet, we have very poor psychological awareness as a society. Overall, we are pretty ill-equipped to understand what resides deep in our psyches or how this shapes who we are and how we behave.

Many of us spend huge amounts of time and energy working or attending to others' needs, without putting aside one hour a week, let alone one hour a day, to work on ourselves. Granted, self-awareness is a hard task. And I think this is why we try so hard to get away from ourselves.

We get busy, become workaholics, we drink too much, we game too much, we watch too much TV, because it can be hard to just sit and be present with our own thoughts, feelings or face our fallibilities. We seek to avoid the discomfort that comes with being a psychologically complex, contradictory and damaged individual.

This is why when we fall in love, via instinct, we hope that we will never have to traverse the painful world of loneliness or have to deal with the harsh realities of what it is like to be truly present with ourselves. As I noted last week, once we find 'the one', we assume that we will accept each other exactly as we are and that it will all be smooth sailing.

In the first few months of a new romance, life is bliss. Our hopes and dreams are foisted upon this person who looks to be able to make the world and our lives a much better place.

But, as psychoanalysis has long asserted, we don't always choose our partner because they are good for us, or because they will make us happy, but because they feel 'familiar'.

When we fall in love, we are most likely re-creating a pattern of love we learnt during childhood that is buried deep in our unconscious. We learn about love not only from our culture, but from the first-hand experiences of love while growing up. Even if this love was problematic.

Maybe we loved a parent who was distant or volatile, under a lot of stress, or dealing with an addiction. Maybe our parents modelled a dysfunctional relationship with little care or compassion for each other. Maybe the love we needed was not necessarily the love we got, but it was the only love we knew.

If we don't delve into how we become patterned to 'love' and 'be loved', we are bound to re-create a pattern of love that can leave us dissatisfied. This can be why we meet someone who looks great on paper, but tend to find them a bit boring or unattractive. They are, to put it simply, probably just a bit too functional for us. They don't satisfy your particular kind of (dysfunctional) imprinted pattern of love.

The more self-awareness we have about what makes us who we are, and what our underlying needs are in love – rather than our surface desires or fallible instincts – the more likely we are to choose a partner that is better suited to us.

And, if you suspect that you've already chosen someone based on instinct with whom you might be recreating a familiar love, versus the love you want, don't fret or call the divorce lawyer just yet.

Next week I will delve into how to work with your partner to create the love you want, rather than the love you are patterned to have.


Find the original publication here.

2 views0 comments

Last week I outlined why the "perfect" partner doesn't exist. We are attracted to people for a myriad of complex, contradictory and unconscious reasons. This week, I want to get practical. No matter who we've chosen to love, how could we be doing romantic relationships better?

Firstly, we need to let go of some long-standing beliefs about how relationships work. Romanticism espouses that if you love someone, and they love you, they should more or less intuitively understand you.

Early on in a relationship, we often feel like we've found someone who truly 'gets us' and they seem to do this effortlessly and without much communication.

But as many of us have experienced, love does not create the ability to read your partner's mind, especially in moments of distress. A refusal or inability to communicate upset or any other feelings, and the underlying needs that fuel them, create periods of avoidable disharmony and can lead to longer term damage in a relationship.

Once the honeymoon period of any relationship ends, and the glow of early romance wears off, things get real. Here, open and constructive communication becomes vital if we are to have a long-lasting relationship that is also happy and functioning.

Also, as individuals, we can change considerably throughout life. To really understand an intimate partner's sensibilities also requires ongoing communication over the course of any relationship.

In this vein, contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton argues that instead of doing love by way of Romanticism and relying on intuition, we should take a few lessons from the Ancient Greeks. They believed, for example, that when you love someone, you are embarking on a journey of "mutual education".

In the contemporary context, this can translate to educating our partner in how we are psychologically patterned, what childhood wounds we carry, and how best to love us and meet our needs. It also means challenging each other to grow and develop beyond previous patterns of behaviour that are not working.

This requires getting away from trying to be 'right' or 'winning', to fostering mutual understanding and growth.

One specific approach, called Imago Therapy, insists that we unconsciously choose partners that will directly challenge us to heal unresolved childhood wounds, in order to grow as individuals. Here the focus is on collaborative exploration and healing, in a safe and caring adult relationship.

Under the guise of Romanticism, this sort of mutual relationship education has almost become, to put it in de Botton's words, "illegal". When you are meant to unconditionally love your partner, warts and all, it becomes difficult to communicate anything negative or too challenging about your partner's behaviour – any criticism feels like a "breach of love".

But being able to talk about our psychological tendencies or wounds, lovingly and with mutual curiosity, can be enlightening and constructive. One of the reasons many relationships often dissolves is because of the things that go unsaid and remain unresolved. As well as the unwillingness of one re both parties to face their own psychological tendencies.

To conclude this three part series, I've compiled a list adapted from de Botton, and my own research, on how we could be reinventing modern love:

1. First and foremost, we are all a "little mad" or psychologically patterned in very specific ways – let's joyfully accept this

2. We need a good grasp on our own special flavour of "madness" or psychological patterning and the ability to communicate this

3. We need to let go of seeking perfection in others or trying to be perfect yourself

4. We should shift from an instinctual approach of how loves comes together, and is maintained, to a therapeutic and educational one

5. Don't attempt to educate each or discuss important issues when you are triggered, upset or angry – wait until you are both calm and relaxed 6. We could be much more generous with how we interpret the intent behind our partner's behaviour (they didn't leave the milk out to spite you, maybe they were running late or distracted) 7. We should strive to bring lightness and humour into the relationship (if it helps, view your partner, and yourself, as a "loveable idiot")

8. Love and partnership involve many practical aspects and daily routines that are not always blissfully romantic. And this is perfectly okay. The mundane can be beautiful.

9. Create space for connection, communication and romance (but remember that romance is only a small part of a much bigger tapestry of what constitutes love)

10. See love as a journey of mutual education and mutual healing, embrace the unknown and be flexible with what the contours of love brings

We need to take a much more active role in creating the relationship we want, mutually, rather than blindly following our instincts or psychological patterning. This starts with self-reflection, self-analysis as well as critically examining the dominant cultural messages we receive about love. Intimate relationships can offer us an invaluable resource for psychological growth if we are open to this process of mutual education. Only then will we be able to create the love we want, and need, rather than the love we are patterned to have.


Find original publication here.

0 views0 comments