By Dr. Tina Tessina
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 partnership—either 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’s—and 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 memories—when 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.
CLICK HERE to read more.