Reposted from the SynEARTH Archives, the following is excerpted from the book Real Love.
The Truth about Relationships
Greg Baer, MD
What do we have in life that’s more important than the relationships with the people around us? But where do we learn how to develop those relationships? Who sits down with us and teaches us how to share ourselves with other people? We certainly don’t learn it in school. We learn algebra, history, and English instead. With relationships, we learn by the painful process of trial and error. Is it then any wonder that we make so many mistakes? It is any surprise that our relationships fail so often?
Most relationships are doomed from the start. Two people who don’t have what it takes to be happy come together and expect their partner to supply them with what they need. That’s impossible — two unhappy and incomplete people cannot make each other happy, nor can they create a fulfilling relationship. But they still have those unreasonable expectations, and when they don’t get what they want from each other, they become frustrated and angry.
So what’s missing? What do we need to be happy? From birth the thing we all want most is to feel loved. But not just any kind of love will do. We need Real Love — unconditional love — where people care about our happiness with no thought for what they might get for themselves. It’s Real Love when people don’t get disappointed or angry when we make our foolish mistakes, even when we inconvenience them personally. Very few of us ever got that kind of love. Instead, people loved us when we were “good,” when we did what they wanted us to do. People smiled at us and praised us when we were clean, quiet, obedient, grateful, and didn’t fight with our sister. But when we made mistakes, made messes, made too much noise in the car, fought with our sister, got bad grades, dragged dirt across the clean floor, and were otherwise inconvenient, we didn’t hear the same kind words or see the same smiles that we did when we were good. Although no one meant to tell us this, we quickly learned that we were loved conditionally.
Unfortunately, conditional love leaves us feeling empty and alone. It feels worthless because we have to earn it. In effect, we have to buy conditional love with our behavior. Without Real Love, we never feel genuinely happy and complete. We then try to fill our emptiness with money, praise, approval, power, sex, and other pleasures, but those things never bring us the real happiness we’re looking for. We also establish relationships with people, hoping that they will bring us the happiness we’re missing, but if they don’t have Real Love to offer, they can’t help us, either. And we can’t bring any genuine happiness into their lives.
That’s why relationships struggle and fail. Two people without Real Love can’t possibly have a truly loving relationship. The Truth About Relationships teaches us the simple steps that we all can take to find Real Love and loving relationships.
What Goes Wrong In Relationships
Relationships fail all around us every day — between spouses, lovers, siblings, friends, co-workers, and so on. But despite the abundance of self-assured finger-pointing, the people involved rarely have any idea what actually went wrong, and they prove that as they blindly repeat the same mistakes over and over. Most people seem to be caught in an endless cycle of disappointment and unhappiness as they associate with other human beings.
When Christopher and Lisa met, they fell in love immediately. Six months later they got married and fully expected to be ecstatically happy for the rest of their lives. But in the first year of their marriage, there were already signs that the magic of their relationship was escaping them. They began to find fault with each other over little things. Roses and kisses were gradually replaced by expectations and disappointments, each of which left a wound and then a scar. Slowly, the excitement of being in love became a distant memory.
What happened here? How did the hopes and dreams of these delightful people get lost? Christopher and Lisa poured their whole hearts into making their relationship work. They didn’t hold anything back — as most people don’t — and still they failed. Understanding this is critical, because what happened with this couple is typical of what happens in virtually all unhappy relationships — between lovers, family members, people in the workplace, and so on. We’ve all had the experience of starting relationships that seemed promising and hopeful, only to have something go wrong that we didn’t understand, leaving us feeling disappointed or worse. Until we do understand what happens in these situations, we’re doomed to repeat the process again and again.
What Happened? The Lie
As I discuss relationships throughout the book, I will refer to the participants in any interaction, however brief, as “partners.”
As Lisa became increasingly unhappy in her marriage, she naturally blamed Christopher. We all tend to blame our partners — spouses, friends, children, even complete strangers — when we get upset, mostly because that’s what we’ve seen everyone around us do. All our lives, we’ve heard countless variations on these statements: “You make me so mad,”and “He (or she) makes me angry.” We’ve heard those claims so many times that we’ve come to completely accept the notion that other people determine how we feel. If someone does something to inconvenience us or fails to do what we want, we immediately believe that they make us feel disappointed or angry.
But that belief is a lie, a lie we unintentionally use to relieve our own sense of helplessness and confusion when we feel bad and need someone to blame. Until we see that, we cannot learn to have loving and lasting relationships.
What Really Happened? The Truth
It’s quite understandable that Lisa made Christopher responsible for the unhappiness she felt in their marriage. He was certainly the closest available person to blame. But that still doesn’t mean he caused her feelings. The truth is Lisa was unhappy before she got married. Christopher didn’t do anything to make Lisa unhappy. He didn’t beat her, or yell at her, or abuse her in any way. Christopher simply failed to provide what Lisa needed to make her happy, and when he failed, she blamed him for both the disappointment of their marriage and for the unhappiness she felt long before they met.
That’s what happens in most relationships. When our partners fail to make us happy, we blame them for all the unhappiness in our lives, including the unhappiness we carried with us from the many years before we ever knew them. We make our partners scapegoats for everything we don’t like. How terribly unfair that is, and what an awful effect that has on any relationship.
Imagine that after a violent storm and shipwreck, you and I are stranded on a barren island in the middle of the ocean. After a week with nothing to eat, I begin to complain that you aren’t doing enough to provide food for me, and the hungrier I become, the more I whine. Not an hour goes by that I don’t remind you that I’m starving, and that you are to blame.
You must think I’m insane. Did you cause my hunger? Of course not. I’m starving because there was a storm that wrecked our ship and left us stranded on an island without food — and you had nothing to do with any of that.
And so it is with relationships. When we’re unhappy in a relationship, our misery is not the fault of our partner. We’re unhappy because we’re starving. We’re missing the one ingredient most essential to genuine happiness, and it was missing long before we met our partner.
What We All Really Need
What we all need most – the one thing which creates happiness and fulfilling relationships — is Real Love, or unconditional love. It really is that simple. When we learn what Real Love is and when we find it, our unhappiness disappears just as surely as hunger vanishes in the presence of food. Loving relationships then become natural and effortless. I’ll be talking a great deal more about how to find Real Love in the following chapters.
Blaming and Demands
My blaming you for my hunger after the shipwreck was not only inaccurate, but ineffective — it did nothing to help our predicament. It is a simple fact that two starving people with no source of food can’t give each other what they need. No amount of expectation, disappointment, blaming, anger, or manipulation can change that.
And again, it’s the same with relationships. When we’re unhappy in a relationship, all the anger and blaming that we commonly exchange with our partners are completely wasteful and destructive. And it’s foolish to insist that our partner promised to make us happy — as in a marriage vow. Our demands don’t magically make them capable of doing anything.
Two people who are emotionally and spiritually starving in a relationship simply cannot make each other happy, no matter how hard they try. Each of them must find that one thing — Real Love — without which genuine happiness and loving relationships are quite impossible.
Although I used the example of a non-abusive relationship with Christopher and Lisa, I recognize that many people are involved in verbally, physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive relationships. Even in those circumstances, the absence of unconditional love is still the primary problem, and Real Love is the prescription for everyone who wishes to find genuine happiness and loving relationships.