Is Love All You Need?

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
― Anaïs Nin

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I was sitting in the seat of the car, looking out the window, pouting. The day was not going as I had planned it in my head. He should have known! He must have known how I wanted it to be, after all we were married and he should know . . . he should be able to read my mind . . .

Lennon and McCartney tell us that Love is All You Need. But in the case of romantic love, is that true?

Alain de Botton describes why we created and still live by the inaccurate, and often disastrous image of romantic love in his NYT article: “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”

In the past, people married for practical reasons, but in the 1800s, we replaced practicality with the romantic version of love:

“For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.”

Romantic Love tells us that we all have a soul mate out there and it is our task to find our one true soul mate, and we will know when we find him or her because we will have that very special feeling. Botton describes this search for romantic love in his very entertaining talk “On Love” from ‘The School of Life.’

We are led to believe that when we find our soul mate, we will never be lonely again, that person will understand us completely and practically be able to read our mind. (flashback to me in the car pouting) We will feel completely understood and loved. This love shall be one long romantic holiday . . .

 

The reality is though that what we are looking for when we fall in love is familiarity. We are not necessarily drawn to people who will make us happy, we are drawn to people who will feel familiar.

“What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.”

Botton adds:

“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

For a relationship to last, we need more than that out-dated version of romantic love. So what do we need to make a lasting relationship? Well for one thing, we definitely need good communication. The day out with my husband would have turned out a lot differently if I had communicated my vision for the day instead of assuming that my husband should just know.

But aside from good communication, science is showing us that lasting relationships come down to two things: kindness and generosity.

In Atlantic Magazine’s article ‘Masters of Love’, psychologists John and Julie Gottman describe their work. Together they have studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. From the data they gathered, they were able to separate the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.

The masters felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. Whereas the disasters were in a state of ‘fight or flight’ even when they were not fighting. It’s not that the masters had a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird. The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that. People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper.”

Gottman explains that masters have a habit of mind in which they scan the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes. And it’s not just scanning the environment, it’s also scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or wrong; criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.

The Gottmans have found that contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them will eventually kill the love in the relationship. On the other hand, kindness glues couples together. Kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated. Kindness makes us feel loved.

So if we are looking to live happily ever after together, we need to ditch the antiquated version of romantic love and move forward in the spirit of kindness and generosity.

I’d like to close this post with the video by Alaine de Botton that I mentioned above.  It is well worth the watch, both amusing and insightful.

 

Let me know your thoughts on romantic love and what makes a relationship withstand the test of time.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

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Pursuing the good life in 2016

There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.

– George Sand


There has been an amazing study done at Harvard that has lasted over 75 years.  Robert Waldinger describes this study in a new TED talk, and the findings are hopeful.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, we’ve tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

It’s not more money, it’s not longer hours at work, it’s not fame and fortune . . . (*but we knew that didn’t we?)

What they learned is this:

The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this:

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

Three big lessons were learned about relationships.

The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.

The second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.

And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer.

So in a nutshell, the study tells us that the good life is built with good relationships.  And we can all work on that.

I’d like to close as Dr. Waldinger closed, with a quote from Mark Twain:

“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”

 

 

I’d love to hear about how you nurture your relationships. And as always, thanks for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Are Men and Women Wired Differently?

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other.  Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

– Katherine Hepburn


I just had the most delicious conversation with my dear friend Tam.  She and I have been friends for over 30 years.  When we talk, we go straight to heart level, which I value so much and crave so deeply.  As a woman, this need for deep heart connection is so important to me. And this brings me to the essence of this post,  yet another layer of stuff my husband and I are working through. 

I won’t go into the full background of the latest turmoil, it’s more than a argument or disagreement – it feels like a deep mis-understanding of the sexes.  Our communication feels like he’s trying to connect from the head and me from the heart, and I end up feeling like a bleeding mess in a puddle in the corner and he is trying to analize why and how it happened and what exactly was said to get there and what words can deal with it. 

After talking to Tam and to my sister and a couple of other friends, I noticed once again, not surprisingly that men and women really communicate differently. So I decided to do some research, and I found that it’s not surprising that we communicate so differently because research shows that men’s brains don’t work the same way that women’s brains work.   There is so much new research out there showing us beyond a shadow of a doubt that men and women are wired differently.

According to psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the female brain is wired to empathize and the male brain is characterized by its tendency to systemize. The male brain seeks to develop a set of logical rules that guide another person’s behavior. When a man can’t understand someone else’s behavior through logic, he tends to become confused about how to proceed.  Women, on the other hand, may be more empathetic because their brains’ mirror neurons are more sensitive than men’s. Mirror neurons cause us to imitate emotions and actions that we’re exposed to. One theory is that women’s mirror neurons allow them to more easily hone in on another person’s emotional cues.

This quote just made so much sense to me!  I get so frustrated because it feels like my husband is trying to understand me “logically” – and does not understand emotional cues.  But if he’s not wired to do so, can I hold this against him?  Ah there’s the rub.  So I guess we just keep trying to find the common ground, and to work through this morass called relationship.

This video clip is a long one, well over an hour, but if you are interested in this subject, please do take the time to watch it, it offers some fascinating information on the brain differences between men and women.

 

 

I’d love to hear what helps you communicate better and how you make your relationships work. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.