In my last column we saw how successful relationships are made — they don’t just happen. This column considers some of what’s needed to create relationships that work well.
Although relationships are complicated, what makes them work well is simple: the capacity to give and receive love and friendship. And the friendship part is especially important for long-term committed relationships, including marriage. Feelings of passionate “romantic love” are not enough to make a relationship work. Romantic love has a short season. As the famed philosopher Nietzsche wisely noted: “The best friend is likely to acquire the best wife or husband, because a good marriage is based on the talent for friendship.”
Two people who live at the surface of life from conditioned patterns and programs will inevitably have trouble keeping love and friendship alive in their relationship. Their relationship will become like a radio station that just won’t tune properly any longer, a station filled with static and interference. All the static and interference results from two basic things that block love and friendship. Let’s consider them together.
1.) If we’re identified with our conditioned self-image, it will shape what we think and feel about our partner and how we “react” to him or her. Without realizing it, we’ll be stuck in fixed and narrow views, often inaccurate, that will interfere with an ongoing exchange of deep love and friendship with a spouse or life partner.
2.) If we are not conscious of our past wounds, especially those anchored in our family dynamics, they will leak into our relationship as projections. Projections cause confusion and damage, and they can do a job on love and friendship. Projections are always unconscious and so especially dangerous, because we’re convinced what we are seeing in our partner is accurate, but it isn’t. Our job is to work on ourselves to become aware of our projection-making tendencies. With awareness we can “reclaim” our projections and begin to see our partner more accurately. Awareness opens the flow of conscious love and friendship.
Unfortunately, most people look at relationship through rose-colored glasses. The entry into the harsh times of troubled relationships begins with the fact that society offers us an unrealistic views and images of relationship, especially of marriage. Many couples buy into the unrealistic images about relationship that film, television and music feed us every day. They have no idea that they need knowledge and tools to make their marriage work, grow and prosper.
Another misleading idea that couples bring into their relationship is that God wants them to stay together. I am in no position to confirm what God wants or not, but I think that God may be too busy to attend to what we need to take care of ourselves. God may not want us to get cavities or have our teeth fall out, but it’s our job to brush.
Marriage is hard work and until we see and break free from our conditioned self-image, and until we become aware of our projection making tendencies, we won’t be ready to give our marriage the heart-based intimacy it needs to thrive and prosper.
Couples in trouble often feel that the problem is that they’ve “fallen out of love.” I often hear: “I love my spouse, but I am not in love with them anymore.” That’s to be expected because everyone falls out of romantic love. That’s life. The real problem is that their relationship’s supply of love and friendship is running on empty and they don’t know how to replenish it.
Many couples blame financial tension for their problems. While financial tension can indeed create relationship woes, it’s often only a small factor in relationships that don’t work well. The only difference between couples who make millions a year and couples who make a whole lot less is the price of the home they fight and suffer in.
Relationships that work well are a delight. They work because the people in them have the skills and knowledge to keep love and friendship in good supply. People in relationships that work well tend to share common characteristics. They have found self-assurance and peace of mind within themselves, and so they don’t make the error of excessively demanding it from their relationship. They have grown beyond the limits of their conditioned self-image — they are connected to who they deeply are. And they have mapped, worked and broken free from their projection-making tendencies. As a consequence they don’t react unconsciously to their partner; instead they respond with awareness.
The lessons for making a good marriage often come in the form of difficulties and challenges. We need a keen eye to recognize our difficulties and challenges as “understandings begging to come about,” rather than as evidence that our relationship is can’t work.
Dr. Jim Manganiello is a clinical psychologist and diplomate-level medical psychotherapist based in Groveland and West Boxford. He is also an author and teacher focusing on stress, personal growth, meditation and “inner fitness.” His book “Unshakable Certainty” is available on Amazon. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.drjimmanganiello.com.