My God, these folks don’t know how to love—that’s why they love so easily.
— David Herbert Lawrence
Many people want to be in relationships, without really having a clue what it is all about or what they’re all about.
Real love is akin to getting married, having babies, or even getting a dog. Many people have some romantic fantasy about all these things without looking at the work involved or the responsibility or the commitment required. Some think more about the DJ they want at the wedding, the gurgling and happy baby, or the fun-loving puppy. They don’t think about how to live with a person every day, deal with a colicky newborn, or manage a “mouthy” puppy who keeps eating the sofa.
Each of these wonderful things has another side that you must acknowledge going in, or you will fail. Every day, couples get divorced, dogs are dropped at shelters, and cranky babies are ignored or, worse, mistreated—because the responsibility inherent in marriage, parenthood, and pet ownership has been ignored.
Being able to love and be loved for many years in a good and healthy way takes work. It takes resisting urges. It’s about making a decision not to do things that would wreck your relationship or hurt your partner—like calling someone a name, being selfish when you should help out, not acknowledging or caring about your partner’s needs, or having an affair. It includes big and little things. Love is an action, love is work, and love is adecision.
It doesn’t take work to be in a dysfunctional relationship; people do it all the time. Taking someone hostage or allowing yourself to be taken hostage is boring and predictable. It might be chaotic, destructive and dramatic, but in the end…same old same old.
To love someone, really love someone who really loves you, too, is about being a good and sane and supportive and caring partner; knowing how to understand and compromise; knowing to accept your partner for who he or she is without trying to change them.
It’s not about taking someone away from those they love. It’s not about being locked into some strange desperation with each other, hoping and praying that no one cracks the shell. Too many unhealthy relationships depend on each person convincing the other that the world is out to get one or both of them.
My books, Getting Past Your Breakup and Getting Back Out There, emphasize that real love is an enlarging experience and dysfunctional love is a narrowing one. But anything that is enlarging comes with work and responsibilities—responsibility to self and to each other. A couple must support each other’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
If you’re not there yet, you can start to work on what you will and will not do to nurture yourself and your idea of what a healthy relationship is. And there are some things you can do that will almost guarantee a healthier relationship:
1. To find the right person, be the right person. Before you get back into a relationship, build your life. Finish your unfinished business. Become objective about what went wrong in your last relationship, and in the relationships before that. Do a relationship inventory and a life inventory. You must discover the patterns and habits that torpedoed previous relationships before you get into a new one. If you’re in a relationship and trying to salvage or save it, you—both of you—must figure out and heal that which has been hurting you and your relationship. If one partner changes, the other is forced to change or leave. You cannot maintain the status quo when one of you chooses to change.