Friday, September 26, 2008

On Marriage & Committed Relationships


M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author of the “The Road Less Traveled,” writes that the “in love” experience should not be called love. He states that the “in love” experience is a temporary emotional high. Brain research suggests that the neurological chemical changes of feeling “in love” lasts for 6 – 8 months.

In my experience, the real work of love begins somewhere after the first six months to a year. Love born out of work and commitment has an emotional component and on good days can feel like an altered state of consciousness. Scott states that love unites reason and emotions. It involves an act of will, requires discipline, and recognizes the need for personal growth.

A Rabbi and I were discussing relationships. I asked him how long he had been married. He remarked, “Greg, I have been married and divorced and remarried at least 20 times!” And with a knowing smile, paused and stated, “…all to the same woman.” He still remains married after 35 years.

He reminds us that a loving marriage involves moments of flow/work, ecstasy/effort, bliss/consternation. Regardless of our maturity, each one of us still contains a small part that thinks a loving marriage should just flow and be driven by synchronicity 24/7. Most of us possess a wounded part that seeks to find a partner who will be our primary healer. But wisdom and maturity teaches us that we are our primary caretakers.

“Love Fusion” is when couples expect to effortlessly merge into a blissful state of need fulfillment during every waking moment. Most of you have felt the impact of bumping into disappointment and reality. At some point a partner will trigger old wounds and become the source of pain instead of pleasure. How a couple navigates through this new phase of “storming” will determine the depth of their intimacy. Love fusion is merely foreplay. It is not the real deal of intimate relationships. But it is a wonderful high and quite intoxicating!

Healthy marriages involve times of conflict, struggle, reason and choice. We each desire to be loved by someone who chooses us, helps us to feel visible in the world and sees something worth loving in the midst of our flaws and blemishes. This kind of love requires the energy of emotion, effort and discipline. Committed partnerships are crucibles that heat up and bring our “issues” to the surface. They are as Sex Therapist and author David Snarch likes to state, “…people growing machines.” Long term-committed relationships can have deep passion. Learning to walk along side each other without blame and confronting our fears is not a path for the faint of heart or for those who lack staying power. But the payoffs and rewards are high.

When couples come to me for counseling. They often arrive being experts at what is wrong with the other person. Rarely, are they as adept at understanding their own part in getting stuck. I start with the assumption that no one is to blame and everyone is responsible for the health of their relationship. My goal is to help couples find a road map that can lead to growth, health and intimacy.

Look for Part II: The Languages of Love