Real Love in Dating
Millions of us are out there looking for the “right person”—in bars, at parties, in clubs, at church, and on Internet dating sites, to name a few of the ways we look. Many of us actually succeed in finding what we’re looking for, and then we fall in love, but what happens after that?
60% of marriages end in divorce, and 50% of married women have indicated that if not for finances and children, they would leave their husbands. That leaves only 20% of marriages that would even survive if the partners felt they had a reasonable choice to leave. It is my experience—and that of many other counselors—that 1-2% of all married couples achieve relationships that are as rewarding as they had once hoped.
The problem seems obvious: Once we find the “right person,” we still have no idea what to do with the relationship. And until we do something dramatically different from what everyone else is doing, our chances of establishing a genuinely happy long-term relationship are truly terrible.
Instead of frantically looking for the next “right person” in our life, what we really need is to learn how to create and sustain loving and rewarding relationships.
A healthy relationship is the natural result of two healthy individuals. A great relationship is much like a beautiful duet, which is played on two instruments. Before we can meaningfully participate in a duet, we must learn how to play an instrument by ourselves. Few of us are prepared to be the kind of happy and loving partner that a loving relationship requires. And that brings us to the central question: What do we all require before we can be happy as individuals? What quality must we possess individually before we can participate in a great relationship?
What We All Want Most — Unconditional Love
In order to be happy, what we all want more than anything else is to feel loved. We prove that every day with the songs we sing, the movies we watch, the books we read, and the conversations we have. Love is the strongest theme uniting all these activities, but it’s not just any kind of love we’re looking for.
What we all want most is unconditional love, or Real Love. Real Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves. It’s not Real Love when you do what I want and I like you. That’s relatively worthless; that’s earning or buying love. It’s Real Love when you make mistakes and inconvenience me, but I’m not disappointed or angry.
Sadly, few of us have sufficiently received or given that kind of love—not just during our marriages but for our entire lives. From the time we were small children, we observed that when we didn’t fight with our sisters, didn’t make too much noise in the car, got good grades, and were otherwise obedient and cooperative, our parents and others smiled at us, patted our heads, and spoke kindly. With their words and behavior, they told us what good boys and girls we were.
But what happened when we did fight with our sisters, made too much noise, got bad grades, and dragged mud across the clean living room carpet? Did people smile at us or speak gentle, loving words? No—they frowned, sighed with disappointment, and often spoke in harsh tones. Just as the positive behaviors of other people communicated to us that we were loved, the withdrawal of those behaviors could only mean that we were not being loved. Although it was unintentional, our parents and others taught us this terrible message: “When you’re good, I love you, but when you’re not, I don’t—or certainly I love you a great deal less.”
This conditional love can give us brief moments of satisfaction, but we’re still left with a huge hole in our souls, because only Real Love can make us genuinely happy. Without sufficient Real Love, we can only feel empty and alone, which is the greatest ongoing pain in our lives. In any given negative interaction with a relationship partner, it is the longstanding lack of Real Love in your life that determines how you feel and respond, not the behavior of your partner in that moment. In any given moment, you react to the amount of love you feel from everyone, past and present, not just from the person you’re interacting with.
Finding Real Love — Changing Ourselves and Our Relationships
Once we understand the critical role of Real Love in our lives, we can begin to do something to find it and make genuine changes in ourselves and in our relationships, instead of just playing games with relationship techniques, which never make much difference in the long term.