THE TROUBLE WITH ROMANCE
Riley K. Smith, M.A., MFT
I’M ALL FOR ROMANCE. I’ve been there and it’s fun and exciting. I sure wouldn’t want to live a life without my share of it.
From my point of view as a therapist who helps people get over the rough spots in their relationships, I believe that one of the best things about romance is that it is the powerful beginning that provide the impetus to work through those rough spots.
Romance is also a set-up for trouble – an expectation that cannot possibly be met. In this article, I will describe the problem and how to resolve it and move on to a solid and realistic loving relationship.
THE BACK STORY.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT PARENTING. Some parents come close. Some parents are worse than no parents at all.. Most parents are between. Think of a bell-curve graph with the peak skewed toward good parenting. Very few parents aren’t doing their best – even the worst parents are probably doing the best they are able.
SO, NO CHILD – NONE – GETS ALL HIS OR HER NEEDS MET. As infants we experience Abandonment when Mom is not there for us enough –- Mom had to work or Mom was an addict or Mom was depressed or simply busy with our siblings. We experience Inundation when there is too much Mom (or Dad) –- too much control, too much smother love, too much abuse or too much fighting. That Abandonment and/or Inundation experience is carried in us unconsciously as a wound, a hunger, a yearning, and a wariness about being close with someone. The more intense the Abandonment and Inundation, the bigger the wound and the stronger these feelings and needs are felt.
THEN, ABOUT THE TIME WE ENTER PUBERTY, and get some hormones going and start to notice possible candidates for bonding, we start to dream about someone who will be there for us in that special way — you know, someone who loves me, sees me, is excited about me and makes me feel OK about myself. We start looking for someone who can heal our wounds
THE KICKER – no one else, no one but I, can heal my wounds. Not my lover, not my parents, not my dog. Only me.
THE ROMANCE FORMULA.
Writers know the formula: Two people fall in love. Something happens and they lose each other. There’s a lot of action about whether they will get together again. If it’s a tragedy, they don’t. Otherwise they get together and live happily ever after and that’s the end of the story. Notice that we don’t find out how they went about living happily ever after.
IN LOVE. Being in love, then, is the excitement of the hope that we’ve found the ONE. We’re open hearted, turned on, on our best behavior, vulnerable, and glowing. We’re pumping endorphins and hormones. We’re turned on and sexy. All this action is at least partially from that wounded child in us who believes in the possibility of finally finding someone who is there for us in the way our parents couldn’t be. We’ve found someone to heal our wounds and now we can LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
THE HONEYMOON IS OVER WHEN we discover that our beloved is not going to heal our wounds. At that point, we can feel profoundly disappointed and probably betrayed.
NOW WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. We can fight about it, go numb and tough it out, leave and keep looking for that Someone, or keep an open heart, face the truth and learn to heal our own wounds.
HEALING OUR OWN WOUNDS.
I help couples to understand one another in a new and deeper way.
First, I help them become aware of their wounds and how they learned to cope with them, i.e.; survival strategies like being the helper or caretaker, being oppositional, spacing out, keeping distance, being critical, controlling, or passive.
Second, I help them understand where the wounds come from and how their survival strategies make sense.
Third, I teach them to nurture themselves in a way that directly addresses the wounds. At that point the survival strategies that cause the stress in the relationship are not necessary and are greatly reduced or softened. The couple has tools for getting out of conflict and healing the feelings of disappointment and betrayal.
LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
I have found that once we learn to nurture ourselves in a deep and genuine way, we can be open-hearted, energized, present and alive in our relationships.
At that point, a magical thing happens. Our partner can actually help us heal. I think of it this way:
If my wound is about feeling unworthy and unlovable, no amount of love or acknowledgement will feed me. I can’t recognize it. I’m suspicious of it. I can’t really believe it. I am a bottomless bucket, craving love and appreciation and never getting enough.
When I nurture myself I believe and feel that I am worthy and lovable. I have put a bottom in my bucket. From that place, I fully acknowledge and experience the love that comes to me and it fills me. I am grateful and peaceful and loving and generous with myself and my beloveds.
WE STILL HAVE OUR WOUNDS, WE STILL STRUGGLE SOMETIMES, BUT NOW WE HAVE SKILLS FOR GETTING THROUGH THE STRUGGLES AND GETTING BACK TO OUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.
AN IMPORTANT AFTERTHOUGHT:
The Trouble with Romance is a gift. A relationship struggle can be a motivator for resolving impediments to living a more satisfying life, such as addictions, low self esteem, anxiety or depression.