In this re-issue of the second episode of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz you may have missed when it was first released almost five years ago, I explore the nature of romantic love: how it begins and why it tends to wither, and what it takes to make it work over time.
After an introductory discussion, I speak with two clients regarding emotional reactivity and why we shouldn’t put our best foot forward in the early stages of relationship. Together with my guests, we examine the nature of authenticity, which is essential for resilient relationships.
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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #114
Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.
MEL: A couple of weeks ago, I went to a family wedding. It was the children of one of my cousins, beautiful couple in their late twenties. They were all full of love, flush with excitement. I was paying close attention when they were exchanging their marriage vows. They pledged each other everlasting love, honoring and respect to each other. And I thought to myself, it was so hopeful. They were so inspired. But another voice was going off inside of me.
MEL: It made me think, do they know how terribly stacked the odds are against them? Do they understand the likelihood that in a number of years or certainly a number of decades, they’ll no longer be feeling in love? In all probability, they may say they love each other, but they have fallen out of love.
MEL: I’ve learned that love isn’t all you need. It’s not like the Beatles song: “love is all you need.” We need very much more to sustain love. Let’s take a look at that. The fact that half of marriages end in divorce isn’t really the major issue. The larger concern is that the majority of intact marriages fall very far from being joyful, resilient, happy. So if only a small percentage of marriages or committed relationships actually thrive, what does that tell us about how we are engaging in the art of relationship in our love life? If we play by the same rules that disappoint us and create such failure, we’re doomed to have the same outcome.
MEL: Getting back to that couple, on occasion, I have had couples who were engaged come in for some premarital counseling and there are no issues in their relationship that are apparent. They’ve come to me out of the wisdom that they want to learn the tools, the techniques, the method, a new game plan, if you will, for being able to sustain passion and emotional and verbal intimacy. They’re looking to get the education that others don’t have. When my children were in high school, they had something called seminar day for certain parents who were invited to come in and give a talk. On the day that I came in, my kids were so embarrassed that they made sure they were nowhere within sight, but they shared the fact that we need to be educated in the foundations of what creates a thriving life and thriving relationships. And that information is available to us, but it would be so much better if we tried to access that information, those insights, those skills in advance of running into trouble. So let’s take a look at this concept of love.
MEL: Firstly, what do we mean by the word love? Love has many nuances, lots of context. I believe that the Greek language, they have perhaps 21 different words for love. In today’s episode, we’re going to be focusing on romantic love. The kind of love where two people are resonating, there’s a shared energy with one another.
MEL: Let’s take a look at the phenomenon of falling in love. The experience of falling in love is truly a thing of marvel. Time seems altered and our senses become very alive. You may experience each moment as having meaning and intent. It’s a peak moment in life. But sadly, over time, we tend to fall out of love, possibly as easily as we fell in love. We may say that we still love each other, but we’re not in love. This happens often in my work as a couple’s counselor. Let’s explore why this happens and what this phenomenon is that we call love.
MEL: The notion of falling in love is one of the most dominant, powerful themes in our lives. It sells movies and books, fashions and cosmetics. It drives the gross national product and it’s a central theme in our fantasies. Along with achieving material wealth, love is the primary driving force in our lives, but it’s poorly understood. The euphoria felt by falling in love is actually a profound merging of energies. In quantum physics, this is known as entanglement. Entanglement is a sense of oneness where separation dissolves and falls apart. I’m not talking about an unhealthy co-dependence, but it’s in that entanglement, that oneness, that empathy and compassion become stimulated, where our driving energy is to care for, intend and nurture the other. That’s what falling in love feels like.
MEL: All animate beings are energy fields manifesting in physical form, so simple physical attraction to one another predicated on lust is not the same as love. Falling in love requires that our energies coalesce with each other. When this occurs, our energy field literally resonates with our partner’s energy field. It’s like striking a tuning fork and seeing both ends vibrate in perfect harmony. It’s like being in concert. Think about listening to an orchestra performing. The musicians are in concert with each other. Their individualism is still there, their unique talents, but there’s a synergy. That’s what being in love feels like. The shared energy manifests in the partnering feels deeply committed. Any disturbance or disruption to that harmonized energy causes us to feel we’re not in love. When our energies become blocked by any host of impediments, we no longer feel in love. So our energy field has gotten disrupted.
MEL: What are the things that get in the way and impede that loving energy? Sometimes it’s simply due to hurt feelings, resentment or anger. Without having authentic communication skills to permit these issues to be resolved, the energy system of the relationship is at risk. It withers. Many people believe that it’s natural to fall out of love. I don’t think it’s natural. You see, we shouldn’t confuse natural with commonplace. Regrettably, it’s altogether common, but it’s not natural. The problem is that we are illiterate in this field, relationship and love. Falling in love and sustaining it requires maintaining the sense of oneness. And this is a skill set that can be learned.
MEL: You know, in the turmoil we experience when the relationship becomes adversarial and conflicted, we need to acknowledge or change something to shift that negative energy, which has fallen into a sense of separation, back toward the entangled oneness. Making that shift may mean changing our beliefs, perceptions, or our behaviors, or all of them. You might ask yourself, what is my partner seeing in me that I don’t see in myself? That self-reflection is a great technique to employ. If you set out with the intention to re-enter that harmonized energy field, the initial romantic entanglement, you can selflessly get into the other’s shoes. That’s empathy.
MEL: Try the exercise of empathy. What does my partner, what does my spouse feel like in this moment? Doing this doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your position. It simply means loving and validating your partner. You know, it’s very easy to say I love you, but it’s challenging to act lovingly. To act lovingly means that if you’re feeling denigrated or nullified or put down or ignored, you’ll still be able to advocate and care for the other in a loving way. If I try to appreciate and care about my upset partner’s point of view, I’m creating a shift of energy. Acting empathically with your partner is the most powerful thing you can do in such troubled moments.
MEL: One of the things that gets in the way in sustaining loving relationships is the tendency to take each other for granted. What began as an earnest connection where we were amplifying the importance and tuning into each other, over time tends to retreat into this individualism. This is where passion dies. Passion doesn’t have to die. It’s just that our intentions get distracted.
MEL: Too much individualism is at the core of relationship trouble. Excessive individualism, the breakdown in communication for right versus wrong is a mindless exercise and a mindless encounter. And it severs that loving energy that I was speaking about.
MEL: Let’s talk a little bit about communication. I wrote an article many, many years ago called, “Would You Rather Be Right or Would You Rather Be Happy?” Well, so often in my relationship counseling, I find the breakdown over right versus wrong. Couples will argue over the most inane points and correct each other in the need to be right. Try to ask yourself at any moment as you’re about to interrupt the other person and correct them. Does this really matter? Now, sometimes it may vary well, but most often if you’re being reflective and you’re mindful and present, it doesn’t. Right versus wrong thinking precludes validation. If your partner says to you or your spouse says to you, I’m really feeling hurt. You hurt me. You put me down. You made me feel worthless. You should never respond by refuting what they’ve said and trying to prove your point. That is invalidating the other person. What we need to do in a moment like that is get out of our own way and act lovingly, which means caring about how they feel.
MEL: Now, validating isn’t simply mirroring the words back that you just heard. It’s a deeper trying to connect with empathy and get into the other shoes and ask questions to experience how did they experience you.
MEL: Another premise to what gets in the way of sustaining loving and romantic relationships is that if two individuals don’t each commit to their own individual growth, we’re left kind of like two halves comprising a whole. You know that expression, my other half, sometimes that can be taken quite literally. But if two people only feel like a half, it’s going to set up dependency needs, frustrations, fears. When I work with a couple whereby both people are committed to their own individual growth, there’s a much greater likelihood of a positive outcome.
MEL: There are ways to break the cycle of negativity in relationships. One of them is a positive feedback. When I work with couples, I often see both persons individually as well. And in an individual session, the person may say something favorable or positive about their partner who’s not in the room at the moment. There has never been an occasion when I have asked, did you share that with your husband, with your wife, with your boyfriend or girlfriend, that the answer has ever been, yes, I did. This is astounding to me. You have something positive to say and you withhold it. But the critical is right out there in the open. The spout is wide open and we share the critical and we withhold the positive. How do you think that impacts sustaining a romantic and intimate relationship?
MEL: Now it is possible to fall in love, fall out of love, come back in love. Sometimes couples will ask me, is it possible for us to fall in love? My question will be, did you ever feel in love? If you did, that energy was there and you resonated, then there is a possibility we can get back that harmony, that relationship. What we need is a game plan for sustaining emotionally and verbally intimate relationships for sustaining romance. My first book, The Art of Intimacy, The Pleasure of Passion was intended as a primer for what we need to develop toward the foundation of an enjoyable and thriving relationship, creating a shared vision about what we want in our lives to look like. My new book, The Possibility Principle, goes very deeply into the techniques that we can develop and employ in our communications.
MEL: This is all about new learning. It’s developing a new game plan for our life. Just recall that love isn’t all you need. We need to learn how to sustain it. This is achievable and it can be the icing on the cake of your life. It’s going to require some thoughtfulness and some new learning, but it’s readily available to you.
MEL: The topic of this show, as you know, is love isn’t all you need. Please tell us about yourself and what question you might have.
MATT: Well, okay, so I have been married once before many years ago when I was about 21, 22 years old and I was married for about 10 years and ended up getting divorced. I have an 18 year old boy and he’s doing great. He’s in college. I had some relationships, probably two long-term relationships after that divorce. And by the way, that divorce happened probably about 15 years ago at this point. So I was single for a while. And just in October of 2017, I got married again to a wonderful woman.
MEL: Wow. Congratulations. What’s her name?
MATT: Her name is Christina.
MEL: Great. Well, congratulations to both of you.
MATT: Thank you very much. Thank you. And she’s pretty much what I’ve been looking for. I mean, she’s wonderful. She’s beautiful. Now, I have had many times throughout our relationship, we’ve been together for a couple of years now, where I have felt inadequate as a partner, very frustrated because I feel like my ego gets in the way. I feel like I understand a lot of principles of how to communicate based on some previous lessons in teaching and mentoring and therapy, but yet I still run into these issues where I lose my… Anything that reminds me of conflicts that I had in my previous relationship prior to this new marriage, namely things that come up regarding my son, strike a chord with me that it’s really… I lose my patience and I can’t have the kind of dialogue and conversation that I know I should have because I feel like it’s the same old story all over again.
MEL: Well, here’s the good news, Matt. You’re halfway there. You’re on second base because you are aware of what you’re feeling. You’re aware of your reaction. So what I propose you do is when you notice your reaction, the key to communication or one of the keys is to notice your reaction and don’t become your reaction. So when you notice that your trigger point is being pushed, pause, take a deep breath and engage her. Engage Christina by saying to her, look, this probably isn’t about you. I’m feeling reactive and this is not about you. It’s my button, capital M, capital Y. But I need to tell you how I’m feeling and what’s coming up for me. When you communicate in that way, Matt, you open up the dialogue and you open up to a coherent communication where there’s no right or wrong or blame. I’m feeling this. You see, when we’re feeling something, we have to identify the feeling and communicate it. These feelings are not right or wrong. They just are. What we’re seeking from our partners is a sense of validating our feelings. That doesn’t mean I agree with you, Matt. Your feeling about me is correct. It means I appreciate that this has triggered a memory for you. So can you see yourself being able to do that? Being able to say to her, this is not about you. It’s old history for me. This is what’s coming up.
MATT: Right. I can say that. And this is where I run into trouble. I understand what you’re saying and I believe I can do that. The trouble that I have is twofold. One is, there’s something, even if I can see my thoughts and not necessarily be my thoughts, it’s a real struggle for me because you could hear it in the tone of my voice. The words might be the right words, but still, the energy and the tone behind my voice is one of frustration, fear, agitation, anger, frustration mainly. And that’s one of the things that gets me into trouble is just the tone of my voice. So I guess I’m really not successfully being, I mean, seeing my thoughts. I must be coming up because…
MEL: Okay, you’re quite right. You’re becoming your thought. Moreover, you’re becoming your feeling. Now it only takes about two or three seconds to take a couple of deep breaths. When you take two or three deep breaths, you quiet everything down. Everything starts to slow down. Your pulse isn’t as quick. Your heartbeat is not as rapid. So the moment you notice where you’re going, pause and take two or three or four deep breaths and that should calm you down.
MATT: Okay. All right.
MEL: You know, I remember as a young man, when my dad was teaching me to play golf, we’d get up on the tee and boy, I wanted to hit that ball so far and I would wind up and really crack at it. More often than not, I missed the ball, hit a terrible shot. My father used to say to me, when you get up to the tee, exhale, let a long breath out to calm you down, to slow you down. Students do that. People meditate to do that. The moment you notice that you’re getting reactive, give yourself two, three, four seconds. Nobody’s going to notice but you. And then you should be prepared to communicate effectively.
MATT: I got you. I’ll try that. Definitely. I hope it works because that’s clearly one of my issues is you could see through the intellectual words. You can still see through it because you can feel the anger. And I’m going to try to do that and take deep breaths and pause.
MEL: Once again, you’re ahead of the field because you are aware. As I said earlier, you’re on second base already. Now, you’ve just gotten remarried. You’re all full of enthusiasm. To make this love last, to allow it to be sustainable, typically requires that both of you dedicate yourself to the process of the relationship. The process is not the outcome. You know in relationships, we commit to the outcome. I’ll love you forever. I’ll never cheat on you. More often than not, that doesn’t work. What we have to commit to is the process. The measure of a relationship is not how good is it when it’s good. It’s how do we conduct ourselves when things are challenging. The commitment to the process is to set aside time to talk to each other, to be present with each other. The commitment to the process is when you need help, go out and seek that help. It’s a complex process. If you commit to that process, there’s no reason why the two of you shouldn’t succeed and have a beautiful life together. I wish you well and stay in the process.
MEL: I’d love to show you my appreciation for your subscribing to and rating this podcast by offering you a gift to one of the following. The Power of Mind, a live talk that I gave, or one of my digital eBooks, Creating Authentic Self-Esteem, Overcoming Anxiety, or Raising Resilient Children, and lastly, Cultivating Resilient Relationships. Once you have subscribed, please send an email to mel at melschwartz.com and just let me know which gift you’d prefer. Thanks.
MEL: Hi Diane, good afternoon. How are you?
DIANE: Hi Mel, I’m good.
MEL: Feel free to go ahead and ask me a question or two and we’ll have a conversation.
DIANE: The topic is very intriguing to me, about love is not all you need, because I once was told that love is not enough, and so that question has always kind of lingered for me, especially considering that this person went on to be in a relationship with someone almost exactly like me in every way you could imagine, except for just a few. And so if love wasn’t enough, it was the something else that wasn’t enough, and I’ve always been curious, what is the something else?
MEL: To start with, we don’t know what all of us mean, what each other mean by the word love. Is it romantic love? Is it passionate love? Is it spiritual love? So I don’t know what this individual meant by the word love, but I’ll certainly ask you, what does the word love conjure up for you, Diane?
DIANE: To me it conjured up everything encompassing compatibility, likes, even maybe disliking habits, things that you have to have agreements about or to work through. Sensual, sexual chemistry, personality chemistry, perhaps similar likes and dislikes, loyalty.
MEL: So that’s very comprehensive and very well put. So that’s the entire continuum of different aspects of romantic love. So when we share that with each other, for a period of time we’re acting as one, we’re feeling as one, we’re still our own individual self, but there’s a sense of oneness. And that feeling is what occurs early in the relationship when you fall in love. In quantum physics we refer to that as entanglement. When two particles share a state, they’re in a shared state no matter how far apart they are, they’re entangled as one. That’s what that feeling of love is. Now in the relationship you were referring to, there was no way to really know what he meant by love isn’t enough. People come into a relationship with so much complexity. What can help love prosper is the need to be self-reflective, to communicate effectively. There are so many different dynamics of a love relationship. So I juggle the balls, we need to keep them all up in the air. And honesty and transparency, so the very fact that you don’t know what he meant by that statement, love isn’t enough, speaks to a lack of transparency. He left you not knowing, didn’t he?
DIANE: Yes. Yes.
MEL: And that’s not fair. Did you ask him that question? What did he mean?
DIANE: I did, in probably too subtle of ways over a few times. I think the first answer that he gave was, it was not well formed, it was along the lines of shared, you know, I interpreted it as like my habit, my way of doing things, maybe shared hobbies, maybe me being messy. It seemed to encompass very superficial things to me.
MEL: And how long were the two of you together?
DIANE: At that time, it was within a year of the relationship, although I had known him from a very early age and we came together 20 something years later. So I had a lot of implied trust that I thought I knew him. But no, I didn’t get an explanation, really.
MEL: This speaks to the heart of the matter. When two people first meet and perhaps start to feel like they’re falling in love, the euphoria, the high, it’s so great. We don’t want to disturb it. But what’s necessary to sustain a more mature, evolving love relationship is to be able to ask each other deep, compelling, inquiring questions so that we don’t just put our best foot forward, but we’re putting our authentic self forward. I see in my therapy practice so often, and outside of my therapy practice, that people have not truly revealed their inner self to each other. So these relationships operate on the somewhat superficial level. In relationship, we have to be prepared to be transparent and open and vulnerable and ask each other questions, not in a prosecutorial way, but in a way of inquiry because we’re curious, we want to know each other. So it sounds like for both of you, that deeper sharing wasn’t there. And without that, you don’t typically sustain a deep, loving relationship.
DIANE: Yes, I think I thought that I was being very transparent. And so I assumed because I was being transparent and maybe I was sharing too much, I assumed that he was too. I now know, never assume.
MEL: No, that’s quite right, never assume. And I would ask you to think that you couldn’t have shared too much because by sharing fully, he gets to see who you are and there may be triggers and fears and insecurities within him that came up. But we don’t want to manipulate and manage a relationship and each other. What we want to do is reveal your authentic self. You see, being in love and sustaining that requires an authenticity. The two people are free to be their genuine, unbridled self, nothing to fear. Love can prosper in that dynamic. Without it, it’s actually very conditional and that’s what leads to many of the problems we have. So never blame yourself or concern yourself with, am I sharing too much? It sounds to me, Diane, like for you, the challenge might be for you to ask more and inquire more and perhaps not be passive about that. You have a right to ask those questions.
DIANE: Yeah, well, I feel like I learned that lesson the hard way, for sure.
MEL: Well, the best lessons are often the hard way. Hopefully it will assist you in moving forward and learning a new way. So I hope it was helpful for you.
DIANE: I thank you for confirming that I should share more that, you know, I didn’t mess it up.
MEL: Yes, absolutely. No, you did not mess it up.
MEL: I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show, and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again, and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.