Is This Love For Real?

 

The experience of “falling In Love” is exciting and romantic. On a physical level, our bodies are infused with an intoxicating blend of “feel good” neurotransmitters that are pre-programmed for bonding and procreation. We are obsessed with our beloved. It certainly feels like love!!

Later on, the picture is not so rosy. We begin to see aspects of our partner that annoy and anger us. This is when the “honeymoon” is over and the “real work” of the relationship begins. Now we begin to have moments where we doubt our choice of partner. Our question now becomes:   “How do I know that this is “true love?” Or, “How do I know this love real and lasting?”

CONDITIONAL LOVE

One way to explore this question is to ask yourself what your expectations of your partner are. Do you love him/her only when certain conditions are met…such as your partner continues to look a particular way or treat you a particular way? Does your love hinge on your partner agreeing to make “changes” that you deem to be in the best interests of creating YOUR ideal mate? Is your love possessive and controlling in some manner that demands your lover to be a certain way in order to receive love from you?

This is CONDITIONAL LOVE. It usually does not last.

There is an alternative that can last a lifetime

AUTHENTIC LOVE

Authentic love is based on a fondness and admiration of the other person, which does not depend upon how they feel about you…even if you wish with all your heart that your love were reciprocated. When your love is authentic you can bravely declare it and not retreat into bitter vengeance when the one you love does not feel the same way. Authentic love exists of course in non-romantic settings as well…but is particularly sweet when Romance and Authentic love co-exist and are felt by both people in the relationship.

Now there is a love worth waiting for

 

 

 

Mastering The Art Of Deep Listening

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I think it is fair to say that there is a deep socio/political divide in America right now. All around me it feels like there is evidence that we are not all on the same page about who we are as a people, what our values should be, and how we treat other people.

Underlying the “divide” is the collective emotion of FEAR. In my 25 years as a therapist it is my observation that fear often divides us as human beings. We struggle to connect, to understand each other, and to create harmonious, peaceful, nurturing relationships, but we often fall short. We fall short in our family relationships, in our community and institutional relationships, and even in our relationships as citizens of a particular country or of the world as a whole.

At this particular point in time I find the reality of the “disconnect” between people to be particularly distressing. How did this happen? I sometimes feel like I inhabit a different country than other people, and yet I somehow missed how different our realities really were. I guess I was afraid to really look.

It’s dawning on me recently that I am responsible for my part in creating this disconnect. I have been asleep. I have been complacent. I have surrounded myself with others who believe as I do and we have congratulated ourselves on how right and smart and compassionate we are. We are not. I am not.

For me, the reality is that I have not been listening. I have not been listening in a deep way. I have not been listening in a way that promotes deep understanding and empathy. I have not attempted to put myself into the reality of someone who does not share my view with the goal of just really “getting” them. The truth is I often enjoy the argument. I want to be “right”. I can’t solve the problems in the world as a whole, but I can change the way I listen to people regardless of weather or not they agree with me. This is the only way to begin to dispel the fear that continues to divide us.  It must begin with me. Below are the communication skills that I teach to couples when they have trouble communicating. I’m going to start using these skills all the time…. not just in my therapy room

HOW TO START REALLY LISTENING:

  1. Suspend all preconceived notions you may have about the views held by the person you are trying to communicate with. Take the view that you are here to “learn” about a different point of view… a different reality. Zen people would call it “beginners mind”. Your job as “listener” is not to defend yourself, or prove the other wrong. Lay your weapons down.
  1. After you have heard the other person out without interruptions, ask “clarifying” questions. Basically this is not about refuting what you have heard. It’s about understanding what you have heard. When you feel you have a decent understanding, check it out. Repeat back what you think you heard and correct the parts that aren’t right.
  1. Part three is the most important. Try your best to find an empathy bridge to this other persons view. “I can see how you might feel this way” for example. Try to find a way to understand and communicate to this other person that their point of view makes sense

In an ideal world, the other person in your dialog would become your “listener” in the second part of this exercise. Sometimes this is not possible, and you are up against someone who does not have the empathy for you that you are able to have for him or her. I would argue however, that you are still better off. You have given the best possible opportunity for understanding and “breakthroughs” are possible and do happen. From these “breakthroughs” are created new and more inclusive points of view, and the world becomes one where there are not “winners” and “losers” (zero sum game), but multiple “winners” (non zero sum game

That’s the world I want to live in.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Love….The Importance Of Feeling “Seen”

Baby In Mirror

Baby In Mirror

 

I have not posted in awhile, but have not lost sight of my intention to explore the mystery of how to find love in our lives. I’m offering a way that we can each create an individualized roadmap in order to embark on this life altering journey. I will be breaking down the journey in a series of blogs. This one is about looking carefully at where we are right now in terms of feeling we are “fully seen” by important people in our lives…including ourselves. I believe this is the first step toward the ultimate goal of wholeheartedly giving and receiving love.

       My long hiatus from writing blogs has come about because of two recent experiences in my life. In the “living” of these experiences I have learned something that I only knew intellectually before. My “embodied” learning is the following: I don’t believe that any of us humans can fully give and receive love unless we have had the experience of being fully seen, heard, and understood by meaningful people in our lives. . My first experience was attending the “Burning Man” festival in the Black Rock desert of Nevada. The second experience was attending a 2-day couples therapy workshop where I learned something of the principles and practice of Imago couples therapy.

Burning Man

The Burning Man experience is difficult to explain in a few sentences, but for the purposes of this blog, the feature I want to concentrate on is a Burning Man main principle. It is the principle of “Radical Inclusion”…. which basically means you are encouraged to show up at the event in whatever way best expresses your true and most authentic self. Of course, in such an environment people are going to dress, or not dress, in very extreme ways…but this is exactly the point. What I found at Burning Man was that I got to “play” with as many versions of myself as I wanted…and everything was accepted and celebrated. This might sound like a really fun costume party…but actually it was a whole lot more. Much more important was the “heady” feeling I got that people really saw and appreciated me. I felt like I was about 3 years old on the jungle gym…saying, “Look at me!!!” At the same time, of course, I was looking at everyone else and appreciating the way they were presenting themselves. The best way to sum up the experience is that a true feeling of love and acceptance permeated through my body and soul at Burning Man. It was a feeling of love for everything and everybody, and I promise you that no drugs were involved. Wonder why “Burners” go back to Burning Man year after year? This is a big part of why. We don’t get this experience in life on a daily basis. More’s the pity. I think we really need it.

Imago Couples Therapy

It was excellent timing for me to attend the Imago Couples therapy workshop right after Burning Man. In this training I learned the importance of “mirroring” for the quality of  couples communication …that is the importance of being able to feed back to a person that you have really heard and understood them. This is not unlike the experience of mother and baby. When a young baby is held in his/her caregiver’s arms, the caregiver ideally “mirrors” back to the infant that this infant is seen, heard, and loved. The “mirroring” is done through the “baby talk” of the adult who is responding minute to minute to the baby’s vocalizations…maybe even imitating them. This is the basis of attachment. This is the basis of love. More fundamentally, the “mirroring” experience in early infancy is what gives the baby the experience of actually existing. (kind of a I am mirrored, therefore I am)  When an infant experiences the facial expressions and “attunement” of a caregiver, this infant feels love. And the love feeds back to the caregiver who loves back in equal measure

The Couple Is Just Like Mother/Father and baby

Attachment in a couple is actually exactly like mother/father and baby attachment. Through the repetitive “mirroring” exercises of imago therapy, each member of the couple practices hearing and repeating back exactly what they heard from the other half of the couple. The result is pretty amazing, as each member of the couple understands, maybe for the very first time, what it is like to stand in the shoes of his partner without judgment and assumption. Love can begin to flow freely again  from a place of truly understanding who that person before you actually is.

What These Experiences Can Teach About The Importance Of Feeling Seen

After the experience of Burning Man and now having tried leading couples through mirroring exercises, I’m convinced that we must each find ways to bring the people and experiences into our life who allow us to  feel fully seen, understood, and appreciated. These days I’m not willing to spend much time with people when this is not the case…Life is too short and I know for a fact that love can only emerge, thrive, and grow when enough of your environment “mirrors” back to you your full, flawed, and ultimately imperfect self.