Monday, December 1, 2014

But I love him

Many people come to my office confused about whether or not to stay in a relationship.  They report a sad, conflict-filled marriage with neither person feeling very fulfilled and say they want to leave, but cannot because they still “love” their partner. 
Here is what I say to them.

There are three legs supporting any relationship: attachment, compassion and happiness.  A relationship can stand on any of them alone or on all three, but only one of them can sustain a good relationship.

Attachment is the quality of being psychologically intertwined, sometimes to a very deep level, with another person.  Being attached can elicit oceanic feelings of connection or completion.  But it can also cause us to panic when the person we are attached to leaves, or fly into a rage when he or she pushes our buttons.  Attachment can run deep, but it doesn’t always give us the warm fuzzies.

Compassion is the selfless love of a mother for her child, the kind of love embodied by Christian love or by what the Greeks called agape.  It is quite simply the unconditional love that would make you stand in front of a train or gun to save someone else.  It is a beautiful heart-wrenching love that tenderizes our hearts and makes us human.

Happiness is the quality of feeling fulfilled.  In a happy relationship, you get along well on a daily basis.  Not only do your values fit, your routines do.  The relationship works because you are happy, and vice versa.  And happiness would be the leg to stand on, if you have the choice.  The other two, attachment and compassion, are intense but are not necessarily fulfilling, let alone predictors of relationship success.   

When you are with someone that makes you happy, you stay because you like being with him or her, not because you feel like you have to look after him or because it is too hard for you to leave her.  

So, instead of asking yourself if you love him, better to ask: Are you happy with him?

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