The Thin Line between Love & Hate

By on December 4, 2013 in Health and Wellness with 0 Comments

loveandhateHave you ever noticed how, in romantic relationships, it seems we are always riding the line between adoring and abhorringour partner? Things will be going fine; you’re adrift on a sea of love and affection—then your significant other does something you don’t like. Suddenly, you’refuming, thinking, ‘It’s OVER!’—your lover changed to villain in less time than it takes to change your socks.

Why does this happen? Is it simply human nature, or perhaps the nature of romantic love? Why do these relationships make us so crazy, turning even the calmest participants into self-contained roller coasters of emotion, causing us to do and say things we neither mean nor understand?

While hormones and conflicting egos play their part in the fickleness of our love partnerships, the real problem has more to do with an outdated idea (or ideal) of romantic love—a modeldesigned to create conflict and leave us disappointed.

Mention the word ‘love’ or talk about ‘falling in love’, and, for many of us, an idealized image from a Hollywood movie comes to mind, perhaps a romantic scene from a piece of literature or a favorite love song. This is love, according to the popular media: There’s a conflict of some kind, but, eventually, the couple ends up getting together. Then there’s that big kiss, maybe a marriage scene, and the two live happily ever after…except things never seem to work out quite as conveniently in the world we find ourselves in.

Where did this idea come from? The concept of romance as we know it today finds its origins in the late 19 th century’s Romantic Movement, which produced a great deal of literature depicting courtship, following erotic themes, and ending in marriage.

These were tales of valiant knights slaying dragons and rescuing beautiful maidens (who, subsequently and without-fail, would fall in love with the knight—true love, problem free and never-ending). How many stories, movies, plays and TV shows end in marriage? After marriage, we’re left some sort of gray area where everything’s supposed to be perfect, but our model of perfection is somehow absent. This idealistic approach to the subject of attraction has endured in popular culture all the way up until today. To prove it, just head out to your local movie mega-plex; from drama to comedy, there’s no shortage of idealized romance to lose oneself in.

But I like romantic movies!

These types of stories are uplifting and inspiring, but as we see these themes again and again, they can become symbols imbedded in our subconscious. The majority of romantic stories we hear are the ones we are told as children. When a child hears a story that addresses adult themes (like courtship and marriage), they absorb that information and take the story at face value. Combined with whatever other programming the child receives from their parents, peers and the media, they assume, “This is how things will probably play out for me.”

What many of us don’t realize when we’re out there in the dating world or trying to make things work in a long-term relationship is that this thing we’re trying to attain—what we view as our most importantrelationship—is a combination of idealization and fantasy, not at all real.

This romantic image is one that most of us have been building since childhood, and it is an ideal that could include unrealistic expectations. When our expectations aren’t met, we can start to feel completely out of control. Sometimes we behave childishly or act out, but it’s understandable that it would be difficult to wield these emotions—our motivations originate in decisions we made about our adult life at a very young age when our understanding of the world was more black and white.

The Vicious Cycle

It’s common to want things to be perfect. But, often, the imperfect actions of our close friends and family don’t stress us out nearly as much as those of our significant other. This relationship is held to a different standard. Why? For many of us, this is because we only relate to our partner through a thin veil of fantasy.

When we superimpose our fabricated picture of romantic love onto a real situation, we’re going to be disappointed. That’s because people don’t behave like fantasies. They behave like people. They do unexpected things. They can, at times, be selfish, distant or weak. They can also be kind, inspiring and selfless. This is the beauty of being human.

However, if our fantasies are running the show, we may decide that we love someone based solely on physical appearance and sexual attraction. When this happens, the other person is related to as our possession—an object, not a human being. We may experience truly positive emotions at first, but, if unsavory aspects of the other person are revealed, our perfect vision is shattered, and soon we’re flooded with judgments about them.

Another name for the vicious cycle is Idealization-Frustration-Demoralization.

First, we idealize our partner. We focus on their positive aspects and decide that they are ‘the One’, our ‘Soul Mate’, the dream lover we’ve been waiting for. Next, we experience frustration when something happens that rips a hole in our picture-perfect romance. Perhaps our lover decides they would rather go on a weekend trip with their friends than spend a quiet time at home with us. Or maybe we notice that our partner has a particularly annoying habit that begins to grate our nerves. Suddenly, we find ourselvesdemoralizing the very person we’ve been putting on a pedestal. We strip them of value, making them worthless than before perhaps seeing them as an adversary now and not our dearly beloved.

Semanticist S.I. Hayakawa of the University of Chicago points out how the IFD cycle runs through almost all popular music. He criticizes the lyrics of most pop songs, saying they are filled with “unrealistic fantasy, self-pity and sentimental clichés masquerading as emotion.” Typically, many popular songs follow the IFD pattern: they idealize a lover or situation (idealization), focus on conflict in a relationship (frustration), or glorify the ending of a relationship (demoralization). Then, of course, there are the songs lamenting the end of a romantic relationship (idealization starts over again). Hayakawa believes that this phenomenon has a significant effect on the way we as a society conceptualize love. It keeps us stuck in the loop.

In our relationships, the IFD cycle tends to repeat over and over again until one of three things happens: Either 1) the relationship ends, 2) the couple stays together but resigns themselves to a certain level of bitterness, having demoralized each other a few too many times, or 3) the couple gains a deeper understanding of one another and fosters a relationship built on true intimacy, rather than fantasy.

A New Way to Look at Love

In the book The Art of Happiness, his Holiness the Dalai Lama says that, in order to build relationships that will satisfy us over time, we must learn to “get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him on that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.”

If we devalue our mate by basing our partnership solely on financial status, social position, attractiveness, or some other fleeting, external quality, we can’t expect that relationship to provide for us the intimacy and support we need to create a solid foundation of love. This is the foundation we build our lives upon, so we want to make sure it’s real. This means relating to who our partner truly is and finding meaning even in the things that push our buttons. Deep, meaningful relationships are one of the mainstays of Social Wellness.

Moving away from the world of make-believe and into the world of Social Wellness means investing in all theother relationships in your life as well. Balancing out your attention between your many diverse connections allows you to strengthen bonds and flow where the love flows. If you need attention, and your partner doesn’t have energy for you, instead of getting upset and focusing on what you’re not getting from them, you can turn to a close friend or a family member.

Love is always available to each us—if we are open to it. If you can love yourself for who you truly are, you’ll be able to extend the same love and trust to others. As trust, acceptance and sharing become a theme in your relationship, you’ll find you experience less extreme ups and downs and more sustained feelings of intimacy and warmth.

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