This is not a book about love. This is a book about love relationships. About the relationships we form, healthy or unhealthy, when we fall in love. A healthy relationship nurtures love, an unhealthy one stifles it. Furthermore, the type of relationship you tend to form in love is not something you are born with. It is learned, consciously or not, and it’s usually unconsciously learned. That means most of us don’t know consciously what we’ve learned about love relationships.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Consider the divorce rate, around 50% according to the latest statistics. You have a 50/50 chance of getting divorced when you marry, that’s considered no better than chance. If the relationship you form when you marry is determined by what you’ve learned in the course of your life, then, if you found out what you’ve learned about love relationships, could you then change it and learn something else? Improve your chances of finding and sustaining love beyond just chance?
This question has been on my mind for quite a long time. A long time because I did not have a ready-made answer for it. It took years of clinical research to come up with a tentative understanding and years more to find some of the indisputable facts provided in the pages of this book. The answer to the question, by the way, is a resounding yes. If you know what you’ve learned about love relationships, you can change it and improve your chances of finding and sustaining a healthy love relationship. Otherwise, what you’ve learned stays in charge of your love life, unbeknownst to you. The trouble is, a healthy love relationship may not be the objective of what you’ve learned.
Most of the time we talk about love as a coveted state of mind and heart without an understanding or even an awareness of what it takes to have and hold onto a healthy love relationship. We’ve relegated love relating to something innately given and taken for granted. We don’t bother to think that our love lives like any other important area of our lives has dynamics that are understandable and can be improved upon if necessary. I’ve learned that a big part of the problem is what we learn about love relationships in the bosom of our family of origin. If you haven’t already noticed, it has only been in recent times that our society has had the nerve to question what happens in family life and its connection to how well or unwell we feel. We used to just leave that alone.
Now that the “family of origin” is understood to be a primary source of what we’ve learned about love relationships and other important topics of interest, we can now take a closer look at this earliest of emotional classrooms and begin to understand what was learned there. Believe me, our purpose is not to aimlessly disrupt this sacred place. But to find the information we’ll need to understand and own our own love lives.
WHAT IS A LOVE LIFE?
What are the two most intense but normal human emotions? Let’s get hate and rage off the table right from the start because neither of them is normal. Given the title of this book as a clue, if you say love you’d have one. The other is grief, which happens to be the true opposite of love. If you love someone you will inevitably grieve. Essentially, grief is the loss of the person you love. If grief is what happens when love leaves, love is a pretty important and far reaching emotion for human beings.
I asked you this question to make a point. Neither of these intense but normal human emotions are the subject of any systematic effort to teach, instruct, train or otherwise inform our young. Yet they remain the focal point of so much distortion, misunderstanding, and illness over the course of a lifetime. Why the oversight? The reasons for this oversight will become clearer to you as you read on.
This book is an effort to fill in this glaring gap concerning the emotion of love. The information in these pages was collected from years of clinical research, the type of research that occurs as a consequence of helping people develop themselves in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis over time (Jordan,1999). Many of my patients started treatment with love life problems either as the source of their difficulty or as a byproduct.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A definition of the phrase “love life” is in order. I’ll ask you the question again, “What is a love life?” My definition is: any and all interpersonal relationships involving the emotion of love, past and present. There is one important advantage in this particular definition. It defines a love life as including “all” the relationships in your life that involve the emotion of love. Implication being, your love life starts the moment you are born and ends the moment you die. This is precisely why “past and present” are emphasized.
I suggest you keep this definition in mind because the importance of the connection between past and present love relationships is essential to the ideas and method presented in this book.
In the early 1970s, Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D. a professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley, became aware of the suicide death of one of his female students presumably over a love life problem. Moved by this tragic loss, made worse by his recognition of the potential of this particular student, he made a proposal to the administration to teach a “Love Class” at the university. Their initial reaction was to poke fun, criticizing the topic as “unscientific,” and suggesting that Dr. Buscaglia had better things to do with his time. His motivation to teach a class on love came from a desire to understand and educate young people on how to better cope with life believing that the experience of love was at the core of this concern.
Dr. Buscaglia persisted in his efforts to teach the class. The university administration finally conceded with the condition that he could use a classroom but the class would be taught without credit. He taught his Love Class for four years with a maximum enrollment of one hundred students each year, standing room only. Dr. Buscaglia was so moved by the students’ interest that he tearfully admitted in the first class that he had doubts about having sufficient knowledge to teach about love and would rely upon the possibility of learning together. He subsequently published a number of books presenting what he had learned about love as a consequence of teaching his Love Class (Buscaglia, 1972, 1982, 1984, 1992).
Leo Buscaglia’s effort to research and teach about love life considerations in a class was unusual and to my knowledge never replicated. The primary source of his research were the young adult students he encountered at the university and in his Love Class. The love life research I did was conducted over the course of thirty years with a more varied population of people in my private practice in New York City. Many of my patients presented with love life difficulties they struggled to change individually or in a couple therapy with their partners.
Just like Leo Buscaglia learned from his students, I have learned quite a bit from the people I’ve treated over the years. One important thing I’ve learned is that love in the form of a love relationship is learned. This book is an effort to present to my readers, in an easily readable form, what can be learned about love relationships, and when necessary what can be done about it when the learning is unhealthy. A circumstance that is too often the case for many of us.
Why is love so difficult?
Finding and sustaining a healthy love relationship is difficult, challenging, sometimes confusing, and too often painful. A 50% divorce rate and the myriad of hurtful relationships and painful breakups that often litter our personal experiences and media make the case. This love life reality and the number of patients showing up at my office suffering from chronic love life problems encouraged me to conduct a bit of clinical research over the course of my 30-year practice to get at the underlying reasons for this difficulty.
In this book I will tell you about my research, what I learned, and what anyone with the motivation to improve their love lives can do about it. By the way, the stakes are pretty high. Imagine living your whole life making the same love life mistakes, without knowing it, over and over again until the prospect of finding a healthy love relationship feels out of reach. Regrettably, this continues to happen to too many people.
The most important message you’ll get out of this book is, love is difficult because the health and success of your love life is determined by what you’ve learned about love relationships in your life. The question to ask yourself is, what have I learned about love relationships?
Problem is most people will scratch their heads and say, what? Most people have never considered such a question, let alone answer it.
Without an answer to this question, what you’ve learned about love rela- tionships will most likely unconsciously repeat itself over and over again, good or bad. In essence, you won’t be in control of your love life.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to learn something unhealthy about love relationships in your life, chances are pretty good that what you’ll be repeating will be love life problems. If you don’t know what you’ve learned, what you’ll be repeating will no doubt raise havoc in your love life. This book is a consequence of years of interest in what I like to call “love life psychology.” Love life psychology is the study of love lives from the inside out. What I mean is, trying to understand the what, how, and why of a person’s love life by studying his or her psychology in the form of beliefs, behavior, and feelings as they play out in love relationships.
I believe, and the clinical evidence substantiates the claim, that most if not all of what happens in an individual’s love life can be understood in this way. Recognizing this fact of our psychological existence was exciting to say the least. For years, as a practicing clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York City, I witnessed the pain and suffering caused by an unhealthy love life (Jordan, 2014). For years I applied and experienced the limitations of what I had been trained to believe about love relationships, always wondering if there was more that I could understand and do to help alleviate the pain of an endless number of patients seeking treatment as a result of chronic love life problems. Glad to say, there was and is. It’s in the pages of this book.
What will this book teach you?
This book is going to teach you something about your love life that will increase your chances of finding and sustaining a healthy love relationship. There are three parts to this book. Part I is entitled the “Unhealthy Love Life.” This is the problem, our nemesis. Understanding how what you’ve learned about love relationships can result in an out of control unhealthy love life is the place where we’ll begin. In this first part of the book, I will tell you everything you’ll need to know about how the unhealthy love life, as a noxious force operating beyond your awareness, can limit and disrupt your chances of finding and sustaining a healthy love relationship.
There are two chapters in Part I. Chapter 1, entitled, “My Love Life Research” will discuss four basic characteristics of the unhealthy love life. Understanding these four basic characteristics will strengthen your consciousness, if and when your love life becomes unhealthy. In Chapter 2, entitled, “Learning About Love Relationships” I will discuss the ways we all learn about love relationships, what we learn, and how what we learn can become problematic.
Part II of this book is about the “Psychological Love Life.” Chances are you probably didn’t think you had one. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that our love life experiences are being shaped, again out of our awareness, from the psychological “backroom,” if you will. Your psychological love life is the true “cause” of your love life experiences, healthy or unhealthy. And yes, we all have one.
In Part II of this book I will show you how what you’ve learned about love relationships is being psychologically used to recreate your “unhealthy relationship experiences.” The relationship experiences that originally taught you what you’ve learned about love relationships in the first place. Becoming aware of your psychological love life will empower you to be able to change what is unhealthy, the focus of the next part of this book. Part II includes Chapter 3, entitled “Your Psychological Love Life.” In this chapter we will study the psychological love life as the mental storehouse of what you’ve learned about love relationships and become familiar with its contents. Becoming aware of what is in your psychological love life gives you access to a part of your emotional life that is usually kept out of awareness as it operates in shaping your love life experiences. Access will permit you to identify what needs to change.
In Part III, I will introduce you to what I call my “Unlearning Method.” This is the “solution” to our problem, the unhealthy love life. In this part of the book I’ll show you how what you’ve learned about love relationships can be identified, challenged, and changed. This conscious application of how what was learned, can be unlearned, and something better learned or relearned was taken directly from the successes in my clinical work with patients struggling with love life problems. There are two chapters in Part III of this book.
In Chapter 4, entitled “Changing Your Psychological Love Life” we’ll go through each of the 3-steps involved in effectively changing what was learned from unhealthy relationship experiences. In Chapter 5, entitled, “My Psychological Love Life,” I apply the Unlearning Method to my own love life experience. What better way to illustrate the effectiveness of this method than to describe how I used it to change my own love life difficulties?
In Chapter 6, I’ll review the various ways it is possible to teach about love relationships, both educational and therapeutic. A useful discussion of the various educational and therapeutic formats that are possible to consciously and deliberately teach about love relationships for the purpose of improving your psychological ability to find and sustain a healthy love relationship.
In the “Conclusion” of this book, I will make the case that our objective is to take back, maybe for the very first time, control of our love lives. Your love life is not only what is visible in terms of the people you have loved and love. Your love life is also what is inside of you that shapes and determines the kind of relationships you’ll form, and the experiences you will or won’t have in love. If and when you become aware of your inside love life, you can switch it from automatic to manual. An old friend used to say, you can’t drive your life from the backseat. I think this most certainly applies to your love life.
In its essence this book represents a 21st Century “LoveClass.” A tribute to Leo Buscaglia’s remarkable vision, updated and taken a few steps further. Instead of “Love Class” we’ll call it a “Love Relationship Class,” since love relationships rather than simply the emotion of love, will remain our primary focus. Consider this book a mini education, derived from years of clinical research, on how we relate in love both healthy and unhealthy, and what we can do about it when it’s unhealthy.
PART I THE UNHEALTHY LOVE LIFE
CHAPTER 1 My Love Life Research
Types of Unhealthy Love Life
Human beings possess the need to receive and give love. We spend much of our waking hours, consciously or unconsciously, trying to make this happen. At earlier times in our lives, the need to receive love is easier to see, then it tends to go underground. In middle-age its harder to need love without feeling uncomfortable about it. The need to give love often shows up later in life, even though there are clues to its existence earlier in life. Small children can show extraordinary acts of kindness and love toward others.
We all come into the world with the hope that we’ll get and give the love we need. In fact, the relationship between “hope” and love was the first thing I noticed when I began conducting my love life research. My first observation of the unhealthy love life was how the appearance of hope determined the two primary forms of the unhealthy love life. When there is hope, the unhealthy love life will typically take the form of multiple disappointments. When a person is struggling with this type of unhealthy love life he or she is trying to find and sustain a healthy love relationship despite multiple disappointments.
People who are experiencing multiple disappointments in love tend to be on the younger end of the age spectrum. The hope of finding and keeping the healthy love relationship they seek is propelling them to keep looking regardless of the hurt their disappointments have caused. At some point or another, this type of unhealthy love life morphs into the second form of unhealthy love life we call resignation. When resigned, multiple disappointments have convinced a person that a healthy love relationship is not going to be found. Hope has been lost. The objective now is to live a life without love. Easier said than done.
Some people enter the unhealthy love life state of resignation after only a very few disappointments. In some instances, it only takes one substantial disappointment to swear off love. They decide to stop looking for and getting involved in something that only ends up hurting them. Others are more resilient and continue looking for the love they desire to get and give as many times as possible resisting resignation. Nevertheless, resignation after a period of multiple disappointments with love is for certain. It’s only a matter of time. If you are making the same love life mistakes over and over again without awareness, self-preservation in the form of resignation is inevitable.
Repeating Love Life Problems
The second observation we’ve made about the unhealthy love life is that it is repetitive. Whatever love life problem you are experiencing is probably happening over and over again. How many repetitions depends upon your age. There are several forms this repetition can take. Repeating love life problems can occur in a single relationship. For example, a person who cheats in a love relationship several times over the course of the relationship. Repeating love life problems can also occur over the course of several love relationships. Taking the cheating example again, repetition could occur in several different relationships. Then there is the repetition of a past love life problem again in a person’s current love relationship. For example, imagine you grew up in a home where your father cheated on your mother, you cheat on your wife, and your son cheats on his wife.
This temporal perspective on repetition in the unhealthy love life was particularly interesting to us. Because we saw it a lot in the relationship expe- rience reported by our patients. Whenever my patients had an unhealthy love life, some form of repetition was usually happening. Furthermore, most people were not aware of it. The frequency of this problem was undeniable. Repeating love life problems you don’t know you are repeating. Who or what is in control of our love lives?
Replicating Unhealthy Relationship Experience
Our third observation was that the unhealthy love life replicates unhealthy relationship experiences. Upon deeper analysis, repeating love life problems turned out to be replications of a person’s previous relationship experiences. It appears that past love life experience is in control of what a person experiences in the present. Little by little, a list of replicating unhealthy relationship experiences started to take shape. The same relationship experiences showed up in different people’s love lives, so we began to formulate the idea that certain experiences are naturally “toxic” and commonly repeated and replicated in the adult love life.
To illustrate this idea of “replication” consider the common physical replication that takes place when someone marries someone who looks like his or her mother or father, or some other family member. As if the physical “template,” if you will, is unconsciously being used to select someone with “familiar” physical characteristics. Of course, physical replication is only the superficial form of this phenomena, but I think it makes the point. We also took a closer look at the replication of other features in a love relationship like how a love partner behaves, what is believed about love relationships, and how a love partner feels, and found that replications are unconsciously taking place on those levels all the time. Replication is surely taking place in our love lives.
Let’s consider a few psychological examples from my clinical work over the years. A woman is abandoned by her father at a young age, survives a controlling mother, and marries a man who abandons her after she gives birth to their children. Her marriage replicates the abandonment she experienced in her family of origin.
A woman grew up in an abusive home where she witnesses her violent alcoholic father abuse her mother. She leaves home and marries a verbally and emotionally abusive man. She replicates the domestic abuse she witnessed growing up now in an emotional and verbal form in her marriage.
A woman grows up in a home where her mother is compulsive and controlling. Her mother controls her father and the children, with her demands for order and organization. She herself gets married and replicates the same learned control over her husband’s activities in the home.
A man witnesses the emotional dependency of his father on a controlling mother. He grows up and leaves home, and has two children with a dependent possessive woman who helps him replicate his parents’ marriage.
A woman witnesses her mother’s emotional pain when her mother discovers that her father is cheating on her. Her mother divorces her father as a consequence of the dishonesty. As an adult she is attracted to men who cannot make a commitment and is chronically suspicious of cheating.
A woman grows up in a family where she feels taken advantage of by her siblings and narcissistic dependent mother. In her adult love life, she struggles in several love relationships with the feeling of being used. She now avoids love life situations to deter an expected exploitation.
A woman grows up in a home with a controlling mother who mistrusts her ability to make her own decisions. She marries the man her mother prefers, takes the job her mother expects her to have, and moves into a home her mother finds for her family. She now struggles with chronic feelings that her life does not belong to her.
A man grew up in a family where his mother neglects him in favor of her husband compelled by the husband’s sickness. Her son is left to fend for himself emotionally in the family. He leaves home and finds a neglectful woman with children who focuses predominately on her children replicating the same experience of neglect he endured living with his parents.
A man grows up with a rejecting critical mother and narcissistic distant father. He marries a critical woman and copes with the feeling of hurt by defensively distancing himself in his marriage.
A man grew up with a self-centered mother and self-sacrificing caretaking father. He marries a narcissistic woman and takes care of her in a self-sacrificing manner. He replicates the marital relationship of his parents, taking the role of the depleted caretaker of a self-centered person.
On and on, one example after another, of the “replicated” unhealthy love life. I collected these painful love life stories and many others over the course of many years of practice. Repetition and replication of unhealthy relationship experiences can be found in each instance without any initial awareness of its reoccurrence by the people involved. What remained unclear is why and how this is happening. It was only when I realized that “learning” was the key to understanding the repetition and replication of unhealthy relationship experience, was I then able to go even deeper in my analysis of the unhealthy love life.