There is a problem. A miscommunication, an unwillingness to change and the emotional impulse to simply give up. Our partners were easy to get along with at the beginning, and now we are left wondering if it is capable for us to love them.
We all start off in life learning about being loved. It’s the fun bit. It’s the unconditional love you received from a parent. And we grow up thinking that’s what will be going on in an adult relationship. But it’s a tragic mistake, and has failed us in looking at the other side of the equation which is to love.
To love ultimately is to have the willingness to interpret someone’s on the surface (not very appealing) behavior in order to discover a well-meaning reason as to they are acting out. In other words, to love someone is to apply charity and generosity of interpretation. Our tendency to latch onto the good qualities of our partners is easy. We can begin to love when we recognize that the person we end up with is going to be a perplexing mixture of the good and the bad.
We first begin to understand this concept when we reach the age of four. Psychoanalysts, Melanie Klein, studied how children learned about relationships from their parental upbringing, and argued that when we are infants we didn’t realize that a parent is one character. Rather we split our parent into two categories: good parent and bad parent. It isn’t until we are four years old that we learn our parent is one person. In other words, you become ambivalent. You become able to hate someone, and at the same time, to love them. And you’re not thinking to simply run away from the situation because you realize your love-hate relationship is okay.
This is an immense psychological achievement that we can no longer merely divide people into “brilliant, perfect, and marvelous” and “hateful, disappointing, and arrogant.” We learn that everyone we love is going to disappoint us. We start off as idealization and often end with denigration. True psychological maturity is the ability to see that there are no heroes – rather that anyone that you love is going to be this mixture of the good and the bad.
To love is admire your partner’s strength, and to learn to interpret their weaknesses and recognize their ambivalence.
We live in a romantic culture that privileges impulse. It is common for one to believe they are thinking too much about their emotions – but the problem is that we are simply thinking badly. We have the wrong ideas of what romance is, and we consistently fail at communication. The good thing is that none of us are perfect and therefore we don’t need perfection, and the demand for perfection will lead to only one thing – loneliness. Why? Because it is impossible to have perfection and company. To be in company with another person is to be negotiating imperfection every day. We are all incompatible, but it is the work of love to make us graciously accommodate to each others incompatibility’s and imperfections. Therefore, compatibility is an achievement of love, it isn’t what you need from the outset.
In short, we don’t know very well how to love. Love is not an instinct, it is a skill that needs to be learned. And it’s a skill society refuses to consider as a skill. If you keep following your feelings, you will most certainty always make a mistake.