RELATIONSHIPS (conclusion) (continued from Part 19)
People enter into relationships with an attitude formed by prior experiences. Everyone learns from the past, and the unpleasant actions of earlier partners affects the way they behave with a new companion. The terrible things that other lovers have done, can eventually harden a person, and makes them hesitant to place themselves in a vulnerable position. Certainly, one must learn from life, but one must also apply this knowledge appropriately. The hard lessons of the past teach you to beware of certain signs in a person’s behaviour, and what others are capable of doing to the unwary. The time to use your empirical knowledge of romantic interaction is during the initial courtship period. This can be somewhat difficult, because individuals are “on their best behaviour”, and you are not thinking clearly due to the hormonal influence. For these reasons, people should invest the time to get to know one another, prior to becoming intimately involved.
Once a relationship becomes a commitment, your reluctance to risk emotional pain has to be put aside. A serious bond needs to be considered as a fresh start. The distrust you learned from the behaviour of earlier partners is specific to each of them, and retaining it now, is unfair to your new companion. To love someone is to consider them worthy of your total trust and devotion: anything less, is having them pay a price for the actions of others. You unquestionably leave yourself open to being hurt: but finding out now, that your faith was misplaced, saves you from making a lifetime commitment to the wrong person. The potential short-term pain is worth it, if it prevents you from ending up in a situation where you have married, and produced children with, someone you later realize, is a person you do not love. From a somewhat jaded perspective, it could be said that you are “giving them enough rope”.
Respect, admire, and trust someone you are serious about: fully appreciate the experience of what it is to be in love. If they take advantage of your dedication, and betray your trust, then they have proven that they are not deserving of such devotion. You have gained valuable knowledge about their character, and can move on: to perhaps meet somebody more like yourself. You have had the chance to undergo wonderful and intense feelings, that they will likely never know. Pity them, for they have squandered a precious opportunity, and their selfishness has cost them dearly: for them, the right person is somebody equally as shallow. In this way, there is no room for recrimination: they chose to demonstrate that they do not share your values, and belong with someone less virtuous; whereas you have been spared a life with a person who is unwilling to make a total commitment to you. The end result is positive, and wasting any energy on anger, or chastising yourself for being idealistic, is not appropriate: they were simply the wrong person for you.
A frequently misunderstood concept pertaining to relationships, is that you cannot change a person. Individuals apply this too broadly, particularly when it concerns their own actions. Undoubtedly, one should avoid becoming involved with people who have a history of questionable behaviour, such as violence or infidelity, unless this is what you desire in a mate: changing character traits such as these, is usually beyond the abilities of the average person, and even mental health professionals have a rather low rate of success. Also, it is unrealistic to expect to change any habitual behaviour that the other individual sees as harmless. However, all people are constantly changing due to cause and effect, and the fact that a couple interacts, on any level, means that they are changing one another. This does not necessarily require intent, and may be positive or negative: but it is impossible for two people to be aware of each other’s existence, and not be influenced.
It is often said that one cannot intend to change a partner: that you should embrace them for who they are. Yes, you must be prepared to accept the traits a person demonstrates initially: but they are going to be different next month, next year, and next decade; regardless of your presence. Aiming to make positive changes in your mate seems to be a natural course of action, when viewed idealistically. Loving someone means that you have their best interests at heart, and therefore, wanting to alter their ways would be inspired by a sense of moral obligation towards them. Likewise, if your partner is trying to change something about you, then you would feel that the concerns of the person you love and respect, are rooted in their sense of devotion to you, and deserve consideration. Ultimately, an individual chooses to change for their lover: it cannot successfully be forced upon them. Although someone may want you to behave differently, you will not, without a reason to do so. Change is accomplished through compromise: simply because you both care enough, about each other’s well being, to find a way to make one another happier.
Sexuality plays a major role in relationships: it is, after all, the only instinctive reason people seek romance. Some view sex as primarily an emotional act, while others see it as a momentary physical pleasure: almost everyone pretends to stress the former. A clue as to how you truly feel about it, can be found in your dreams, where the “self” is less hindered by the “self-structure”. Everyone has dreams that are sexual in nature, which will be predominantly of one type, or the other. One form centers on the mechanics of the act, with seduction leading to the pleasurable physical sensations: the dream culminating in the sex act itself. The other type focuses more on the seduction, with the sexual activity lacking detail: rather than sex being an “end” to the event, it is more an affirmation of an emotional commitment; a promise of an idyllic, albeit imaginary, future. Simply put: the first dream provides stimulation, the second gives comfort. Males will tend to have the physical dreams, and females the romantic, due to the innate agendas of each [covered in an earlier chapter], but this is in no way gender-specific.
Desire should only exist with meaning. Ideally, lustful thoughts would be directed only toward your partner, but usually, people feel compelled to engage in clandestine sexual acts. This is not to say that a person would be doing anything contrary to base animal instinct, nor is it wrong to mentally appreciate the attributes of a desirable male/female: but to have a monogamous, committed relationship, one must feel that their mate is the only person suitable for sharing such intensely personal activities. For some, physical lust does not exist as a cause for action, without an emotional attachment: they have reasoned that the potential negative effects of such behaviour, far outweigh any positive ones. One of the negative factors is the risk of contracting a disease, which can be subsequently transferred to your partner, and lead to emotional, and possibly legal, consequences for you: there is also the chance of a disease being incurable, or fatal. Other possibilities include pregnancy; personal vulnerability from involvement with someone you know little about; the threat of being harmed, or even killed, by a jealous mate; the dissolution of your family; and the alienation of people close to you. To risk losing everything you have spent an entire lifetime working toward, both materially and emotionally, in exchange for a few moments of physical gratification, does not seem to be the act of a sensible person. Such short-sighted behaviour is far too common.
Because most people never fully consider the consequences of their actions, they cannot rationalize desire during the “heat of the moment”, and subsequently react to an opportunity. Once the preliminary connection is made with a potential sexual partner, the innate drives begin to affect you, and your mind attributes all of the qualities, that you feel are missing in your current partner, onto the object of your desire. Later, when the thrill of the new sexual conquest has diminished, you will realize that this person existed primarily as a fulfillment of a fantasy, and has little in common with the illusion you have created.
First and foremost: if you feel that your present mate lacks many of the qualities you require in a partner, you should not have entered into a relationship with that person; and justifying infidelity with the excuse that you were beguiled by the promise of greater happiness, does not change the fact that you betrayed a trust, and committed an act of unnecessary cruelty. Attempting to salve one’s conscience with the reality that most people get away with being unfaithful, does not mean your relationship is unaffected. Relatively few people have to face the discovery of infidelity because their partners, not wanting to consciously face the consequences of such an occurrence, suppress their awareness of evidence indicating that their bond is anything other than sound. To acknowledge betrayal, is to feel obligated to react: which may leave one without needed love, companionship, and security. Nevertheless, although a person may refuse to consciously accept the truth, suppressed knowledge still has a negative subconscious impact.
There are many factors which influence an individual’s decision to act upon their lustful feelings towards people other than their mate: not all of them caused by innate drives. Some common ones are: - a wish to destroy an undesirable relationship, because you do not have the courage to face a confrontation maturely - a sense of insecurity that leads you to want as many people as possible to love you, by deluding yourself into equating sex with love - a fear of commitment, which causes you to do things to prevent a serious bond from developing, because of past painful experiences in a relationship - a feeling of being unworthy of your mate’s love due to repressed guilt, normally from childhood events which created the subconscious impression that you must be punished (usually instilled by parents), and which leads you to engage in self-destructive behaviour - a need for the attention you did not receive in childhood: during the act of mating, you are definitely the focus of a partner’s attention. These particular conditions all indicate psychological disorders, and the act of infidelity is merely symptomatic of a deeper mental problem. Such reasons for your actions are not valid excuses, because manifesting a mental affliction in this way, only temporarily alleviates a symptom, it does not cure the underlying ailment. To act out the manifestations of your disorder, is to perpetuate the problem: you must deal with the cause, and not the effect.
Two other factors are much more basic, and are generally part of lengthy relationships: a desire for the excitement of a new sexual experience, because your current sex life has become dull and mechanical; and a desire for specific sexual acts, which your own mate does not perform. These feelings are common, and reflect the physical, rather than emotional, side of the partnership. However, sex need not only be an expression of love: it can also be lustful, playful, or adventurous; with the realization that the underlying consideration is a sharing of an exclusive intimate bond between the two of you.
Problems in a relationship due to not having your sexual expectations fulfilled, are caused by a lack of communication, and a failure to consider your partner’s perspective. Intimate activities are unique to each couple, and they are the only two people totally familiar with their particular experience. One should never compare one’s own encounters with those of others: theirs is also unique to them. Because your practices only apply to the two of you, solutions to any incompatibilities must be found through each other: outside counseling still requires that each person must decide to change. It is necessary to speak to one another about perceived shortcomings in your sexual relations. You love and trust each other, and should be the closest of friends: obviously there is no one more appropriate with which to discuss such matters. Remember to see the topic as a romantic exchange, rather than a selfish request or demand: this is an area for compromise and understanding, and not a quest for purely physical reward. Keep things in perspective: a person should feel that it is at least as important to satisfy one’s partner, as it is to fulfill one’s own needs.
A major component of love-making is the joy you receive from bringing great pleasure to your mate: for some, it is the most important aspect of the experience. This leads us to the two basic concepts that allow for sexual compromise: do you really want your lover to perform an act that they are uncomfortable with, or find repulsive; and are you willing to try something you don’t feel you will particularly care for, in order to please your partner? Regardless of whether you are the party desiring changes, or the one asked to make the changes, keeping both of these considerations in mind will allow the two of you the opportunity to seek out a reasonable compromise. Just as it is selfish to expect your lover to do things that they find unpleasant, it is also wrong to be completely inflexible when it comes to finding ways to make intimacy more enjoyable for the both of you. Never make an action a regular part of your lovemaking, unless you feel some sense of pleasure from doing it: whether it be physical or mental. Never give in to sexual demands only to hold your relationship together: if wholly physical concerns can destroy your bond, it is not a meaningful commitment anyway.
When difficulties arise in an established relationship, decisions affecting its future must be tempered by the obligations that you have willingly accepted. You chose to be the person that your partner depends upon for support, and your wish to be the one individual who fulfills their needs, means that you have made an ethical “promise” to do so. In return, they respond in kind: this is the moral “contract” two people enter into when forming a pair-bond. When you elect to have children with someone, you not only take on a moral obligation, but an instinctive one as well: it is natural to nurture one’s genetic legacy; by definition, not to do so is unnatural behaviour. You always have a choice as to whether or not you have children, because you are a creature capable of rational thought, and by willingly engaging in activities of a sexual nature, you are well aware of the potential consequences: lust does not preclude taking adequate precautions.
People will always have disagreements in a romance, and the longer a couple has been together, the nastier the arguments can become. With time, a partner becomes familiar with many of their counterpart’s weaknesses, and in situations where one finds themselves losing, or making no headway in, an argument, they will frequently strike out at the other with emotionally painful statements. This generally escalates the fight, because the hurt individual will respond likewise. Initial personal attacks are brought on by frustration, which manifests itself as anger. Retaliation is caused by a need to return the pain inflicted on the ego, and is also expressed as anger. When feeling frustrated, one should take a moment to think, before maligning one’s mate: your goal is not really to win the argument, but to find a suitable compromise, which is agreeable to both. It is a hollow victory, if you have merely berated your partner into conceding, rather than convinced them of the wisdom of your viewpoint. You may think that a personal attack is needed, in order to have them pay attention to how passionate you are about the subject: but you already know that the result will be a counterattack.
When your lover makes cruel comments to you during a fight, you must resist reacting with hostility. Think about the reason why you want to treat them the same way: what you are really doing is reacting with the thought “see, this is what it feels like”. The person you love and trust has hurt you in a way no one else can, and the fact, that you are so emotionally vulnerable to this person, makes you respond out of the insecurity this sparks in your mind. Sometimes, the ethical path is to let them vent their frustration. Aside from this particular moment in time, you love this person, and by acting in the same vicious way, you are provoking a greater exchange of pain, which you will certainly regret. Your ego is strong enough to allow your partner to expend their anger toward you, without sinking to their level. You will find that if you take the higher ground, she/he will eventually become embarrassed by their own behaviour. This may sometimes cause them to renew their belittling of you, manifesting their chagrin as anger: but then the result is no different than if you had been drawn into the fray, and you have at least retained your dignity.
There is one point that warrants repeating: beginning a relationship is not capturing a moment in time, it is embarking on an ever-changing journey. The qualities in each other that caused love to grow, will be different in the future; and what is perceived as ideal now, you will see from another perspective later in life. Experience changes us all, moment to moment, and you cannot start a relationship without the knowledge that it will require compromise, to sustain it. No matter how perfectly you complement one another now, differences will develop, and each time, one partner will adapt to the other. You must be aware that one person should not be doing all of the adjusting, for this is how you “suddenly” find yourselves in a situation where you no longer have enough in common, to keep the relationship vibrant. As you share your experiences in life, you need to rediscover your love, because the two of you are always “new” people. The mutual respect and admiration that existed from the time you decided that you were right for each other, encourages both of you to favour the changes which best suit your partnership.
It can be very easy to fall in love, but for that love to endure over time, it must be cultivated. What is one of the reasons arranged marriages are just as successful as those initiated through courtship? A couple entering into such a relationship do not have a preexisting love, and therefore know that they have no alternative but to create it. The effort they put into their partnership overcomes the obvious drawbacks associated with marrying a stranger. Yes, they are adjusting their expectations in order to make it work: but they are no less in love.
Ideally, you want a relationship to be a life-long partnership, with your commitment maturing, along with the two of you. You adapt to the changing needs of one another, and benefit from each other’s areas of strength; so that you are subsequently a team that is stronger than its separate components. Together you can accomplish much more than you can as individuals. There will always be relationships that fail after years of effort, and oftentimes it is because people began them for the wrong reasons. But sometimes, people grow in radically different directions, and it becomes impossible to rekindle the love that once came so easily. It is sad when such a thing occurs, and tragic when it involves children: but it underlines how truly fortunate you are to have found someone you can depend upon, and how important it is to always work toward keeping your bond strong. You never want to reflect upon the things you failed to do, which could have saved your romance, rather, you should ponder the things you can do, to make things even better.