I often imagine conversations I'll have with my daughter when she gets older. I imagine how I might talk to her about consent, what I'll share with her about mothering, what I want her to know about friendship, and of course, what I want to help her understand about love.
Specifically, I was thinking about how I would explain my love for her. I often had conversations with my own mom where I tried to understand why she loved me, and I don't know that I ever quite got it. So if she ever asks me why I love her, this is what I came up with:
I love her. Full stop. Not because she's so smart (she is), hardworking (she is) or totally warm and funny (ditto, ditto). I love her very being. So there really is no "I love you because". Her beingness is enough.
Now, I also happen to love her hugs, and her thoughtfulness, and how excited she gets. I love it when she dances and I love that she loves reading. I love taking her swimming and showing her the world around us. Those are things in addition to simply loving her. And so even if those things change (and we all change, throughout our lifetimes), I still love her. That doesn't diminish or abate on account of what she does.
So there you go - that's unconditional love.
I think it's pretty amazing, and I also think it's pretty unique. It's the kind of love a caregiver has for their child.
The love we have for our partners is different. It is - and should be - conditional.
As we enter adult partnership, we are really asking for a reciprocal love that flows in both directions. This means that we're stepping away from the "no matter what you do, I'm always here for you" parental love we receive as children to something that's more mature. In order for that love to thrive, it needs to have boundaries around it. Here's a simple example - if your child goes to jail for selling cocaine, there's a good chance you're going to keep visiting them, helping them heal, and loving them with all your heart. On the other hand, if your partner goes to jail for selling cocaine, there's a good chance that'll signify the end of your relationship. It's pretty reasonable in that case to say "you know, I'm not interested in continuing a relationship with someone who's in jail for selling drugs". Now, even that example won't be true for everyone depending on the unique circumstances, and yet we all do have limits. Each of us have things that are acceptable to us in relationship, and things that are not. We have things that we can work with, and others that are deal-breakers. The purpose of loving relationships, after all, is not to endure, but to thrive. How can we thrive when we are not getting the basics of what we need in our relationship?
Committing to love an adult partner "unconditionally" isn't heroic - it's self-sabotage. You hurt yourself at a deep personal level by staying in an environment that isn't sustaining you, and ironically, even the person you're partnered with will end up feeling resentful toward you. This becomes especially dangerous when unfulfilling relationships go on for years - it's bound to lead either to an explosion or implosion of some kind. A relationship with conditions, on the other hand, has the power to be expansive. Neither partner is staying in it out of duty, fear, or familiarity. Instead, each is committed to their own and each other's growth. They are committing to truly respecting each other and to mutually offering that which will sustain and nurture the relationship.
Here's the bottom line: If the person you're supposed to be partnered with isn't available, isn't able to make a commitment, is unwilling or unable to process conflict with you, or is otherwise not going to fulfill the basic aspects of a relationship, then it's perfectly acceptable to let that relationship go, as they aren't able to offer you true partnership. Beyond that, we each have our own version of personal limits and deal breakers. It's up to us to do the work to figure out what those limits are, and whether we're in a relationship that seeks to mimic a parent-child dynamic or one that offers us true adult partnership.
Some of you know that a few years ago, I dealt with near-daily migraines that seriously affected my capacity to work, and had a huge impact on my ability to partake in life. I had always dealt with migraines but never to this extreme, and for this long. Read on if you want to know what helped me make it to the other side.
1) Mindfulness meditation. I noticed that one of the triggers for my migraines was “thinking about stressful situations”. My brain would get caught in a loop of ruminating and rehearsing. The only way out was to come back into the present. So I bought “A Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Workbook” and did some of the exercises suggested as well as listen to the guided mindfulness exercises that came on the CD. I still play that occasionally when I notice the tension starting to build. http://www.amazon.ca/A-Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction-Workbook/dp/1572247088 Also, I should say that whenever healthcare providers would ask me if I was dealing with more stress than usual I would be annoyed because I did not think I was, but looking back it was the stressful thinking spiral that was the problem, and also it turns out I was going through some pretty stress-inducing stuff after all.
2) Mindfulness on pain, specifically. When dealing with chronic pain, this seems like the last thing a person would want to do, but the more I braced against the pain, the worse it got. My friend lent me this CD from one of the leaders in the field and it became really, hugely important to my recovery: http://www.soundstrue.com/store/mindfulness-meditation-for-pain-relief-535.html
3) Biofeedback. I’m probably going to explain this wrong. But the basic idea of biofeedback is learning to control something in your body that is normally automated, such as heart rate, temperature, etc. In my case, I was connected to a machine that read the temperature in my hands, and I learned to increase the temperature... WITH MY MIND. So I know I just made it sound completely fake but this is a real science-based thing, and it worked. Once I could control the temperature, the idea was that I simultaneously was able to control the expansion of my blood vessels and could use that method when a migraine was coming on. Jim Eliuk (Registered Psychologist) is who you want to go to for this.
4) Yoga. Even though it didn’t FEEL like my muscles were tense, they probably were. And so yoga helped with that and also the being present thing.
5) Massage. I have been lucky to have met many fantastic massage therapists, and again, though my muscles didn’t necessarily always FEEL tense, it turns out they were. My friend Melissa decided one day that she was going to do an experiment on me to get rid of my migraines. She used a combination of heat and stones and stretching and magical powers, and IT WORKED. She is still part of my ongoing migraine prevention team and she is also very funny. That helps. http://www.trueserenity.ca/meet-the-team
6) Letting go. I had to let go of the idea that I should be able to work a certain amount of hours in a week (I couldn’t) and that my body should be able to handle a certain amount of stress (it couldn’t). I drastically reduced the number of working hours until I found something that kept me healthy, sustainably.
8) Medications. I’m somewhat conflicted about this because when I took a prophylactic too many days in a row it would sometimes cause rebound headaches. But generally it was better to take it when I needed it rather than “wait it out” or “hope it gets better on its’ own”. Eventually I took a daily preventative medication to help get ahead of the pain, and then when I had a few months with less pain, I was able to slowly decrease and then quit that medication. I did get in to see a neurologist which probably would have been helpful if I had seen a different neurologist. This one was not very helpful.
9) Coffee. When I was trying to describe the experience of feeling a migraine coming on, I noticed it felt like fuzziness in my brain, and so I had the brilliant idea to try drinking coffee to wake up my brain and reduce fuzziness. I'm 100% sure that's not how coffee actually works, but the image made sense to me, and coffee is my biggest prevention these days.I know it acts as a trigger for a lot of people, but it was the opposite for me.
10) TV. We figured out that one other way to get my brain out of the stress spiral was to watch TV, because it gave my brain and eyes something to focus on. Obviously this wouldn’t work if the pain was too extreme, but it was good in the early stages.
11) Magic hand lady. My old supervisor Marlen Walker (Registered Psychologist) did some kind of EMDR trick with her hands AND IT WORKED. She is now known as the magic hand lady because none of us understand why it was helpful.
12) Avoiding fluorescent lighting, red wine, and other triggers - stress included! Obvious but still should be part of this list.
13) Time. I think my body needing a long recovery time even after the events leading up to the pain issues were over.
14) Belief that it will get better. A friend at some point said to me “we’re going to figure this out” and I will never forget that.
David Richo's "How to be an Adult in Relationships" is a transformative piece of writing on love and relationships. I first listened to this book by audio and find Richo's voice to be fairly melodic and soothing, so reading it now with his voice in my memory feels much like a meditation. And indeed, he draws from the teachings of Buddhism, so the aspect of meditation is interwoven throughout the book. He also brings in knowledge from Catholicism, Jungian psychology, and his own life story to guide the reader toward a more adult understanding of love. Each sentence is deep and broad, simultaneously challenging and touching the reader. Richo has somehow captured the wounded longing in all of us, given words to it, and then provided a path toward healing those wounds and moving to an adult form of love that can grow and sustain us. He interrogates our understanding of love, though never in a way that's blaming or shaming. Already I have over 30 bookmarked quotes to come back to.
"As adolescents, we were taught that the way to tell we are in love is by our loss of control, our loss of will, and a compelling sense that we could not have done otherwise. This falling in love contrasts with the reality of rising in love with conscious choice, sane fondness, intact boundaries, and ruthless clarity. We were taught that some enchanted evening we would feel fascination and fall head over heels for someone special. But that kind of reaction is actually a signal from the needy child within, telling us what we need to work on, not directing us to our rescuer". - pg 110
One of the parts of the book I appreciate and resonate with the most was a simple list of the demands of the needy child versus the expectations of the healthy adult. For example, the needy child says "never betray me, lie to me, or disappoint me" while the healthy adult says "I accept you as fallible and seek to address, process, and resolve issues with you". The needy child says "help me repeat old, painful scenarios from childhood and former relationships" while the healthy adult says "I have mourned the past, learned from it, and now want something better".
There is so much to gain from this book, and just a few things to be cautious about. In the early chapters, Richo does get caught in some gender roles (though he makes it clear that there are masculine and feminine energies in all of us), and from my perspective, he undervalues interdependence perhaps a bit more than recent attachment research would support as healthy. Even with these cautions, it is easy to find so much to connect with in this book.
So, who should read this? I imagine anyone in relationship or moving toward relationship would be helped by this. More specifically, this book could be an important guide for you if you:
I'm a psychologist, activist, and writer. I believe in sharing our stories and wisdom as a tool for our own healing as well as the healing of those around us. For this reason I've chosen to share what I'm learning, as well as guest posts from other people who've been there.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective.