Monday, May 23, 2016

In-house #6: Love actually

I’ve been reading more in the marital therapy literature (far from a comprehensive perusal, and I am not a Marriage and Family Therapist), and come away with the sense that these writers think that love is love. All kinds of things are questioned (such as, to use Gottman’s concepts, spouses’ criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling; along with the resonance of childhood injuries into the present), though not someone’s claim of “love.” One says “I love him/her, but . . .” and only the but is examined, not the elemental force, the immovable mover of “love” itself.

But isn’t that absurd? What if it doesn’t really exist? I suspect that even those therapists who recognize the futility of a marriage still believe the love is, or once was, there, but that it died, or “wasn’t enough” (what the hell does that mean?) to save the marriage, or was surpassed by a greater imperative love. What if we overuse the word? What if we actually feel desperation or attraction or sex or being liked or being visible? What if real love is not at all need, or only one little part need, not the vast part need? What if there is some genuineness of love within the dysfunctional messy feeling many people have, but that it needs to be acknowledged as the weaker substance it is in order to save the marriage? This might be the healthiest of all compromises: “I can’t love someone more than I have the capacity for.” “She is the source of my comfort with my poorly formed identity, and that is love, but also pain.”

I talked love during the romance phase with my future first wife, employed the word during the greater part of a decade’s marriage, and asserted love (writing to my father-in-law) as I ran away from her. But it was all nonsense, and my disabuse coalesced soon after, like a drop of dew evaporating one morning. This was a depressed, weakly narcissistic man conjoined to a Borderline woman: two sick seas coming together from polluted, barren sources who somehow, miraculously, could feel “love” for one another.

Cynical as it may be, I believe that love’s intrusiveness comes out of the contradiction between our absolutely critical need for it and our ability to live without it. Our ability to run a life on empty. This makes us see love, or imagine it, when it is absent; to take a complex feeling and rename it that.

If I’m right about marital therapy, and about couples and love, then questions arise. Should therapy address the actuality of love? Or simply assume it when it may not be real or strong, and still help the couple communicate better, re-romanticize, create harmony and enrich the relationship on top of this underground fault? One answer to these questions may come from a fact known to depth psychology: The fault exists at the base of most of us. We are composed, from our roots up, of differing degrees of love, or none. Seen through this lens, a marriage may then be the closest grasp of our birthright and birth-need that we will ever find. We wouldn’t want to question too much, then.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.