I’ve been a sex, love, and relationship counselor for more than 40 years. I’ll admit that I’ve been following the advice to “teach what you want to learn.” Like most everyone I know, we’ve all got a lot to learn about love. Our love maps are ingrained in our psyches based on our parent’s experiences with sex, love, and relationships. If our parent’s love lives were wonderful, every cell in our body will resonate to healthy love messages. However, if our parent’s love lives were less than wonderful, we will grow up with a distorted love map that will often lead us astray.
My parent’s love lives were not all that great. My mother married my Dad on the rebound when her true love was called away to war (he was a correspondent for the New York Times). My parents thought that having a child would bring them closer together. Instead it put more pressure on their already shaky marriage. My mother became increasingly anxious and worried that I would die. My father became increasingly depressed when he couldn’t find a job to support the family.
Since our love maps are generally subconscious, most of us are not aware that they can lead us astray or that our family’s love lives can have such a profound influence on our own. I married my college girlfriend, sure we would “live happily ever after.” We lasted less than ten years. After a short time of grieving the loss, I was sure I had simply married the wrong person. I fell in love again to a woman who seemed very different, but was in fact very similar to my first wife (and yes, similar to my mother emotionally). My new love slept with a gun under her pillow to “protect her from men.” We lasted less than three years.
I didn’t want to make a third mistake, so I decided to take a break, do some serious therapy and find a love map that would bring me real, lasting love. The new map led me to Carlin. We have been together now for 36 years.
Here are some of the important secrets we learned.
1. Before we embark on our next quest for love, review our parent’s love map.
Being young and foolish I was sure my parent’s love life wouldn’t influence my own. Being a bit older and wiser, I knew it did. Looking honestly at the past helped me change the present and the future.
2. Think of your adult relationships and see if you can recognize your love-map distortions.
Once I could recognize my parent’s love map I could see that I kept picking women who are a bit wild like my mother, but also depressed and angry like my father. The deeper I dug, the more I recognized how similar my own love map was to the one my parents lived and passed on to me with my mother’s milk and my father’s anger.
3.Heal the trauma that produces faulty love maps.
No one wants to address the trauma of childhood. We all hope we can avoid that painful process and simply “move on.” We’d just like to “forgive and forget” and have a loving relationship that was different from our parents. The bad news is that if we want to healthy love life, we have to heal the old wounds. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be painful. It can actually be fun. I tell you how in my new book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come.
4.Release the “one-and-only” myth.
Many of us grew up with the romantic notion that there is “one true love” and it’s our job to find them. As a result we put a lot of pressure finding that perfect partner. There are literally thousands of dating sites now that use the latest “scientific” formulas for pairing us with the right person. If it doesn’t work out with this one, we madly search for that one-and-only love that is out there somewhere. Forget looking for your one true love. It becomes an unhappy search for the needle in a haystack the size of the world.
5.There are 5,281 perfect partners waiting for you.
After counseling thousands of men and women for more many decades, I believe there are actually thousands of perfect partners we can be totally happy being with. Once we know that, we can relax a bit. Falling in love no longer becomes a magical mystery tour where most of us will lose. We can love a lot of great people and choose the one that matches who we are meant to share our lives with.
6.Quit waiting for “the chemistry” to be right.
Most of what people think of as “chemistry” is simply nature’s way of hooking us up with a biologically valuable mate. It has little to do with real, lasting love. Men are drawn to women who are young and beautiful (makes for good babies) and women are drawn to tall, strong men with resources (provides for good babies). Yes, I know I’m overly simplifying. If I had followed the chemistry of attraction, I would never have been drawn to Carlin or she to me. She’s older and taller than me. I’m shorter than her and was an out of work waiter when we met. She was smarter than I was and pushed through our “lack of chemistry.” She wanted someone you couldn’t find with a love map where we only fall in love when a certain type.
7. Real lasting love is a spiritual journey.
What Carlin and I have learned is that real, lasting love is more wonderful than we had ever imagined. It’s also darker and more difficult than we could have ever guessed. Like all spiritual journeys, it is not for the weak of heart. Real, lasting love is painful and the pain can last for years. But the pain has a purpose. It forces us to confront and heal our childhood wounds. It invites us to learn to love the real person we are with, not the imagined person we project our hopes and dreams upon.
This article by JedDiamond originally appeared at Menalive.com