Thoughts on Love, Marriage and Relationships

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Abraham Maslow, one of the most influential psychologists of this century, identifies five basic needs that guide human behavior. One of the five is the need to belong and to love and be loved. We seek to belong to some group or organization of people, and engage in affectionate relationships. Relationships are most important for our health and survival. People can die from loneliness--that's how important relationships are.

While Freud focused on sex to understand the emotion of love, Maslow didn't place too much importance on sexual relationships. By "love" he meant "affectionate relationships with others" which must provide mutual respect, admiration, trust, and sense of security.

Importance of sex has been blown out of proportion, especially in the context of long-term relationships. I have begun to suspect a hidden motive behind all this emphasis on sex--to sell us Viagra. And now Bob Dole appears several times a day on TV to talk about "E.D, erectile dysfunction." But, I digress. In a more serious vein, some marriage researchers claim that in a marriage, the sexual component only equals one tenth of one percent! Note, this is not a typographical error. A satisfying and sustainable marriage is 99.9% mental and emotional and only one-hundredth sexual. After all, how much time a couple can spend in bed and for how long? Marriages are made or destroyed by such elements (or lack thereof) as respect, compatibility, and communication.

Love is the mortar that binds two partners. I have seen some marriages dissolving because "we are so different from each other, we can never agree on anything," and others because, "we are so much alike, we clash all the time." Because a couple is so much alike, neither of them gives in or, because they are so different, they don't know how to talk to each other. Then they explain by invoking the "Men are from Mars and women are from Venus" theory. Too much has been made of this Mars and Venus business.

Likenesses or differences between spouses don't make or undo a marriage. Marriage is practically over when that glue called, "love," that earlier bonded the differences and similarities into a cohesive union, comes off. If you try to put back the pieces back together without that glue, they fall apart again, quickly.

You often hear the word, "compatibility" to explain the success or failure of a marriage. For example, "John and Mary's marriage is successful because they are so compatible" or, "David and Jane divorced because they are so incompatible." I don't think the word is "compatibility," the word is "adjustment." When one or both partners are not willing to adjust to each other or make an adjustment for each other, they become, "incompatible."

When one partner says to the other, "I love you but I am not in love with you," he or she is really saying, "I have lost the sight of your good points and I can't, any longer, ignore your negative points." During the courtship and early part of marriage, partners look through the microscope for the good points while the faults lie outside the range of their lens. Perhaps the saying "Love is blind" means that in love, the lovers are blind to each other's faults and shortcomings. When their eyes begin to open, the love begins to shrink or, the other way around.

The word, "compatibility" is derived from the root word , "compassion." Partners must be compassionate towards each other. Compatible partners "feel" for each other. They are sympathetic to each other's hopes, wishes, dreams, problems, and predicaments. If one hurts, the other hurts too. Therefore, one would do anything to avoid hurting one's partner.

Let's reconsider Maslow's definition of the basic human need for a sense of belonging and affection: in relationships, we seek love, mutual respect, admiration, trust, and security. If both partners are fulfilling that need for each other, they are happily married. When partners don't receive love, respect, admiration, trust, and a sense of security on a regular basis, they begin to feel, "I don't belong here." The outcome is predictable--one day, they will pack up and leave.

Earl Nightingale, a champion of positive thinking, once said that the way to have a happy marriage is to "treat the other partner as the most important person on the earth." If both partners don't treat each other in this way, they can't be happy in their marriage. So, when you start thinking, "I am the most important person around here and my partner is second," you know you have lost the battle.

A nationwide survey indicates that the percentage of "truly happy couples" sharply declines in the 40 to 54 years age bracket. Only a third of the couples in that age group felt that their love deepened with time. So what happens after a few years of marriage? People stop working on their marriage and begin to take each other for granted. Outcome? Love dies of starvation without the "feedback" of appreciation, admiration, display of affection and repeated affirmations.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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