In their new book Breakthrough: The Power of the Interrupted Relationship, Dr. Tony Humphreys and Dr. Helen Ruddle share their tips on cultivating loving and stable relationships for yourself, even if your past is one coloured with a lack of love.
In the words of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, it appears that "for one human being to love another is the most difficult of all tasks", and this is true for parents and children, friend and friend, lover and lover and husband and wife.
In the USA, 60% of marriages breakdown and, poignantly and significantly, 80% of second marriages end unhappily. In Britain, the rate of marriage breakdown is over 40% and in Ireland, it is 25% and increasing. Those statistics do not take into account the high percentage of intact unhappy marriages.
It is a real conundrum that if, on the one hand, love is the greatest power on earth – the force that sustains human life – how, on the other hand, is it that so many relationships are a near-certain prescription for unbelievable pain and emotional devastation?
There are hundreds of books out there offering relationship fixes in one form or another. There are also many couple therapists to whom partners in conflict go to mend their relationships. The reality is that book solutions, and very often therapeutic interventions, turn out to be plasters that fall off because the deeper hurts have not been identified and resolved.
In our experience, all the unhappiness in human relationships can be traced back to an unconscious expectation of not being loveable just for who you are. Indeed, not knowing in your blood and bones that you are both loved and lovable in your unique and sacred presence is the source of all intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict.
A person's nature is to love but if their earlier relationships, particularly with parents, did not result in being loved for themselves, they creatively hide away their true and unique self. Not only that, they are wisely slow to trust that another will honour your presence with unconditional love.
Not feeling genuinely held in the arms of love, a person can fall into the grip of fear of re-experiencing the horrors of abandonment.
In order to fill the void, one cleverly creates substitute ways of gaining some semblance of love: being the ever-so-pleasing child, being a perfectionist, being a "winner", being shy and timid, being manipulative and controlling, being sick, being the carer, being difficult, being the rebel, being possessive, being aggressive, being the saint, the "the wonderful one".
Without these substitutes, life would be unliveable, but there is nothing compared to the real experience of being loved and accepted for yourself. As part of this reaction to a lack of unconditional love, a person can keep the fear of it alive so that your substitutes never fully satisfy.
Because of this, there is always an underlying insecurity, discontent, anxiety and fear. These underlying unhappy felt experiences continue until the time comes when you find the emotional safety to face them openly and to address the deeper pain and loss.
When earlier experiences have been conditional in nature, later on, as an adult, when a person feels attracted to another they can often operate from a protective, artificial place rather than an open and real place. Quickly, their fears of not being good enough can colour their interactions with the person of their affections.
They may be passive, hesitant, possessive, jealous, success addicted, a workaholic, irritable, eager to please, reliant on the other to love them, dependent, threatening. Their hunger and thirst for love will intensify their protective responses, inevitably resulting in conflict.
In this scenario, the relationship can quickly become co-dependent as the person's partner is also operating from his or her life experiences and repertoire of protectors. Unless an awareness is developed of the nature of each person’s inner world and the nature of the relationship with self, the relationship is doomed to a conflictual cycle that will escalate.
The resolution to falling in and out of love is to fall in love with yourself so that when you seek intimacy with another, you do so from a conscious place of your own fullness. When you become one with yourself, you are one with life itself, you are conscious of your essential "rightness", beauty, power and unassailable worthiness of love at all times.
This sets you free from the rabid hunger for love and from the fear of seeking and expressing love. A person can experience the uniqueness, nobility, and sacredness of their true self, which does not depend on anyone else’s approval or validation.
Love between two people is essentially about a coming together of two individuals who each hold themselves in love and, from that inner sanctum, unconditionally hold the other.
Once again, the poet Rilke puts it well: "Marriage consists in this, where each appoints the other the guardian of their solitude."
For any person who did not feel unconditionally loved as a child, to dare feel and express his or her lovability is a monumental task because of the fear that the earlier rejections experienced will happen again – monumental but entirely possible within the context of safe emotional holding.
The pain and conflict between people are like flags of distress that try to draw attention to a deeper reality – the fear, even terror, of revealing your lovability. When these flags of distress are recognised for what they are, and are responded to with loving, kind query, then there is the possibility of a breakthrough for each partner to breakthrough to an engagement and marriage with self. If and when such intimacy with self emerges, then the relationship between the two partners thrives.
The initial action is to find somebody who offers you unconditionally loving care. Finding such a relationship – of unconditional love – can be elusive. Sometimes, there is a need to seek such a relationship with a therapist.
Whatever it takes, it is in the experience of unconditionally loving care that enables true love for self and another ultimately to emerge.
About the authors
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker. He began his career as a Clinical Psychologist and since 1990 has been working in private practice in Ireland, working with an array of individuals and groups.
Dr. Helen Ruddle is a Psychologist, Counsellor and Author. Presently her work primarily is with individuals in private practice along with university-level programme development and authorship of books.
Their new book, Breakthrough: The Power of the Interrupted Relationship, is the basis for this article and provides the reader with the tools to curate a positive relationship with themselves and any future others.