“To love is to suffer, therefore, in order not to suffer one must not love, but then one suffers from not loving, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer...” once again, Woody Allen captures a universal paradox. Our most important need is connection and, yet, it is the source of most of our pain. We often pick partners because they have qualities or a quality that we don’t have. I remember in graduate school the professor saying we “marry our worst nightmare.” So we try to change the very characteristic that attracted us in the first place. “If only you were more like me we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Every time I write an article about love and relationships I feel that I have add the disclaimer that my longest relationship has been with my bearded collies. In fact, I wrote my Masters’ Thesis on the psychological benefits of growing up with a dog. I found that having a dog gave you more confidence in your own ability to cope with life’s challenges - it’s called ego strength. It’s not just the unconditional love (which you can only get from a pet or before age 4), I think, it’s the feeling of being listened to - I’m important enough!
M. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Traveled” says the work of love is attention and listening is one of the main ways we show attention. Sadly, often what passes for communication is not talking and listening but talking and waiting. Waiting to make your point or dispute the other’s so we don’t really hear what’s being said and until someone feels heard they will continue to try to make their point. Virginia Satir, one of the icons of family therapy, said all communication are “validate me” messages. Do you see the world I see? Not possible, but what is vital is “do you see that I see the world the way I do?
Our only hope for connection can come if we feel safe enough to be our authentic selves. If we live for the approval of others we always need to be somebody’s something so we get our identity from others. With age we lose so many of our roles that we must learn to enjoy our own company or we experience loneliness rather than solitude. Enjoying solitude requires the belief that we are loveable and positive self-talk for reinforcement. Once again we are reminded that the most important communication, outside of prayer, is the conversations we have with ourselves.