To answer and understand this question, we must attempt to figure out what love is. All of human emotions can be reduced to two secondary emotions, which in turn can be reduced to one primary emotion. The two secondary emotions are – Aversion and Craving. We are averse to things that we do not like and we crave for those things that bring us pleasure. Cravings are a way to enlarge yourself – to become complete – to grow. Aversions are a way of protecting oneself from harm. Greed comes from craving. Hate from aversion. Jealousy from cravings. Spite from aversion. However, both cravings and aversion are born out the primal human emotion – fear. Why fear? Because we crave for something because we feel we need to be complete. Deep down we experience a constant ‘lack’ and this feeling is an emptiness, a fear of not being complete, of losing oneself. If our tummy was full, we would scarcely crave for more food. We say enough. The same with aversions. We are averse to people, things and situations because they will take something away from us. Here we fear something will reduce us.
The so called love that is characteristic of most human relationships is actually a craving. Remember the intense emotion you felt for someone typically at the beginning of a relationship? We feel we cannot live without that person, we feel elevated and in the sky. This is the mind hijacking the system and telling us that we are now somehow ‘complete’. What is portrayed as romantic love is actually an intense attachment born out of insecurity. And this is the root cause of all relationship problems. Each partner being unfulfilled, projects one’s sense of completion on the other, with the expectation of being fulfilled. This is a foolhardy attempt. And will never work. This is why, the greater the intensity of “love”, the greater the pain and misery in the relationship. All we need to do is look around. The initial euphoria never lasts.
This of course does not mean that one needs to protect oneself from ‘falling in love’ i.e. have this euphoria. Not at all. One could engage in this with the full awareness that, this too shall pass. The interesting thing here though, is why do we experience this euphoria? This is born out of the egoic mind’s need to complete itself. Remember, being who we are – with all our positives and negatives – we do not feel complete. The egoic mind therefore seeks out something that is unique – something that it is not – its opposite. This attraction to something radically diverse is natural. The ego wants to fulfill itself by bringing something that it is not. Seldom do we ‘fall in love’ i.e. get madly attracted to people like us. And that is the beginning of misery.
Naturally, the people we get attracted to are unlike us in many regards. And any long-term relationship is based on commonality. Commonalities of values, behaviors, likes and dislikes, opinions, culture and so on. Similarity is a greater indicator of the success of a relationship as opposed to intensity of emotion. Unfortunately, today we choose our partners based on “how much we love the other” as opposed to “are we really compatible?”. A compatible relationship may be banal, even boring to some extent. But in the long run, you need a companion that understands you, empathizes with you and stands by you. People who are unlike us, very rarely can empathize with us, given that we are different. It needs a great deal of maturity and understanding to empathize with people who are radically unlike you. Just think of it this way – you are a sober, soft and quiet person and you have as your partner an extremely gregarious loud mouth chatterbox. The opposing nature causes such irritation in you that it almost becomes impossible to be empathetic. And thus begins problems in the relationship.
What then is the way out?
Understand that it is normal to get attracted to people who are unlike us – even the exact opposite. That is the ego’s way of bringing in something into itself – that which it is not. Accept it and do not fight this. Witness the emotions change over time. Usually after four to six months, the false facades of both partners begin to drop off. What was “cute and quixotic” now becomes “irritating and abominable”. Accept this. At this point, it is crucial not to get “attached”. See the other as they are, not as you wish them to be. If you can live with these characteristics for the rest of your life, then you should go ahead. If not, break up and move on. You would be better off investing your time and energy elsewhere.
But what if you are already in a relationship where these problems are rife and ripe? Understand that no amount of romantic love will give you a permanent state of completion. It simply can’t. In fact, nothing externally – no situation, position, person, thing, event – NOTHING – can complete you. It’s not in the nature of the world to complete you. Accept this deeply and fundamentally. If not, life will keep hitting you hard until you learn. Either you trudge towards your grave fighting with life – expecting against all odds that something, someday will bring you completion. Or you let that expectation go and realize that it is only you and you alone that can bring that sense of satisfaction to you. This is a fundamental shift in the direction of energy. In the former, we expect external things to be according to the way we see fit – because then and only then we can be happy. This is a attitude of demand. The energy is supposed to come into us – from the world. The other, wiser way is to say “This is how things are. These are my constraints. Now how can I bring myself to the best of my abilities?”.
Once we fully accept the other and stop demanding them to be in certain ways, we can start exploring how we can engage meaningfully with the other. How can we bring our best to this relationship, given the constraints of the other. Think of it like this. You are in a wheelchair. Is your life destroyed? No! What can I do, given my condition? I think Stephen Hawking showed us what can be possible despite any limitation. The same with constraints in relationships. How can you bring yourself best to the relationship, despite the other having their quirks? This is the question that we need to ask ourselves.
But there is a catch. It can never be a one way relationship. Espousing such an attitude is needed from both partners. There has to be a willingness to learn, to improve and grow. There has to be an attitude of vulnerability. The greatest hindrance to a mutually loving relationship is the ego. Look at two examples:
Woman: “Hey what you said upset me. I felt hurt and disappointed”
Man: “What do you mean? I never meant it like that. I can’t help if you always take things that way. You are far too sensitive. Grow up”
Woman: “Hey what you said upset me. I felt hurt and disappointed”
Man: “Really? What happened? Come here. Sit down and tell me. I am sorry it came out this way. My intention is never to hurt you, you know that right?”
As is evident, the second example shows an openness to learn, to understand, to empathize. This is crucial to any relationship, but especially so to those relationship that have been formed with an intense attraction. This type of communication calls for a diminished ego and a heightened self-awareness of one’s emotions, thoughts. Both partners, need to want to grow. Both partners need to accept they are not complete and they make mistakes. If ever you find yourself in a defend – attack mode, realize that you have strayed away from example 2. you are caught up in a egoic war of trying to defend your own point of view. This leads to mutual destruction.
To conclude, understand that we will fall madly in love for precisely the wrong person. Accept the euphoric phase and even enjoy it playfully. When true colours are revealed, you might want to reassess whether the relationship is right for you. If you still want to go ahead only one thing will help overcome differences – non-egoic communication, that is, being open and vulnerable to the other about what one is feeling, thinking and one’s own mistakes and frailties. If either you or your partner displays any form of defense or attack – know this is the ego in full display. This is a sure shot path to misery. Avoid this at all costs.