Unknown Love

Scott, I have been in an unhappy marriage for [a number of years]. My wife is a very giving person and has made many sacrifices to be with me. Many of our problems come from the fact that she expects and demands that I give her the same emotional energy in return. When I don�t return this energy, as is often the case, she becomes frustrated and things sour.

Though we have been through some difficult and unhappy times, we have both tried very hard to make our relationship “work” through counseling and changing behaviors. Some of this may represent “clinging” to security, however, I don�t believe that is what keeps me in the relationship. Neither of us have made a quest for security a high priority in our lives.

For reasons that may have a lot to do with my upbringing, I have a deep respect for the bond of marriage. As you know, life serves up problems and people change through time. I feel that one of the most important things to experience in life is the ability to maintain and nurture a happy marriage. Perhaps this sounds very na�ve in this age of serial marriage.

I am writing to you Scott, not really to ask you what to do, but rather to help me understand if what I am striving for is based on “reality” or some learned set of societal rules. My feeling toward my wife over the past year have been nebulous. I have felt no overwhelming feelings of love and often I don�t even feel close to her. I think what keeps me going with this, besides shear inertia, is a feeling that I should be able to give myself to someone and make them feel cared for. I don�t want to give up on this hope, however, I also do not feel it fair to put either of us through this pain much longer. Perhaps I am not trying hard enough to give and perhaps I am trying too hard or in the wrong way�?

Thank you for writing.

It always comes down to “What do you really want?” and is that possible? Are you really interested in this person? It may seem like a stark question, but your situation begs the asking of it, does it not? Is there some secret “something else” that you are preoccupied with, that distracts you from giving her full attention when you are with her? You have to be unflinchingly honest with yourself on this, without rationalization or self condemnation. Otherwise, as you avoid the truth of it, the gnawing agony continues and the hurt deepens, as you have already seen.

As long as I am distracted by how or what I should be, or how or what she should be, or how or what the marriage or relationship should be, I will not be able to see her, or myself, clearly, nor will I be able to see anything as it truly is. And it is a simple, obvious, and easily verifiable fact that we cannot love someone that we are not even aware of.

The flavor of true love is one of joy, of freedom. If it does not have that taste, then it is simply not love — it is something else. Regardless of what it is called, relationship, for most, is exceedingly complex and difficult, an ongoing grating of conflicting desires. If there is not an easy flow of joy and affection, of generosity and gratitude, of lightheartedness, compassion, humility, and honesty, then what is the point in pretending, or hoping, or wishing things were different? What is, as the expression goes, simply is.

As long as I think I know who my lover or my spouse is, then my perception of her will be shaped by how I want her to be, and how she is not really like that. The conflict is built into the motive. Perhaps she feels the same way about me as well, and the whole thing is expectant, frustrating, confusing, and eventually numbing. That is not relationship, that is usury, without even the intelligence of my admitting what it really is.

If you want to perceive her clearly, you have to drop all vested interests in her and stop imagining you know anything about her at all. In other words, you have to be willing to see her as she actually is: her sensitivities, her joys and sorrows, her hopes, fears and worries, her frustrations and her loneliness, as well as her angry responses. It may surprise or shock you, and it may break your heart, but it has to be done. There is no other way.

If she wishes to see you clearly, then she has to do the same. If either of you refuses to do this, or hedges on it, then I’m afraid you have nothing to work with. Perception of each other that is shaped by memory and motive, by hope and desire, by frustration and sadness, will destroy any possibility of actually understanding and caring for each other. So why continue to nurse the pretense?

If you are both willing to see yourselves and each other as you actually are, then any number of things may be possible. None of these can be neatly or comfortably fitted into labels, images or concepts of “marriage” or “relationship” or even “love.”

This is the harsh and wonderful truth. In your willingness to face it, there may disillusionment, despair, sorrow, freedom, and great joy. It’s completely up to you.

-Your own Self-

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