Having read many books on relationships I realised that much of the information was conflicting and much of the advice was manipulative. Then I hit on the idea that the reason that the advice was conflicting is that they were talking about different types of relationships
Once I realised this, I used the idea of the continuum that I had adopted in the continuum of interpersonal skills model* to help interpret love relationships.
The first levels of love that I came up with on the continuum were ‘impoverished love’ and ‘romantic love’, which I had experienced in my life but did not want to experience again.
I had grown out of drama filled impoverished relationships and I realised that I had ‘done’ romantic relationships – having tried the ‘pedestal’ position and the corresponding fall off it. I didn’t want to go here again.
From my research into projection, I also worked out that the best way to get yourself into a romantic relationship is basically to just ‘shut up’ and allow the other person to project their positive feelings on to you. I realised that I no longer wanted romantic love since it is transient and illusory – and I am a ‘very real’ person, who is likely to burst any romantic bubble for anyone who has projected his feelings on to me.
The continuum also helped me to understand why I did not want or was not able to achieve a romantic love relationship. This is because romantic love relies on illusion. If you are not prepared to be the subject of illusion or in turn allow yourself to only see the positive ‘rose tinted spectacles’ version of another human being you are unlikely to find yourself in a romantic love relationship.
When I was describing my emerging ‘Continuum of Love’ approach to a colleague and friend she was unconvinced that a continuum of love existed. She said that she knew lots of couples, who had got together, without the intense feelings associated with romantic love. This made me realise that there was another level of relationships which either started out as a teamwork relationship or progressed onto teamwork when the initial flush of romance had faded.
One of the characteristics of the teamwork approach is the distribution of resources and services. In his book the Mating Game, Allan Pease suggests that whether couples realise it or not, men tend to want services, for example sex and ironing and women tend to want resources – can their partner support them and the children from a relationship?
Teamwork love is about living the everyday routine of life and hoping that the allocation of resources and services is perceived to be fair and ‘good enough’ for them with sufficient difference and excitement thrown in to prevent the relationship from becoming boring.
I can remember a time shortly before my marriage ended, even before events overtook me, when I was chatting to a friend and said ‘I don’t know what I am getting out of this marriage’. For me the sense of balance in the distribution of resources and services had slipped from one that was reasonably fair to one that most definitely was not equitable. It doesn’t even matter who really does what in the relationship. The most important thing in relationships is the perceived fairness of the roles and contribution.
To be honest when thinking about relationships although I knew I wanted a partner I really wasn’t that interested in teamwork love because during my marriage I had been there and done that too. It’s not that exciting. As one of my clients (who had deliberately chosen her partner because his skill set was different from hers) said, ‘yes it becomes about who puts the bins out’.
Now having placed impoverished love, romantic love and teamwork love on the continuum I became intrigued about what might lay beyond these types of love on the relationships continuum. In his book ‘Essays in Love’ Alain de Botton suggests that what lies beyond romantic love is something he calls ‘mature love’.
The first thing I realised was that although there are lots of films, songs, poetry, novels and self help books about impoverished and romantic love, there is virtually nothing at all on what Alain de Botton calls ‘mature love’ which might be a candidate to be further up the continuum of love.
Although he suggests that immature (or romantic love) is ‘a story of chaotic lurching between idealization and disappointment, an unstable state where feelings of ecstasy and beatitude are combined with impressions of drowning and fatal nausea where the sense that one has finally found ‘the answer’ comes together with a feeling that one has never been so lost’
He still clearly chooses this form of love over mature love on the grounds that ‘once we refuse to compromise we are on the road to some kind of cataclysm’.
This is no surprise since he describes mature love as:
‘The philosophy of mature love is marked by an active awareness of the good and bad within each person, it is full of temperance, it resists idealization, it is free of jealousy, masochism or obsession, it is a form of friendship with a sexual dimension, it is pleasant, peaceful, and reciprocated (and perhaps explains why most people who have known the wilder shores of desire would refuse its painlessness the title of love).
I didn’t fancy something that sounded so boring either. But I knew that I did not want teamwork love, romantic love or impoverished love. So I started from the premise that there must be a love that lies higher up the continuum of love and became intrigued to know what might be
Talking about the transition from infatuation to love Michael Foley in ‘The Age of Absurdity’ says:
‘There are not many such love stories. One is Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness” in which a couple falls madly in love, marries and enjoys a happy life of intimate suppers, music and laughter’.
According to Foley’s summary of the plot, this happy state does not come easily but was the result of the wife overcoming depression and anger, once her infatuation with her husband had worn off. After trying unsuccessfully to fill the void in her life with movement, excitement and danger, she finally confesses her feelings to her husband. He has anticipated and understood her concerns and explains that there is no alternative to working through the experience and says;
‘All of us…. must live through all life’s nonsense in order to return to life itself; it’s no good taking someone else’s word for it’.
Of the change in her relationship the wife says “From that day my romance with my husband was over; the old feeling became a dear, irrevocable memory, but my new feeling of love for my children and for the father of my children laid the beginning of another but different happy life”.
Like Foley, I found very few examples of any love that felt authentic and attractive until I came across ‘Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress’ as told by Michael Drury.
In this little book first published in 1966 Drury tells in poetic detail the story of an affair between a mistress and an eminent man, which lasted for almost 30 years.
I have chosen a number of quotations from the book to provide a flavour of her experience:
‘I felt almost put to school on a course I had signed up for long ago but had not found the place where it was held’.
‘Some intellectual mastery is fundamental to lasting love because it is fundamental to personality, and it is at least difficult to love a non-person.
‘In the nature of things, we meet and marry long before we are full-scale identities, but that is no excuse for staying incomplete. We love most those who make us fulfil whatever greatness lies in us, not those who induce us to resign it’
‘Love is a creative tension where each is whole, yet each is more because of the other’
I am not advocating becoming a mistress, or taking a mistress, but these are some of the messages I took from the book on how to have an interesting, creative and loving relationship with yourself and others. The mistress suggests that an evolving relationship involves:
- Moving towards wholeness
- Valuing yourself as a creative being
- Having adventure in your life
- Not being contained by rigid structures and routines
- Accepting yourself and others
- Not having a rigid template about how the relationship should look
Once I had redefined love relationships in a way that made it sound interesting and dynamic, I realised that in order to have the kind of evolving love I was looking for, I would have to give up many of the misconceptions about what love is and learn how to love and accept, both myself and others. So a very central theme in this book became:
To develop the beliefs and learn the skills of accepting yourself and learning how to love and accept love.
As a result of this realisation I added the stage of ‘accepting love’ onto the continuum between teamwork love and evolving love.
As anyone knows it is easier to say that you need to love yourself than actually do it, so this book also became an exploration about learning how to love and accept yourself in order to be able to love and accept others. So in the end the stages on the continuum of love became impoverished love, romantic love, teamwork love, accepting love and finally evolving love.
The completed continuum helped me to make sense of and diagnose my own relationship history and when I shared it with hundreds of others, both male and female, it was clear that the model also helped them to make sense of their relationship histories. I was also fortunate to observe that this knowledge enabled them to make better and much more informed decisions about their future relationships
I will now go on to explain the continuum of love in more detail in the next chapters of this book.
See you on the other side…….
With thanks to Stella Pitman and Jo Grant for permission to use their photographs
* The Continuum of Interpersonal Skills is the underlying model in the People Skills Revolution and the People Skills Revolution Handbook
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