The short reason is that I’ve just witnessed a break-up of a good, sweet, young couple and I feel really sorry for them. And through the years I’ve known long-married couples who’ve ended up in messy splits. Some relationships are doomed from the start – those people that hook-up for the wrong reasons, thinking that it’s love when it’s something much less. But you have to wonder about relationships that last for years and years, only to crumble and leave nothing but bitterness.
I think the most common reason relationships fail is because of the wrong notion of what love is.
The Road Less Traveled was published in 1978. It’s a book written by American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck and it’s essentially about achieving fulfillment in life. It took me awhile to finish it, as it can get pretty heavy in places, and Peck sometimes writes as if he’s recording medical notes. But it was well worth the effort. The book starts with the line: ”Life is difficult”. Peck says that a lot of the frustration in life lies in the wrong assumption that life must be easy and problem-free. If we accept that life is all about problems and that we should learn to get used to overcoming them despite the pain and effort involved, then we start to find more contentment and satisfaction in living. A big part of the book talks about love and Peck talks about the misconception of equating romantic love with true love.
He says that a better term for what we call romantic love is ‘cathexis’. The dictionary definition of cathect is: to invest emotional energy in (a person, an object, or idea). Cathexis explains why we say that we love a pet, or we love an actor, or a singer. There is a certain joy we feel when we play and care for our pets and it reciprocates with what seems to be gratefulness. Fans scream because they cannot resist the excitement that bubbles up when they see a favorite actor or singer. It’s also the same thing when we say that we love, for instance, a hobby. Words like pleasure, passion, good vibes, and happiness come into play. We give it time, attention, and money because it gives us a good feeling and it leaves us satisfied.
It’s essentially the same with romantic love. Romantic love is what we see in the movies. Romantic love proposes that each of one of us has a destined partner and that should we meet, we would live happily ever after. If you like tuning in to Discovery or the science channels on TV, you’ll know that attraction has been reduced to terms such as facial symmetry and body part ratios and that it’s actual hormones or chemicals in the body that trigger blood rush and light-headedness and giddiness and all that. Cathexis is the honeymoon, the period of swooning, the inseparableness, the whirlwind romance.
But as anyone who has been in any significant relationship knows, cathexis is only temporary. It goes away. It can be 9 weeks, 6 months – it’s not a question of if it will go away, it’s just a question of when it’s going away. But while cathexis is not love, it should be there to allow two people to be close to each other. True love kicks in after cathexis. Love is not a feeling. Love is an act. It is a conscious decision to do something for another person. ”Love is as love does.”
What does it mean, that love is a conscious decision? Picture a couple who are in a situation where it’s difficult for them to find a common time to see each other. Perhaps work demands that they go on different shifts or another’s career workload will require much attention for a couple of months. Couples who want the relationship to work will set aside a common time to spend with each other. They will be creative – they might leave video messages or use skype or do live video. The act of resisting the temptation to be with someone else who is physically available when your partner isn’t, is a conscious decision dictated by your capacity for loving the other person.
Some will say that it’s hard to resist temptation and that since we are only human, we are frail and prone to failure. Peck also talks about discipline. He says discipline has four aspects:
- Delaying Gratification – essentially sacrificing present comfort for future gains
- Acceptance of Responsibility - be responsible for one’s decisions (don’t say the alcohol did it)
- Dedication to Truth – honesty, in word and deed
- Balancing – handling conflicting needs
So yes, I agree that as humans, we are imperfect. But because we ARE thinking humans, we also have the capacity to overcome our weaknesses through discipline. And that’s my main objection when someone says that he or she couldn’t help but be attracted to another.
People in long relationships have often said that they fall in love over and over again. I believe that’s true. Cathexis does come back again and again, but this time it’s no longer just a result of random physical attraction, but rather a result of a conscious effort to love.
So people, stop saying the spark is no longer there. Make it spark. Let it burn. And keep it aflame. And to quote Gary Granada, ”…lilipad ang saranggola sa ulan.”