The topic of love has been the inspiration for some of the greatest works of literature, music, theatre, film, television, and art in the world. Love is at the root of some of the most memorable moments of history, and while the types of love vary widely, it is a feeling that we all inherently seek and naturally desire.
Monica Berg is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, friend, cardio enthusiast & change junkie. As Chief Communications Officer for Kabbalah Centre International she is informed by her many years of kabbalistic study, as well as her own personal life experiences. She believes that love is not something we need to find, accumulate, or protect. It is something that we inherently possess, and the only way to receive it fully is to give it away. Every person is worthy of being loved, and every relationship has the potential to bring lasting fulfillment. Monica’s new book Rethink Love is now available and she stopped by to share an excerpt with 24Life.
Romantic relationships, I’m willing to bet, are one of the most talked-about and studied aspects of love. A simple google search for “romantic love” results in an endless stream of podcasts, articles, and books about how to find a relationship or keep a relationship or leave a relationship. There has never been a time where information about love and relationships is more immediate yet finding a partner is harder than ever.
In counseling singles and couples alike, I have seen the challenges and difficulties that so many people face when it comes to relationships. When we meet someone new, and then enter into a commitment with someone we aren’t just bringing ourselves—we’re bringing with our stories, illusions, and expectations— many of which we might not even be aware of. Couple that with being on our “best” behavior at the beginning of a relationship, and we have a recipe for a less-than genuine start.
This is why I am encouraging everyone to rethink love in every way. Here is a chapter from Rethink Love.
The Cinderella Syndrome
Love is one of the most widely covered topics in the world, and yet, surprisingly, it’s also one of the most misunderstood. That’s because we see so many distorted images of love in song and verse, in novels and on-screen romance. After all the dramatic obstacles have been overcome, the camera zooms out, the violins come up, and the couple walks off together into an idyllic sunset. But what happens after the credits roll?
What we see in the movies is what I’ll identify as romantic love—a passionate attachment between two people, a dizzy the-room-is-spinning kind of feeling that fills the stomach with excitement and butterflies. We hear that falling in love is about “following our heart, not our mind,” and that love itself is magical and beyond reason. But if it is really love that we feel, we feel it for a reason; that reason may not be conscious or logical, but it does exist. However, love that is solely based on feelings is a form of love that cannot last. Just as positive emotions are insufficient for lasting happiness, so, too, are strong feelings insufficient to sustain love.
Consider this: we put ourselves through every imaginable uncomfortable situation to meet The One: online dating, double dating, blind dating (oh, the horror). Eventually, through great effort, we do meet The One, and we’ve been led to believe that we will live “happily ever after.” The problem is that most movies are about where love begins. It’s the “living-happily- ever-after” part that poses the greatest challenge. It’s after “the sunset” when difficulties often arise.
When it comes to relationships and marriage, most of us hold cherished illusions that true love will resolve all of our problems and take away all our insecurities. We believe the right person could even provide enough love for both of us. We need to dispel this notion that our relationships can transport us anywhere, whether it’s a white-picket fence in the suburbs or a house in Beverly Hills. The idea of romance and marriage as a ticket to bliss is a total fallacy.
I’ve counseled numerous couples over the years—some who have been married as little as a month, some a year, and others for decades—all of whom find themselves considering why they signed up for marriage in the first place, or why they have stayed married as long as they have. “What was I thinking?” is a common refrain. Even though marriage can be difficult, this question still surprises me. I respond with questions of my own. “What did you think it would be? What did you expect? What did you look for going into the relationship? How did you feel about your partner? What do you think happened to those feelings?”
Americans place a high value on marriage. It holds a central place in our dreams. But 40- 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce.36 Perhaps this is because we have a consumer mindset that can seep into our romantic lives. We end up believing that there’s a transactional aspect of marriage, where we’re constantly looking for what we’re getting from the relationship. It’s the customer versus the provider mentality. We have the perception that marriage is all about me, for meeting MY needs, not about what I do, but about how it makes me feel. I deserve better than I’m getting. Can anyone say sense of entitlement?
Often we assign others to be something in our life that they never asked to be, and probably don’t want to be. It wasn’t a responsibility that we should have given them in the first place. An unrealistic expectation looks something like this common scenario: A wife has been home all day with the kids, and just as her patience is wearing thin, she has a run-in with her teenage son. She feels as if she didn’t handle the situation well, and she wants her husband’s reassurance and support the second he walks in the door. She unrealistically expects him to be 100% available to her from that moment on. After all, she’s done the heavy lifting all day with the children, and now it’s his turn. She isn’t looking for support from her husband in that moment. She’s looking for a superhero to come to the rescue.
A better approach would be to consider that maybe her husband had his own rough day. He needs her support as well, and is desperate for a few moments to unwind and decompress. An alternative approach to get his help would be to call him on his way home and give him the heads up about the situation and her needs. This is how we begin to manage our unrealistic expectations. No one can be all the things we expect them to be. If you don’t appoint, you won’t be disappointed.
We have the tendency in our culture to treat friendships and life partners as a commodity, or an investment. We put something in with the expectation that we’ll get something out. Whenwe don’t get what we expected, the disappointment we feel inevitably feels very personal, so we blame our partners for our unhappiness. In many relationships, there’s a dynamic where one wants more from the other.
We fall victim to the illusion that if this person is “the one” for me, our relationship is going to be problem-free. This is not realistic. No relationship is without tension. In the end, the problems we often have in relationships are less because we’re with the wrong person, and more because of our issues we’ve failed to resolve.
Every relationship goes through difficulties. Just look at Romeo and Juliet. Or go back even further to biblical times. Abraham and Sara had trouble conceiving. Rebecca and Isaac had a very negative child. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but ended up marrying her sister Leah and had to wait seven years to marry Rachel. (If you’re a man reading this, two wives may not sound like such a bad thing.)
Illusions burden love with unrealistic expectations. Women in particular fall victim to the “Cinderella Syndrome,” believing that Prince Charming will suddenly appear and take away all of their problems, allowing them to live happily-ever-after. Searching for your Prince Charming (or trophy wife) is based on an illusion and illusions never last. Love is no shortcut to happiness, and marriage is no seat on the train to happily-ever-after. People in their 30s often say that what they want out of a relationship now is different than what they wanted in their 20s. Why? Because in the intervening years they have taken the time to learn about themselves. Life experience has (hopefully) given them a far deeper understanding of what matters to them.
As one of three sisters, we all grew up with the idea that we would find someone who would take away our feelings of lack and insecurity. I was searching for someone who would love me enough for both of us. My parents put great emphasis on marriage and on finding the right man, far more than they did on our studies or careers. There was an implication that your fate was in the hands of the person you chose to marry.
1960s hit singer Jimmy Soul’s philosophy on love was, “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife.”37 My parents’ philosophy was, “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, find a good provider who’s Jewish, successful, and from a good family.” I know, I know: it doesn’t sound like my parents had much confidence in their daughters’ ability to care for themselves without significant help.
Many of us are unaware of our false narratives, but as soon as you bring awareness to them, it is difficult for them to endure. Let’s use this example of the belief that a partner will make you happy and fulfilled. Is this something you can picture yourself repeating to your daughter or even your younger self? Imagine your daughter growing up and passing on these pearls of wisdom: “But my Mom and Dad always said that a husband can fix everything!”
When I married Michael, I was convinced that I would magically be transported to a higher spiritual plane because he had been on a spiritual path since before he could read. I wasn’t aware of my illusion until years into the marriage. Luckily, this wasn’t a particularly damaging or problematic illusion, because it had to do with my own spiritual quest. It didn’t skew who Michael was. I didn’t have an illusion about who I married, but an illusion about who I would be in the marriage.
For many individuals, their illusions have been more destructive:
Illusion: Getting married will make my life complete.
Many have the illusion that they will be totally fulfilled by newfound love. Women, in particular, tend to subscribe to the idea that marriage is a destination, an achievement to be ticked off a list of life goals and that once married, things will be perfect. I came across this humorous line: “He offered her the world, and she said, ‘No thanks, I already have my own.'” The joke underscores the point that we should all be striving for our own full, independent, rich life. Marriage cannot fill that order, at least not on its own. This illusion is particularly unfair to men; why should one person be responsible for sustaining a world for two?
Illusion: It will always be romantic.
Romance is the hallmark of new love; that’s part of the excitement. Both people in the relationship are hyper-focused in the beginning on pleasing each other, during the chase and excitement of the novelty. Both get used to this level of attention, and then when inevitably, as it must, energy shifts, they feel abandoned. Both partners end up losing appreciation for their partner and the relationship and therefore spend less time focusing on how to make each other feel special. Romance isn’t just receiving flowers every Valentine’s Day, or candlelight dinners.
Romance is sparked by the more subtle things we tend to disregard when we’re in a relationship for a long time, such as basic hygiene, and thoughtfulness toward your partner’s desires.
35 Deford, Deborah, editor. Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions from America’s Most Popular Magazine. Reader’s Digest, 1997.
36 “Marriage and Divorce.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/divorce/.
37 Soul, Jimmy. If You Wanna Be Happy: the Very Best of Jimmy Soul.
Credits: Stocksy, Studio Firma, Monica Berg