Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Mars/Venus: There is no love like that of a parent for a child. Really.

I have a couple of friends/coworkers having difficulties in their relationships with their boyfriends and husbands. As each has told me their particular issues, I have realized that they all share the same theme: the guy equates unconditional love with unconditional approval. So every time he does something inappropriate or inconsiderate and is called on it, it precipitates a relationship near-meltdown based on him feeling "never good enough" or "unloved." I wonder how universal this issue is out there?

One of the hallmarks of an adult relationship is divesting yourself of the need to be parented by your mate. Each of us has our first relationship with a member of the opposite sex through our parents. My early relationships, looking back, were definitely defined by how I related to my dad and what my understanding of a man's love should be, based on what I experienced growing up as a daughter, ie, a man will always protect me and will never hurt me and will think I am sunshine and lollipops incarnate. Same with men. Their first understanding of women comes through their mother, and therefore understandably, their definition of being loved by a female subconsciously mirrors that relationship.

For guys, your mom is probably the only woman in the world who will most likely not tell you that you are acting like a complete and embarrassing ingrate. She will not demand that you be better than you are because she already thinks you hang the moon. She will not say to you, "That is unacceptable and you know better" because, again, she is your mom and sees you through very particular eyes. That is why moms exist. We should all be lucky enough to have (and be) moms who love our sons like that.

However, when a guy with a loving mother gets into a relationship, he can sometimes subconsciously expect you to be like his mom, since that was his first female relationship. So any time you expect more of him or tell him he's behaving like a #$%^@ or say anything that sounds like you disapprove of him as a person, he flips out and thinks he can't ever do anything right and takes the relationship into a chaotic death spiral. Why? Because he is craving the Mommy Love, that intertwining of unconditional love and approval that only a mother can give--but that wives and girlfriends cannot.

I once read a Dr. Phil article (I know he's a moron, but I liked this one bit of advice) where he cautioned women to speak to the men in their lives carefully. He understood that when a woman says, "You are acting like a jerk" what she is saying is, "I love you more than I can say, and that is why I am demanding that you act like the man I know you can be." He pointed out, however, that what men hear is, "You are flawed and not good enough the way you are." His advice was always to discuss behavior and not character with a man that you love. I think it is good advice--for men and women both.

The key to having a successful, long-term and truly rewarding relationship is letting your wife/girlfriend off the hook of having to love you like your mom. Or, just as equally for women, letting your husband fail you sometimes, letting him let you down and not having that have to mean that he must not love you enough. Mommies and Daddies love/approve of you unconditionally. Wives and husbands can't and don't. They are two different kinds of love, and expecting to be parented by a partner is unfair and immature. Your wife can't love you like your mom, so stop holding her to those standards. Your wife/husband can love you equally or more in a different way than your parents, but s/he cannot love you to those standards. Guys who subconsciously desire mommy love from their girlfriends end up killing what may be a solid relationship because they equate any expression of "disapproval" as somehow being incompatible with deep, deep love. Which, of course, is a mystery to women because we DEFINE deep, deep love as not letting your man knuckle-drag his way through life. We see them as the wonderful people they are as well as the wonderful people they can be, when what they see is us trying to "improve" them, which feeds the belief that we don't love them just as they are.

Relationships get into trouble when one party has not yet learned that deep, abiding romantic love does not equal blind approval. Nor does blind approval equal romantic love. They are two separate things--and more often than not--are of necessity mutually exclusive. How can someone say that she loves you truly and just be fine with everything you do no matter how selfish or unthinking?

In my opinion, if a woman thinks your shit don't stink, it means she doesn't care to really know you. The true joy of a lasting relationship is being fully aware of your partner's stink and loving him or her not in spite of, but because of, it. I know my own shit stinks, and I feel blessed and lucky every day that I am loved regardless.

These feelings are at the core of so much infidelity if you think about it. People cheat because they meet someone who "understands" them and "gets" them in a way their spouse or partner seemingly does not. The cheater basks in the glow of all the hallmarks of early-stage relationships where everything about each other is wonderful and awesome and swoony. The cheater feels happy to finally be "approved of." Unfortunately, after ruining the previous, wonderful relationship and now spending nights alone to ponder how it all went so wrong, if the cheater is honest, they know that the approval of the affair only occurred because that person didn't know you well enough to start calling you on your bad behavior. And, furthermore, if you are honest about the people you cheated with, you know that they would have been LONG GONE at the first whiff of your stink.

So what's my point? I hope the three different yet similar guys in each of the struggling relationships lets his wife/girlfriend off the hook of having to love him like a parent. And I hope each of the women finds a way to speak to the men so they know they are always loved, even if not always found charming.


Anonymous said...

I am now happily married, but this post describes almost every man I dated throughout college and immediately after. Fantastic insight, well expressed.

Anonymous said...

This post does not describe the mother I have known the most.