After seven years of marriage Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon and movie star Ryan Phillippe have called it quits.
How could this be? Just months ago in her Oscar acceptance speech, Reese Witherspoon thanked her beloved husband, and now they’re divorcing. Wasn’t this a fairy tale marriage?
When people are looking for a partner, some of the characteristics they most commonly seek include:
- Good looks
- Sexual appeal
- Financial stability
- Sense of humor
- Ability to have fun
Didn’t Ryan and Reese have all those in spades? So what could possibly have gone wrong?
It’s virtually certain that their marriage—like almost all marriages—was doomed from the very beginning, from the word “hello,” not the words “I do.” Why?
In order to be happy, what we all want more than anything else is to feel loved. Our souls require feeling loved in just as real a way as our bodies require air and food.
A NEW DEFINITION OF LOVE: REAL LOVE
But not just any kind of love will do. The only kind of love that can fill us up and make us whole emotionally is Real Love.
Real Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves.
It’s also Real Love when other people care about our happiness unconditionally. With Real Love, people are not disappointed or angry when we make our foolish mistakes, when we don’t do what they want, or even when we inconvenience them personally.
Sadly, few of us have sufficiently received or given Real Love. From the time we were small children, we observed that when we didn’t fight with our sisters, didn’t make too much noise in the car, got good grades, and were otherwise obedient and cooperative, our parents and others smiled at us, patted our heads, and spoke kindly. With their words and behavior, they told us what good boys and girls we were, and we felt loved.
But what happened when we did fight with our sisters, made too much noise, got bad grades, and dragged mud across the clean living room carpet? Did people smile at us then or speak gentle, loving words? No—they frowned, sighed with disappointment, and often spoke in harsh tones. Just as the positive behaviors of other people communicated to us that we were loved, we could interpret the withdrawal of those behaviors only as an indication that we were not being loved. Although it was unintentional, our parents and others taught us this terrible message: “When you’re good, I love you, but when you’re not, I don’t—or certainly I love you a great deal less.”
This conditional love can give us brief moments of satisfaction, but we’re still left with a huge hole in our souls, because only Real Love can make us genuinely happy. When someone is genuinely concerned about our happiness, we feel connected to that person. We feel included in his or her life, and in that instant we are no longer alone. Each moment of unconditional acceptance creates a living thread to the person who accepts us, and these threads weave a powerful bond that fills us with a genuine and lasting happiness. Nothing but Real Love can do that. In addition, when we know that even one person loves us unconditionally, we feel a connection to everyone else. We feel included in the family of all mankind, of which that one person is a part.
WHAT WE DO WITHOUT REAL LOVE: IMITATION LOVE
If we don’t have enough Real Love in our lives, the resulting emptiness is unbearable. We then compulsively try to fill our emptiness with whatever feels good in the moment—money, anger, sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, and the conditional approval of others. Anything we use as a substitute for Real Love becomes a form of Imitation Love, which includes, among others:
- The conditional approval we get from people when we do what they want
- Success in our careers
- Drugs and alcohol
Imitation Love feels great for a while, but the problem is that the positive effects always wear off, and then we have to earn more and more, and the effects wear off faster and faster.
FALLING IN LOVE: THE NATURE AND EFFECT OF IMITATION LOVE
Even though Imitation Love cannot give us genuine, lasting happiness, it does feel good, and if Real Love is either unknown to us or unavailable, we’ll go to great lengths to get enough Imitation Love to feel good temporarily. In the absence of sufficient Real Love, we’re strongly attracted to anyone who gives us Imitation Love, and in order to get Imitation Love from people, we tend to give it to them. Most relationships, therefore, are based on the trading of Imitation Love. Men, for example, tend to offer flattery and conditional approval to women in exchange for sex.
When we find someone who gives us more Imitation Love than anyone else has, and when we give them more in return than they have received from others, we “fall in love.” Falling in love is rarely anything more than the relatively equal and abundant exchange of Imitation Love. That may not be romantic, but it’s nonetheless true.
When a guy sees a girl across a crowded room and says to his friends, “I think I’m in love,” is there anyone on the planet who believe that his true meaning is, “I’ve fallen into a sudden unconditional concern for her happiness”? No, he’s expressing a belief that he’ll get more Imitation Love from her than he would from anyone else he can think of. We tend to start our relationships on the basis of how much Imitation Love we anticipate we’ll receive from that partner, and that’s a disastrous foundation for a relationship.
When Ryan Phillipe and Reese Witherspoon met in conjunction with a film they were doing together, the setting was glamorous and exciting. They both had all the praise, power, money, sex, and other qualities that anyone could want in a partner. The trading of Imitation Love was very abundant, and the feelings they got from that were exhilarating in the beginning. In order to guarantee that they would continue to get those feelings for a lifetime, they married each other. That’s almost always why people get married: to guarantee that their partner will keep making them as happy as he or she did in the beginning of the relationship.
As I’ve said before, however, the effect of Imitation Love always fades, as Ryan and Reese discovered—as almost all couples discover. They really enjoyed the initial exchange of Imitation Love, but it wasn’t long before that level of praise, power, and pleasure wasn’t as rewarding as it once had been. When people say the “excitement has worn off” in a relationship, they’re just describing the fleeting effects of Imitation Love.
What a miserable state of affairs. When they first met, what Ryan and Reese both needed was Real Love, but neither of them had ever felt much unconditional love, so there was no way they could have loved one another as they needed. We simply can’t give what we don’t have. In the absence of Real Love, they offered one another what they did have—Imitation Love in its various forms—and they gave all they had. Imitation Love does feel good, and because they were both giving it with all their hearts, they were satisfied with their relationship in the beginning. But Imitation Love is absolutely guaranteed to fail in the long run.
THE REAL REASON RELATIONSHIPS FAIL
I have counseled with thousands of couples, most of them married. Remember that people usually get married only after they have sifted through many potential partners, finally choosing the one they believe will provide them with the fulfillment of their dreams. Ideally, marriages should be the cream of all relationships, the best of the best.
And yet 60% of these dream relationships end in divorce, and the vast majority of those who remain married are settling for far less than they had once hoped for. When troubled couples come to me for counseling, invariably they ask some variation on the question, “What happened?” Both partners are absolutely befuddled, wondering how they could possibly have moved from being soulmates to being combatants.
In their attempts to understand what happened, it’s unavoidable that each partner would blame the other. After all, they reason, their partner once “made them happy,” and now that happiness is gone. The inescapable conclusion is that their partner has somehow failed them, somehow withdrawn the joy they once magically dispensed at the beginning of the relationship.
But now you understand the real reason relationships fail. When two people enter into a relationship without sufficient Real Love, their relationship is virtually doomed from the beginning because both parties lack the one ingredient most essential to genuine happiness and fulfilling relationships. In the beginning of their association they achieve the illusion of happiness only because they give one another enough Imitation Love. It’s better than anything they’ve had before, so it seems real. Then, when the effects of Imitation Love begin to wear off—as they always do—they’re left with the horrifying realization that their dreams have turned into so much dust.
Relationships fail not because of what each partner does or does not do. Relationships fail because they are not built on a foundation of Real Love, but instead are based on a counterfeit currency—Imitation Love—that can never buy happiness.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
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