“All you need is love.” sang the Beatles, not so very long after they’d complained:
“. . ./Your lovin’ don’t pay my bills/Now give me money/That’s what I want.” Paradoxically, they also sang: “Money can’t buy me love. . . “
The Beatles’ confusion is typical of most of us when it comes to the relationship between love, that many splendored thing, and practical needs. How should we translate that fabulously heady early romance into everyday matters such as who’s job is it to take the garbage out?
So, with some trepidation at my temerity, I’m going to take a look at some of the considerations affecting ‘partnerships-with-a-love-component’. (Though by the end I hope you’ll see that all partnerships have a love component.)
I’ll basically just list some practical assumptions about love so you can accept them if you wish and apply them to your own well of self-awareness. They are designed to help you decide the nature and extent of love you may have for others and for yourself. Here goes:
Romantic love components and sustaining love components are not the same
Romantic love is what brings people together in the first place. It is an attraction based in fiction; in French, a ‘roman’ is a work of fiction. The reason romantic love is a fiction is because the characteristics we romantically attribute to others through our experience of their looks, thoughts, demeanour, etc are not really theirs.
This is why ‘love at first sight’ usually fades into ‘I can’t think what I saw in him in the first place’. What we see in others in the first place is something of ourselves that we project onto their way of standing, dressing, talking or whatever. This image quickly fades as our projection is replaced by real experience.
It is easy to show the falsity of first impressions. For instance, when you see a man with the physique of Arnold Schwarzenneger, you might ‘see’ a wonderful powerful figure who will protect you, while I might ‘see’ an over-developed brute who wants to kick me out of his way. Only time with Arnie can reveal the truth about him.
Our romantic love associations, intense though they are, are essentially of the same kind. That is why the intensity of a love relationship usually diminishes fairly rapidly over the first three to four months.
So, what are some romantic love components? Broadly, anything which is susceptible to change, such as: looks, money, exotic qualities (everything becomes everyday in the end), fame, dress, appearance, friends, family, etc.
What are some sustainable love components? Essentially, those things which are not susceptible to too much change, such as: personality, motivation, intelligence, and basic values.
Of course, there is is always the unpredictable: a highly motivated person might contract a debilitating disease and become listless. However, in partnerships it’s reasonable – and all we can do, not being prescient – to go for what looks most likely in the long run.
So: enjoy the romantic aspects of relationship but unite for the sustainable ones! Typically, a successful longstanding relationship is one in which a certain amount of the triggering romance endures, at least in the rose-tinted eyes of the beholders, but a large amount of sustainable qualities are on show, as well.
You wanna know what love is? Love is a measurable entity.
The love we feel for others can be subjected to sufficiently consistent assessment to enable comparisons to be made. I don’t mean by this that we have a kind of tape measure to measure love. We do, however, have a yardstick that takes into account our experience and preferences. Basically, a practical guide to love is that it can be assessed as a measure of anticipation of good treatment.
In other words, “I love you” actually means: “I anticipate good treatment from you.”
So, if you see me every day and I greet you with warmth, you will come to anticipate this and will love me more than if I greeted you with distaste. If I greeted you by breaking your knees with a baseball bat you would quite likely hate me. This creates a continuum like this, measured on a scale of -10 to +10:
HATE —————————— INDIFFERENCE ————————- LOVE
-10 ——————————————— 0 ————————————– +10
It is easy to see that if we hate someone we will anticipate very bad treatment – perhaps even death – from them, and so we will probably fear them. This is the basis of the idea that hate and fear are closely related and that fear is the opposite of love. That gives a continuum like this:
FEAR —————————— INDIFFERENCE ———————– UNFEAR
It is a bit of a sad comment on the English language that we can say “I fear you” but we don’t seem to have an equivalent at the positive end of the continuum. We have to turn it round and say: “You make me feel safe” or “I feel safe/open/empowered when I am with you or think of you.”
It would be nice if we could say “I unfear you” and have it be a potent statement of perceived generous and life-giving qualities. Perhaps a more enlightened language has such a capability and if anyone knows of it perhaps they’d let me know. Perhaps that statement is: “I love you.”.
Love quality is directly related to our life effectiveness
This is a tough idea to accept because everyone is lovable and entitled to be loved. However, we’re talking about the practicalities of daily partnership here, not the unconditional positive regard supposedly practiced by therapists and clergy.
Essentially, if a person is not very effective in life they are not going to have very much to offer them or us. ‘Effective’ here does not refer to inherited characteristics such as wealth or physical prowess, but to how we approach life and what we obtain from it based on our own governing circumstances and effort.
The whole topic of life effectiveness is too large to go into here, but one important factor is the attainment of a natural balance. Someone who is well developed physically, intellectually or financially but is still emotionally undeveloped will not be able to be truly loving. If they cannot meet their own emotional needs they are not going to be able to do much for you. This is why billionaires, film stars and geniuses are often seen to be poor love partners.
This need for balance means that life effectiveness, and therefore lovability, is hugely enhanced by approaching life thoughtfully and with rigorous self-examination. Some make this an essential criterion when assembling a picture of their ideal partner.
The Love Quotient (LQ) Formula
Combining a measure of anticipation with a measure of effectiveness enables us to create a formula by which we can rank those we love in terms of their Love Quotient. It goes like this:
Love Quotient (LQ) = perceived intent to deliver good treatment (PI) x perceived ability to deliver good treatment (PA).
To demonstrate this formula, I once had an idealistic love for Audrey Hepburn, who I perceived to be a wise, generous, beautiful and altogether perfect living partner. So I would give her a Perceived Ability (PA) score of 10. However, given that she didn’t know me I’d have to acknowledge that her intent to deliver good treatment to me would be zero. So her Perceived Intent (PI) would be 0.
0 x 10 gives an LQ of zero which accurately assesses the feelings Ms Hepburn had for me. I was well advised not to hold myself in readiness for her (yet still feel a curious sadness at having to let her go!).
More realistically, a ‘good’ marriage or business partner probably scores a PI of 8 with a PA of 7 (we’re only human after all) for an LQ of 56.
That may not seem much out of a possible maximum of 100, but it’s important to understand that these measures are pretty brutal. That’s what makes them useful in cutting through the sentimental, transferential and other ‘stuff’ we bring into all our relationships.
Don’t forget, too that they are totally subjective. They have meaning only for you. With that subjectivity comes a warning: your assessments’ ability to protect you from counter-productive mistakes is entirely dependent on the real-world accuracy of your perception.
Perception: the fundamental determinant of successful love partnerships
Good treatment is in the eye of the recipient. If I think that getting high is good for me and someone makes it possible for me to get high all the time, I will love them, even though they may be destroyng me.
Similarly, if I believe that speaking the truth all the time is good for me, even if it costs me financially, then I will love the person who supports me in that.
The key factor here is my perception, which in turn is rooted in my self-esteem, my development stage, my experience, my philosophy and so on.
I’ve worked with many couples as a relationship coach/counselor. I have also been part of many couples, as spouse, significant other, or business partner. As a result, I have come to believe that false self-perception is one of the leading causes of failed partnerships. This applies at work as well as at home.
Many people take a partner they believe to be broadly compatible with themselves only to discover that they really don’t match their own particular enthusiasm, need, drive, ambition, competence, courage or whatever. This mismatch arises less from attempts by the other to falsify appearances than from one’s own self illusion.
Here are some of the warning signs:
- ‘That habit bothers me but I’ll be able to work round it/change it/ignore it when we’re married.’
- ‘I know I could run a really good company but I need a partner to handle the money/marketing/sales/etc.”
- ‘S/he’s not very attractive, but s/he’s the best I can do.’
- ‘S/he’ll stop drinking when we have a baby.’
- ‘I’ll be lucky to find anyone, I’m so stupid/ugly/overweight/boring/disruptive/mad.’
These are fairly obvious examples, but the illusions around our needs and competences are many and sometimes very subtle. They are all potentially damaging to our partnerships.
Generally, there seems to be a human tendency to underesteem ourselves and to overesteem others. This may be because we tend to be much more aware of our own shortcomings than we are of others’, or simply that we are more tolerant of human frailty when considering others. Also, many of us are taught from an early age that meeting others’ needs is a shorter path to reward than meeting our own.
The result of underestimating ourselves is that we either partner with an ‘equal’ who in fact isn’t, or we follow the ‘superior’ judgment of that partner when in fact we should be listening to ourselves. Which leads nicely to the next practical fact of love:
Love is not self-sacrificing
Already I can hear the screams.: “But I gave it all up for him/her!”; “I love putting him/her first!”. and from my clients in D/s relationships: “My total submission is my gift!”
Yes, yes, I know. As a Pisces AND with the name ‘Christopher’, I know all about self-sacrifice. It’s a myth. Everything we do, we do in the expectation of reward. The nature of the reward may be perverse or it may be very indirect in its operation but it’s there, usually packaged in neatly coagulated multiple forms.
For example, when I ‘generously’ let go of my stated preference for a sailing vacation in Turkey I score these benefits:
- I gain some love credit for being such a nice guy;
- I’m relieved of the need to face my fear of docking that giant boat;
- I get to sit outside a cafe on La Croisette in Cannes, sipping wine and watching the truly beautiful people glide by;
- I gain manipulative leverage for getting my way for a whole year. How? By looking wistful every time we see a picture of a yacht under full sail and sighing: “I wish we’d gone to Turkey.” Message? You owe me.
This is power! It may not be pretty, but it works, even if we only leave it to our unconscious selves to work out.
There will be many who will insist that they act altruistically, especially in love situations. There isn’t space to cover the whole subject here, but in his excellent book: “The Origins of Virtue”, science writer Matt Ridley definitively crushes any such notion.
Face it: if you do anything, you do it for yourself. And don’t forget: this goes for your partner, too.
Love can create mutual constriction
As a kind of follow-on from the last point, it’s necessary to say that in their fear of being seen to be selfish, partners frequently crush each other. Like the right-handed bindweed meeting the left-handed convulvulus, they embrace – i.e. support – each other’s drives to such an extent that they strangle and are strangled by them.
Examples abound: wives support their husbands on doomed business ventures; husbands support wives in their ambitions to be ballerinas at forty; business partners support each others’ attempts at expanding into new and unknown areas; and so on.
Taken alone, each expensive experiment wouldn’t matter too much. However, the support of the other generates a countering obligation to support. So now the wife above, still weeping over her lost dreams of being a ballerina, has to surrender the rest of her inheritance to support her husband in his attempt to become the oldest man ever to compete in Formula 1 motor racing.
End result: misery and poverty and lots of questions along the lines of: “How could we have been so stupid?”
In this rather absurd example, if the husband had not supported his wife’s balletic ambition it would probably have died a natural death much sooner. She would then have had the satisfaction of having tried it and dropped it with no harm done.
By being ‘supportive’, the husband effectively forced his wife to go beyond the natural point of cessation. This created pain for them both.
The solution is to take more and give less. If both partners fight for what they want they will probably get close to it. When I take time off to walk along the seashore, it frees my wife to do the same. If instead I ‘supportively’ spend hours at the keyboard creating a web site for her, she then has to spend hours ‘supporting’ me in some equally tedious chore. Then we have a row because we’re both bored and fed up and blaming the other for it!
Healthy love is a vital ingredient to our wellbeing
I hope this blunt appraisal of love hasn’t obscured the reality that healthy love is a vital ingredient for our wellbeing. We cannot be happy and healthy unless we love ourselves in a reasonably tolerant fashion – and we can measure how much we love ourselves by assessing our personal love quotient.
Once we’re loving ourselves, we can make a reasonably good job of loving someone else and even multiple others. The LQ assessment enables us to see where everyone fits in our love architecture.
Who do you love?
The assessment ability gives us real power. For those who are bold enough, for example, the LQ calculation makes it possible to see which of their children they love the most. This is a bit challenging because: “I love you all equally” is one of the commonest parental lies to be heard in families.
It’s actually much kinder to say: “My intent is to love you all equally. However, I love little Jeremy more because he laughs at my jokes, demonstrates his appreciation of me and reminds me of myself when I was younger. I love little Richard less because he is cruel to animals and reminds me of his father who is now in prison for murdering his second wife.”
This gives Richard the opportunity to learn how to succeed in the world whereas being loved despite his cruelty would send the wrong message entirely. (Needless to say, Richard should be given some professional help, too.) It would also introduce him, albeit harshly, to the reality that others’ associations have a significant and totally unjustified effect on our lives.
One reason that such candour is kinder is because we all know where we stand in parental affections anyway. At least some openness and honesty confirms our judgment and honors us with the truth. Paradoxically, even bad news expressed honestly helps build our confidence and self-esteem.
In the absence of such honesty, we can still use the LQ calculation to understand our relationships. By turning it round and scoring it from the other person’s point of view we can gain a pretty good, though perhaps painful, view of how their feelings for us have come about.
For example, a woman might want to understand why it is that she is seen as less appealing to her husband than his mistress. Looking at it through his eyes, she might assess herself, if she’s honest, at only a six or seven in terms of her intent to provide him with good treatment. Indeed, if they’ve been married a long time and have allowed resentments to grow over the years, she might admit that she’d really like to see him suffer, so her PI score might only be a three or four.
In terms of her ability to give good treatment, she might also recognize that she’s allowed herself to ease a little too comfortably into a non-stimulating rut, whether measured physically, emotionally or intellectually. So maybe she can only give herself a five.
Five times four is only twenty, and no ambitious mistress, dependent on her charms to maintain her existence, would allow her LQ to dip that low.
And, less I appear sexist, the same goes for the man, too. If he had made more of himself so as to increase his LQ, perhaps his wife wouldn’t have been so casual in letting him go. Then he’d have saved himself a lot of money, embarrassment and the grieving sense that accompanies any loss of integrity. And mistresses do not typically make good long-term partners.
Make LQ work for you
Here are some things to consider:
- The love quotient is a powerful tool. Like all totally subjective devices it is susceptible to ignorance and illusion, conscious and unconscious impulses and vulnerabilities. If you believe that healthy love is wrapping someone in a blanket and keeping them safe from the world then you are likely to find your lover working in the prison service and yourself behind bars. You must really examine your criteria harshly before assessing someone against them.
- There really is such a thing as unconditional positive regard, or unconditional love, but not, I think, in an active, engaged sense. As soon as we are present with someone, in whatever sense of ‘present’, we are taking something from them and them from us. Even in our absence we can be demanding, so that right now I am making demands of your time and intellectual resources. That is a condition of our relationship. Unconditional love has to be more of an intent, an attitude, than an action.
- The notion of loving in the moment is very useful. It means we can adopt a policy of loving everyone as a default position, but suspending that love temporarily when the person hurts us. This is particularly important for parents to believe because otherwise they tend to feel doomed to eternal guilt for those moments when they truly hated their children. It also reminds parents that they don’t win love by punishing – i.e. hurting – their children.
- Remember that the golden rule: ‘treat others as you would treat yourself’ works both ways. Practise saying: “I treat myself the same as I treat others,” and then incorporate it into your way of life. This will help you overcome any tendency to choke others with your ‘love’.
- Learn to differentiate between giving that enriches the relationship and surrender that impoverishes it. It honors both partners if one asks and the other provides. That is an expression of love in which personal power is equal. It dishonors both partners if coercive measures are taken to force acquiescence. Coercion in this case can be physical, emotional (as in “I’ll really love you if you do this for me”), or, as often occurs, financial.
- Sit down one evening and make a map of your love topography. Take a big piece of paper and assess everyone you know in terms of their LQ. You’ll be surprised at the picture you draw, and at the different ways and places in which ‘love’ – as viewed as anticipation of good treatment – appears.
- Use LQ for work as well as home. Your work partnerships are as much based in love as any other. It’s simply that the work love domain is more restricted in terms of potential activities and goals. The benefits of healthy good treatment apply everywhere.
This is a huge topic which I am sure I will revisit. For now, I hope these words will be experienced as an act of love – of good treatment – from me to you. If you experience it that way, you can feed off it and make it yours. Then you can use it to motivate you, too, perhaps, to push your love out into the world and thus help to make it a better place for both of us.