Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Now that we know the characteristics of real love, how can we take steps in ourselves to create a more loving relationship? First off, it’s important to acknowledge that despite these clear-sounding discrepancies between real love and fantasy, many people mistake one for the other. They may even prefer fantasy to reality, because it’s less painful to appear connected to someone than to actually feel connected to them.
Many of us become caught up in the fairy tale, the superficial elements, or the form of the relationship (i.e. how it looks as opposed to how it feels). We may fall in love with the illusion of connection or security of the situation offers, but we don’t let ourselves get too close to the other person. That is because, while most of us think we want love, we often actually take actions to push it away. That is why the first step to being more loving is to get to know and challenge our own defenses.
1. Challenging the defenses that limit true love
Many people have fears of intimacy of which they aren’t even aware. We may be tolerant of realizing our dreams of falling in love in fantasy, but very often we are intolerant of having that dream fulfilled in reality. Dr. Robert Firestone describes how being loved by someone threatens our defenses and reawakens emotional pain and anxiety from childhood. He’s posited that both giving and receiving love tend to disrupt the negative, yet familiar, ways we think about ourselves. “On an unconscious level, we may sense that if we did not push love away, the whole world as we have experienced it would be shattered and we would not know who we are.”
For these reasons, the biggest obstacle to finding and maintaining a loving relationship is often us. We have to get to know what defenses we bring to the table that ward off love. For example, if we grew up feeling rejected, we may feel anxious about getting too close to another person. We may not feel we can really trust or rely on a partner, so we either cling to that person or ward him or her off, both which lead to the same result of creating distance.
If we felt criticized or resented in our childhood, we may have trouble feeling confident or worthwhile in our relationships. We may seek out partners who put us down in ways that feel familiar, or we may never fully accept our partners loving feelings for us, because they threaten this early self-perception.
If we felt intruded on in our early lives or if we had an “emotionally hungry” parent, we may avoid intimacy altogether and feel pseudoindependent, or we may subconsciously seek out people who depend on us to meet all their needs and more. Again, both of these extremes can lead to relationships that lack real closeness and intimacy.
The good news is we can start to break these destructive relationship patterns by better knowing ourselves and our defenses. Why do we choose the partners we do? What are the qualities we’re drawn to – good and bad? Are there ways we distort or provoke our partner to act in ways that fit with our defenses? How do we create distance? What behaviors do we engage in that may feel self-protective but actually push love away.
2. Differentiation from the past influences that no longer serve you in the present
Dr. Robert Firestone has further developed an approach to challenging old, engrained patterns and defenses, a process he refers to as differentiation. This process involves four steps:
Differentiate from critical, punishing, and destructive attitudes that you internalized in your early livesDifferentiate from undesirable traits in your parents that you see in yourselfChallenge the defensive reactions you had (as a child self) that no longer serve you in the presentFormulating and learning to live by your own values – who do you want to be?
Taking these steps of differentiation allows us to live in a less defended state in which we go after what we really want in life.