How Do You View Your Partner? As a Person, or a Means

The following long excerpt is from David Schnarch’s mind-blowing life-changing relationship book “Passionate Marriage.” And to me, the following excerpt is one of the most subtly profound and important passages in the entire book. It takes him almost 250 pages of writing and detailing other and more obviously life-altering insights and ideas, before he has laid down enough groundwork to be able to segue logically into the ideas and insights in the following passage. The brackets in the following passage are mine. I have also changed a couple of words in the second paragraph in order to make his point more clear. I have also italicized a few words here and there, but most of the italics are his. My own comments also follow after the excerpt.

From “Passionate Marriage,” pp. 247-251.

“Partner Engagement”

There are different depths and ways of focusing on your partner. Each reflects how you relate in general. The tone of your [interactions] may vary from event to event, but the overall character [of your interactions] tends to be stable; it is determined [much] more by your level of personal development than by how you feel about your partner at any given moment, [because you feel about your partner will in large part be determined by your level of personal development.]

Let’s consider six different levels of partner engagement reflecting different levels of differentiation. Let me warn you that the initial example may seem somewhat extreme, distasteful, or hard to identify with. It is an example of primitive sexual partner engagement and reflects the unfortunate realities of contemporary society. By understanding the many faces of partner engagement we can more fully comprehend human sexuality and develop more respect for when it is beautiful and uplifting.

1. Sexual predators. Sexual predators focus somewhat on their “partner’s” reactions but purely for sadistic reasons. These are the most poorly differentiated people—their “partners” are mere puppets who must give the desired response. For example, I once treated a man who was a sexual sadist. his children “took turns” going with him to their vacation home, where he tied them spread-legged to a chair. He would draw a pen knife lightly around their genitals as ritualistic “punishment” for some concocted misdeed. He described his own behavior as “monstrous.” He was driven by his overriding hostility and desire to revenge past events in his own life. he was redressing in fantasy—and replicating in reality—his experiences with his own mother. He enjoyed seeing pain and terror in his children’s eyes. It enhanced his pathetic sense of power. His “sexual partners” were like props—his wife was no more of a real person to him than he was to her. In his fantasies, he presided over an underground citadel of faceless slaves who followed his every whim. This man’s profound lack of differentiation surfaced in his indifference to his children’s pain and his reflected sense of “power.”

2. Opportunistic encounters. The next step in development is a style of partner engagement that involves opportunistic encounters between consenting adults between consenting adults. I don’t necessarily mean “one-night stands” where people “fall in love” for the night. One woman I treated was more a scavenger than a predator. She had sex with people she had no shred of interest in—or they for her. For her the connection was purely one of shared sensory experience, using her partner’s genitals for stimulation because she didn’t like to masturbate. In her best relationships, the bond was a shared craving for contact-comfort with another human being. This was as much emotional connection and investment in another human being as her differentiation allowed. Although you might imagine people like her are single, I’ve worked with many who are married (and having affairs).

I am not saying opportunistic sexual encounters always involve this degree of exploitation. Casual sex, at a conference or on a college campus for example, can based on shared pleasure or companionship. It can involve even more partner engagement, such as friendship between “fuck buddies.” Sometimes fondness for a familiar sex partner is all that connects spouses—whether married or divorced. These varying degrees of selectivity, intimacy, and caring reflect a bit higher differentiation than the woman I just described in the preceding paragraph. (Just realize that exploitative sexual relationships can masquerade as a casual friendship—whether between college students, work colleagues, or spouses.)

3. Narcissistic self-reflection. For some people, sex partners provide narcissistic self-reflection—ego strokes, a body on which to demonstrate sexual prowess and attractiveness [the psychiatrist Rollo May also spoke about just this as well]. At this level of differentiation people have some emotional investment in their relationship—although it’s primarily to get a reflected sense of self. Their sexual fantasies are like private pornography. often involving unflattering power motifs with their partner. In worst case scenarios, partners are “playthings” and “boy toys,” to use modern parlance; this partner engagement involves borrowed functioning in which the “plaything” provides an emotional transfusion of pseudo-self—until he or she feels drained and develops low sexual desire (see Chapter 5). (Opportunistic sex—for example, between friends and former lovers—sometimes reflects a slightly higher level of differentiation.) This kind of partner engagement often underlies short-lived “movie star” marriages, but some are fairly long-term when the “drainage” isn’t so high. These frequently (but not always) involve “trophy wives” and “May-December” marriages between rich older men and financially dependent younger women.

4. Real person. At the fourth level of partner engagement their is the beginning of recognizing the partner as a real person, not just walking talking genitals. In contrast to the prior category (some investment in the relationship), the greater differentiation involved here surfaces in investment in the other person. However, there’s not enough differentiation for the partner to be fully recognized as a separate individual. This is the partner engagement of dependency on other-validated intimacy. There’s awareness that the other has feelings and needs of his/her own. Satisfying some of them and not inflicting pain (beyond normal marital sadism) becomes important, in part, because it contributes to one’s reflected sense of self. The sex partner is one’s mirror—making sexual trance attractive as time-out from monitoring one’s reflection (meaning sex with eyes closed).

-> The preceding four examples describe emotionally fused forms of partner engagement. The other person is a non-person—an extension of one’s own needs. Moving from the first to the fourth level, people demonstrate greater differentiation, culminating in the partner emerging as a real person—although not a truly separate one. Psychologically, at the fourth level there is finally the beginnings of two people—and more accurately, one and a half. There is still the tendency for partners to function like emotional Siamese twins. Until the partner is more than just an extension of one’s self, there isn’t a genuine basis for caring about him or her. (Which means there isn’t a basis for actually loving the other person.)

Notice that it’s taken four of the six steps to reach this degree of personal evolution, which reflects how little caring goes on even in partner engagement. The remaining two levels are ones we’d like to believe apply to us (and most people). They’re what we optimistically expect and demand from modern marriage. More realistically, these forms of sexual relatedness increasingly occur as we live longer and require more personal growth. Turning these potentialities into realities is both the result of—and the reason to pursue—your own differentiation.

5. Unique connection. The level of partner engagement we now address probably came to mind when I first mentioned partner engagement. It involves unique connection. At this level of differentiation, the partner stops being one’s mirror, a reflection on oneself, or an extension of oneself. He or she emerges as a bona fide separate person, and occupies an unrivaled place in one’s life. His/her happiness becomes as important as one’s own. Compassion, consideration, mutuality, and integrity steer the interactions, made possible by one’s ability to calm one’s anxiety and self-soothe one’s conflicts and hurts. Partners realize that and appreciate each other’s deepest core personality and potentials—pushing themselves to disclose their most private and personal truths. It isn’t easy or comfortable, yet nothing is deliberately held back. Looking into each other during sex is commonplace. Acceptance is based on true knowledge of each other—it’s not a mutual validation pact predicated on fantasies and projections. Partners share a profound and irreplaceable love.

6. Oneness with each other and humanity. The ultimate stage of partner engagement reflects a level of differentiation few people reach. Here partners come to grips with barriers of existential separateness and experience oneness with each other and humanity [Fromm speaks similarly of this in “The Art of Loving,” and describes it as the highest form of love, describing it as “fusion with integrity”]. Their sexual encounters heighten self-awareness and interconnection. Normal boundaries between self and other dissolve. Partners see themselves in each other (and vice versa) during eyes-open sex, but this doesn’t stem from emotional fusion or reflected sense of self. It comes from appreciating the essence in each of us that connects all of us (and encourages social and environmental consciousness), Sex becomes a form of spiritual communion celebrating the mysteries of life.


These six categories of partner engagement illustrate once again how differentiation facilitates the highest forms of emotional union. But the last two uplifting forms are hard to achieve , periodic at best, and their absence can be painful. The more primitive and exploitative forms of emotional fusion are commonplace in daily life.

Differentiation determines the availability of the following ingredients that comprise partner engagement:

  • the strength and meaningfulness of your bond [the lower your level of differentiation, the less meaningful your bond, and the less essential and more expendable your partner is. Because the lower your level of differentiation, the less core self you have and the more pseudo-self you have, and the more you identity/sense of self is makeshift and adaptable/changeable and even chameleon-like, and thus the more potential partners you can adapt yourself to.]
  • how much “self” either of you has to invest (to what degree you are self-validating),
  • the degree to which either of you [has a true or core self and] is willing to invest your “true self,”
  • and the degree of profound meaning in a particular sexual encounter.

Differentiation plays another role in partner engagement: as you strive for deeper partner engagement, the range of potential partners narrows. If all you want is minimal engagement, almost any partner will do. Casual engagement—recreational sex—simply requires an available, socially appropriate partner. But from this point on, increased engagement narrows your field of choices. Personal characteristics of the partner and the nature of the relationship become important. Fewer people meet your selection criteria. If you want profound partner engagement—particularly with any regularity—it usually involves a single partner with a unique status in your life. It also involves a partner who can engage you on that level.

My saying that deeper levels of partner engagement demand restrictive selectivity might sound like a condemnation of casual sex, especially to those who argue that that casual sex can be just as rewarding as monogamy—or more so. I have no argument with people’s personal experience, but let’s be honest: you can’t deeply know the fullest potentials of large numbers of sex partners. Knowing one all-important person probably involves not tasting lots of others.

Our discussion of sexual styles brings us back to the question from Chapter 5: who really wants to want? The fact that profound sexual partner engagement narrows your selection highlights the vulnerability of establishing a profound bond. It isn’t just that your partner is irreplaceable: there aren’t many potential suitable candidates even when you have numerous volunteers. (We’ll talk more of this in Chapter 14.)


End of excerpt.

My thoughts:


First off, as a background note, it seems to me that there is much in the preceding that owes itself to both the work of writer / theologian Martin Buber (“I-Thou”) as well as to the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (6 levels of moral reasoning).

Buber, much like the philosopher Immanuel Kant, simplified our basic orientation towards others to being one of two possibilities–either an it (the person isn’t a person, but is a prop or a means or an instrument); or a Thou (the other person is an actual real person, an end in him- or herself, and we recognize this and treat the person accordingly). Kant, a century and a half before, wrote what is known as the “second formulation” of the “categorical imperative”: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

And the six stages of partner engagement that Schnarch identifies mirror fairly well the six different levels of moral reasoning that Kohlberg delineated (


Now for me, the biggest thing to take away from the above excerpt of Schnarch is that all of this isn’t just about sex and that sort of partner engagement: rather, this is about our basic level of orientation towards our partner, how we orient ourselves towards him or her, how we fundamentally view him or her.

Do we see our partner as someone real, as a real person–and thus have access to the higher echelons of human experience and human possibilities that can take place between two people and that do not require the assistance or borrowed functioning of designer drugs?

Or is our level of differentiation not sufficient enough to see our partner as more than a means, an instrument, a prop, something to be used, worked, manipulated, etc? (Or is their level of differentiation not sufficient to support more than this? Did our partner have access to enough pseudo-self and life experience so that he or she was able to appear much more differentiated and deep and principled in courting than they ever actually intended to be down the road? In other words, did their representative really do a great job conning us?)

If we haven’t grown out of our original narcissism and what’s in it for me and denial of death orientation that we have as children and adolescents (in other words if we’re still basically emotional teenagers in adult bodies), then we won’t be able to see our partner as a real person but only as a means, in instrument, a prop, something to be used, and we won’t really be invested in the other person or our relationship because our relationship will be about other-validation, romance, an ego trip, an accouterment to our narcissistic self-aggrandizement, and or our own gratification (the quality of what were getting instead of what we’re getting as well as the quality of what we’re giving), instead of about truth, love, growth, and investing ourselves in another human being and our relationship.

It requires conscience and consciousness (honest self-awareness) to see our partner as a real human being.

If our conscience is not sufficiently developed–which in this society is a very common malaise because most people have underdeveloped consciences–and if we are not self-aware and self-aware in a honest manner–also something that does not happen often and is not widely encouraged in this society–then how can we expect to see our partner as more than an object, a prop, something to be used and manipulated, and at that, an object of convenience? And thus when the going gets tough in the relationship, how can we not see our partner as someone who is disposable, expendable, interchangeable.* Where is the love in that?

But that is just what people are typically doing when they divorce or have an affair–showing their low level of differentiation, showing that the other person is not a real person, showing their own narcissism, showing that they do not know what love is–they may say they do, they may say “I love you,” they may say the words, but they don’t actually mean them because they don’t actually know what they mean, because at the most basic level “I love you” means “You are unique to me, you are not expendable and interchangeable, and you are not a means or a prop to me, but a real person; I see the you of you, I see who you are in your core, and I appreciate and relish that.”

On the other hand, when a narcissist / poorly differentiated person says “I love you,” what they are saying is “I like what you do for me, it makes me feel warm, glowing, giddy, alive. You agree with me, you support me, you validate me, you give me what I want.” Et cetera.


* “If we examine our life, our relationship with another, we shall see that it is a process of isolation. We are really not concerned with another; though we talk a great deal about it, actually we are not concerned. We are related to someone only so long as that relationship gratifies us, so long as it gives us a refuge, so long as it satisfies us. But the moment there is a disturbance in the relationship which produces discomfort in ourselves, we discard that relationship. In other words, there is relationship only so long as we are gratified. This may sound harsh, but if you really examine your life very closely you will see it is a fact; and to avoid a fact is to live in ignorance, which can never produce right relationship.” – Krishnamurti




Posted in Schnarch, Krishnamurti, Kohlberg, "Passionate Marriage", Buber | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is it Possible to Lie & Deceive Someone We Love?

Is it possible to lie and deceive someone we love?

One of the blogs I read on occasion ( asked a question similar to that asked above.

And the short answer is: No, of course not.

And the longer answer is —

It’s not possible to lie and deceive someone we love because love isn’t a feeling or it isn’t something we say or talk about, love is a verb. Our love is proven and made known to the person we claim to love through our behaviors. In other words, “love is as love does,” as Peck wrote in “The Road Less Traveled.”

This question — “Is it possible to lie and deceive someone we love?” — only comes up if we are trying to define love not through behaviors but through emotions and feelings. If we define love in anyway primarily as a feeling or emotion, then all sorts of unloving behaviors can be rationalized and excusified.

Love, when defined as a feeling, is actually not love, because the feeling of love, though it arises because of the other person, is not actually about the other person once the feeling arises.

Let me clarify that.

When love is defined or viewed as an emotion or feeling — i.e., romantic love, which is an intoxicating emotional cocktail of infatuation, deep acceptance, euphoria, aliveness, butterflies in the stomach, having one’s breath taken away, walking on air, et cetera — the experience and the relationship become less and less about the other person as an end in him- or herself and more and more about the other person as a means or a vehicle for continuing to deliver these exhilarating and intoxicating euphoric feelings.

In other words, the relationship becomes less (and less and less!) about the other person and more (and more and more!!) about OURSELVES and our own feelings — maintaining the euphoria and intoxication.

So the original question really is more accurately rendered as: Is it possible to lie and deceive someone who once made us feel all lusty and infatuated and giddy but no longer really does, in order to feel those feelings once again somewhere else with someone new?

And the answer to *that* question is: Of course it is! People do it all the time.

And thus the rationalization that follows almost inevitably: I love him but I’m not *in love* with him. Or: I love her but I’m not *in love* with her.

Which means: at one time feelings of romantic fervor and infatuation and lust and connectedness were felt in regards to this person, and we made a pact / entered into a contract with each other on the basis of those feelings in the hopes that said contract / pact would serve to establish a bond that would serve to establish once and forevermore those intense feelings, and we could let our guard down, get comfortable with each other, think we had security with each other, no longer continue to put our best foot forward and continually try to win / seduce the other, and backslide to who we actually are (a much lesser version of ourselves than the person we first showed up to the relationship as). But in doing all of this –getting too comfortable, taking the other for granted, focusing on how we felt and focusing on our feelings, focusing more and more on what we were (or were not) getting instead of what we were (or were not) giving — the feelings of love have died in relation to this person, and now a new person has come along, is giving me oodles of attention, makes me feel wonderful, listens to me, seems very interested in me (even though he or she hasn’t yet had sex with me 1000 times — newsflash, it’s human nature to prefer fantasy than reality, it’s human nature to crave a new move-in ready relationship that requires no real work [what Rilke terms “day labor,” or what can also be called “grunt work”] or maintenance and where everything is new and exciting than to desire a real person with real ups and downs and who has sometimes slighted you or disappointed you, and with whom there is an actual real world [instead of perfect fantasy world] history with), and is making me feel all tingly and alive inside, and I want to jump this person’s bones and feel euphoric.

This is how many an extramarital affair develops. Sometimes the original partner (husband or wife or person one has promised him- or herself to) has backslid to a person who if that version of the person had been the one who had originally shown up, there was a much less likelihood of ever getting involved with the person. After all, this is how most long-term relationships start — two strangers meet and don’t show up as who they really are, but instead show themselves as much better and much more together and psychologically healthy version of themselves than they actually are. And then these two people start sleeping with each other, connecting with each other, cathecting to each other, becoming more and more intertwined with each other emotionally, psychologically, physically, and then after about 18 months to 3 years of this, they start regressing, stop acting so wonderful, start taking the other and the relationship for granted, start getting very comfortable, start becoming again who they really are. But by that time the couple may already be married, have a child or children, et cetera. And the backsliding isn’t always dramatic and sudden, often, usually, it’s slow and haphazard..

And so what’s a person or two people to do who find themselves (after five or ten years together) more and more in this situation — with a person who takes more than he or she gives, is more interested in what he or she is getting instead of what he or she is giving, and is more interested in becoming someone different than the person he or she led you to believe he or she was going to be (but was only doing all of that because he or she needed acceptance, approval, sex, security, to borrow functioning, et cetera)?

So is it possible for one person in such a situation to lie to the other person in this equation? Of course it is. What’s one more act of unkindness or what Schnarch calls “normal marital sadism” heaped onto a relationship that is steeped in neglect, unkindness, self-righteousness, resentment, pettiness, indifference?

The only difference is that adultery is a bit more clearly out of bounds (or a more clear cut violation of the marital vows).

How many people take vows that are realistic? That instead of containing grand and broad generalizations — I promise to love, honor, cherish, and remain faithful, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in near crippling affluence — contain somewhat more specific and actionable promises such as:

I promise treat you as I want to be treated, I promise to do unto you as I would want done unto me if the situation were reversed.

I promise to really try to be nice and patient and kind to you, even when you are pissing me off or not giving me what I want.

I promise to become more and more aware of myself and how I am acting towards you and how I am showing up to the relationship.

When arguing and disagreeing, I promise to seek first to understand instead of seeking first to be heard and understood and validated and appreciated.

I promise to try to lose at least some of the arguments and not always have to have my way or to be “right.” I promise to not be a complete control freak, but instead to work towards compromise and to be willing to talk, listen, negotiate, consider and explore our differences of opinions (in other words I promise to be a fully human human being, a creature who uses both head and heart, and not just the heart or the head).

I promise not to take your choices away but to be a team player.

I promise not to act like an emotional child in an adult body in our relationship but to actively struggle to grow up, become more responsible, more self-aware, more patient, understanding, kind, compassionate.

In such a relationship where such promises have been made and are actively being kept and fulfilled and lived up to, the question of “Is it possible to lie and deceive someone we love?” is one that is much less likely to need asking and answering.

Posted in Antilove, Commitment, Immature Love, Intimacy, Kindness, Love, Love Is a Verb, Mature Love, Mental Health, Perspective, Real Love, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Know If You Are REALLY Ready For a Real Relationship

How do you know if you are (or your partner is) really ready for a REAL relationship.

Condition 1:

You have strong feelings or a strong sense of attraction for another. You are infatuated with him or her. You are thinking about the other person constantly (read: very frequently, you are thinking about the other person obsessively, wondering what life and marriage would be like with the other person; you can’t wait to see the other person, be with the other person, et cetera; and you are also fantasizing obsessively about the other person sexually as well).

And / or

Condition 2:

It makes sense socially and economically. 30 to 40 years ago, this meant the woman was a great catch physically–she was attractive, beautiful, she made for a great trophy wife. And the man would have been seen as a great bread winner–powerful, financially sound, wealthy, he had a great career; that would make him a great catch. Of course, all of this was relative to oneself and one’s own position socially and financially. If one came from a lower socio-economic position, then the dating pool was comparatively more full of great catches, than if one was affluent.

(Nowadays, of course, things have changed. Women are no longer exclusively valued as trophies but also as breadwinners, men ditto. Hence phrases such as “yuppies” and “power couples.” et cetera.)


In the past, being able to check off one or both of these preconditions was justification for seeking a long-term relationship or marriage with someone else.

But the reality is that these conditions (attraction/lust/infatuation and best option socio-economically) are very very superficial reasons for marrying or getting into a long-term relationship with someone else.

Attraction, lust, puppy love, and romance, all fade and turn tepid with time.

And committing to a person because it makes sense socio-economically and grooves with one’s five- or ten-year socio-economic plan is, aside from sounding very practical and pragmatic and sane on the surface, is really a very superficial reason.

What Matters Most

What matters most in deciding whether or not to commit to another person is: CHARACTER–who a person is deep down and what he or she stands for–their conscience, the set of values and principles they subscribe to and live by, their code, what they will and won’t sell out or sell themselves for.

And what matters just as much as the other person’s character, is one’s own character, one’s own level of personal development–what one stands for, who one is deep down inside, how one is choosing to define oneself in this world day by day by the choices one is making, where one does and does not draw the line.

So How Does One Know If One Is Really Ready For A Real Relationship?

In other words, how does one know whether one’s own and the other person’s character are up to the task of making it the long haul through the vicissitudes of life and over up and down unknown and sometimes very bumpy terrain.

1. You Have Accountability.

When it comes to finances, this means you are responsible; you aren’t impulsive and reckless with money. Disagreements over money is one of the major sources of conflict in long-term relationships. Marrying someone usually means intertwining oneself fairly significantly with the other person financially. Being with someone who spends impulsively recklessly, and who isn’t transparent with his or her finances, is a tough position to put oneself in. And being the type of person who does this–spends recklessly and frivolously–doesn’t only hurt oneself, it hurts one’s partner–the person one supposedly “loves.”

In a marriage or long-term relationship, financial decisions ought to be made thoughtfully, deliberately, and by talking things out with one’s partner. If a couple is affluent, then this may matter less. But if two people are middle-class or below, then this will become more and more of an issue because the two people will be financially interdependent, even more so as children enter the picture. Creating a budget, sticking to a budget, will require a good deal of personal responsibility and accountability. As well as transparency and honesty.

In other areas of the relationship, accountability is crucial because it leads to “I” statements–especially “I” statements where we own–and own up to–our own behaviors. Most of us are born being exceptionally gifted at blaming others and circumstance for our bad behaviors. We’re innately great at finger pointing. It takes a tremendous amount of some combination of: inner growth, being well-parented, and perhaps even grace, to develop the capacity to take responsibility for our own part in things.

Taking responsibility for our own behaviors–owning WHAT we do (or did) and WHY we do (or did) it–is an essential skill in disagreeing, even arguing, fairly and in a non-destructive way, and being able to hash things out constructively with one’s “beloved.” –And I use quotes around this term, because if one’s partner truly is one’s beloved, then it shows up in how one treats this person, it shows up in one’s behavior, one’s daily actions, especially when one is under stress or when the two people are arguing. Martin Luther King Jr said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In marriages and relationships, the ultimate measure of one’s love for one’s partner isn’t found in times of agreement and comfortable living, but in times of disagreement, arguments, and stress. If one can still behave fairly and considerately and civilly–and even with kindness and humor–towards one’s beloved in times of strife, then there is love. But if when disagreements arise and or when stress increases, angry outbursts, venom, name-calling, blaming, and or temper tantrums ensue and are the rule and norm, then, honestly, is there really much love for one’s “beloved”? Isn’t one’s beloved a beloved in name only?


In marriages and relationships,

the ultimate measure of one’s love for one’s partner

isn’t found in times of agreement and comfortable living,

but in times of disagreement, arguments, and stress.


Love means putting the other person and his or her interests and wants and desires and fears and insecurities on the same level as our own, giving them equal footing, treating the other person and these desires and fears as if they were our own. And it may even mean in some cases putting the other person first–taking a figurative bullet for the other person. And to the extent that we can do this there is love. If we can only do this under optimal conditions, then there isn’t much love in us. The learning of real love is the learning of how to give our beloved more and more equal footing in our own inner world and in our decision-making, and in not treating them peripherally or as number two or as an accessory in our own egocentric pursuits.

And we will never get very far in this process if we are not willing to be accountable for our own actions, if instead we insist on blaming others or our circumstances or our past for our bad behavior. As unsexy and unromantic as it sounds, love means responsibility and requires it. To the extent we are irresponsible in our relationship, we are unloving.

2. You Are Self-Aware.

We can’t be responsible if we are unwilling to or incapable of being self-aware. Responsibility and self-awareness go hand in hand. If we’re unaware of our own part in things, our own choices, our own decisions, our own impulses and motivations, then we will be forever blaming others and circumstances, as well as courting and deepening some form of mental illness. To be responsible means to be self-aware.

And self-awareness is not an ability we’re born with. It’s something we each have as a potential, and as such, it needs to be developed, nurtured, practiced, exercised. The more we come in contact with self-reflective self-aware people, either through our choice of what we read or by interacting with people who are very self-aware (i.e. a teacher, counselor, therapist, parent, friend, mentor, et cetera), then the more our self-awareness will tend to develop. It’s no coincidence that most forms of psychopathology and mental illness involve an inability or unwillingness to be self-aware and to take responsibility. And it’s also no coincidence that many forms of treatment of many psychopathologies and addictions involve increasing the person’s self-awareness (i.e. “mindfulness”) and ability to take responsibility got their behaviors and decisions.

Self-awareness also means we will be able and willing to monitor ourselves and our effort and attention levels in the relationship. Are we trying hard? Are we showing up to the relationship as the best or near-best version of ourselves? Or are we mailing it in? Are we just lifelessly and lovelessly going through the motions and thus being a drain on the relationship? If we aren’t self-aware and if we aren’t monitoring ourselves, then all sorts of laziness and unscrupulousness can seep in. The reality is that commitment–extracting a commitment from another person–rarely brings out the best in us. What we humans tend to do once we get into a committed situation is lower our standards out of ourselves, take our foot off the gas peddle and begin cruising, taking the other person for granted, easing up on ourselves, letting ourselves go. Why continue trying to win the other person? We’ve already won him or her. So now we can stop the show, give our “best self” a rest and a vacation (after all, he or she’s surely earned it after the performance they just put on!), let down our guard, show our true colors, and backslide into who we really are–our baseline comfortable self.

And without self-awareness we’ll never catch on to this tendency in ourselves and to how much we’re taking the other person and the relationship.

And without self-awareness–including awareness of our own and the other’s mortality and fragility–we won’t be able to break this cycle.

3. You Are Capable of Being Transparent and Willing to Be Transparent

One of the fruits of increased self-awareness is increased self-knowledge–we come to know ourselves better. We also come to know other human being better–what their deep down motivations and desires are. We are not all the same, but there tends to be a lot of similarity, especially when it comes to our basic motivations and desires and what drives us. The dissimilarity arises in terms of how we try to deal with our basic fears and anxieties and desires and drives, given our personal histories, upbringing, location, conditioning, and influences.

So as we become more aware of ourselves, we tend to become more deeply aware of our own fears and insecurities and anxieties and buttons as well as our longings, desires, hopes, and motivations. This level of deeper self-awareness is some fairly profound self-knowledge. This level of knowledge about ourselves tends to give us knowledge not only just about ourselves, but about some of the deeper struggles that others are dealing with.

Of course, the degree of our self-awareness depends not just on how smart we are and the level of self-awareness of those around us and of those who have authored what we are reading, it also depends on how courageous and honest we are. both our honesty and our courage set hard limits to our self-awareness and our ability to be responsible. If we are not very honest with ourselves, then our self-awareness and self-knowledge will be corrupted from the get go. Same with our courage. If we are very anxious and afraid, then we will be frightened–nay terrified–of learning very much about ourselves.

And if we are not able and willing to be honest–i.e. transparent–with ourselves, then we will not be able and or willing to be honest–read: transparent–with another.

If we can’t/aren’t willing to be honest with another, then we’re not fit for–ready for–a real relationship. What we will inevitably end up doing is using the other person, exploiting him or her, manipulating him or her.

4. You Have Self-Control and Are Able and Willing to Control and Change Your Own Actions and Reactions.

Another fruit of self-awareness and personal responsibility, as well as honesty with oneself, is the increase of self-control. As we become more aware of ourselves and our own fears and anxieties and triggers, we become better able to either not act out on them and instead just witness them and let them pass, or to actually choose other behaviors and ways of thinking about and responding to them. This is a fruit of “mindfulness.”

One of the major sources of conflict in relationships is reactivity–in particular emotional reactivity and volatility. If we’re always flying off the handle, if we’re a hothead, if we’re constantly pissed off and angry, if we can’t control ourselves emotionally, if we’re easily triggered, then we will constantly be flaming our relationship and lashing out our “beloved” and our children.

Self-control comes from self-awareness.

Learning to be more self-aware, responsible, honest (and courageous), transparent, and self-controlled, are not only necessary prerequisites for really being ready for a real relationship and for becoming a more genuinely loving human being, they are also part and parcel of becoming more mental healthy.


Posted in Character, Commitment, Conscious Love, Critical Thinking, Martin Luther King Jr., Mature Love, Personal Growth, Perspective, Reactive, Real Love, Responsibility, Self-Awareness, Spiritual Growth, The Examined Life, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


So very true!

Dr Bill Wooten

When we count our many blessings;
it isn’t hard to see
that life’s most valued treasures
are the treasures that are free.
For it isn’t what we own or buy
that signifies our wealth.
It’s the special gifts that have no price;
our family, friends and health.”

~ author unknown


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May God Bless Us All . . . with Discomfort, Anger, Tears, and Foolishness





This is not by any means what we normally think of when asking God to bless us.  Maybe when asking God to “bless” our enemies or oppressors, but not when asking him to bless our family and friends.  (And certainly not ourselves!)

How would this fly in the real world?—“Hello, Neighbor, may God bless you and your family with discomfort, anger, tears, and foolishness on this fine day and on many many of the days of your life.”

Who in their right mind would want to be blessed with discomfort, anger, tears, foolishness?

We would much rather be blessed with peace, comfort, prosperity, and happiness.  In fact, this is likely what the vast majority of we humans ask for.  The Joel Osteen positive-thinking prosperity-Christianity sells very well.

But if we really take this whole Christianity thing (or Islam or Judaism) seriously, if we really believe in God, in some version of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, then while we are here on earth above ground alive we are to be God’s hands and feet.  That much is pretty clear.  At least some portion of our time alive (and likely more—likely *much* more—time than we would prefer to think) is to be spent helping those less fortunate, those who are suffering.


Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

No hands but yours,

No feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which is to look out

Christ’s compassion to the world

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.


Saint Teresa of Avila


We are not here for ourselves and our own gratification and for crossing item after item off our bucket list (unless our bucket list includes a lot of charitable projects and endeavors—i.e., starting an orphanage in Calcutta, et cetera).



May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.

May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.

(This blessing, often called a “Franciscan Blessing,” apparently was written by Benedictine Sister Ruth Fox of Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, ND about 25 years ago [1985].)
Posted in Community, Conscience, Courage, Critical Thinking, Mother Teresa, Personal Growth, Ruth Fox, Saint Teresa of Avila, Spiritual Growth, The Examined Life, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Marriage Box. (Relationships Are About What We Put Into Them, Not What We Get Out of Them)

Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” – Anthony Robbins


Most people get married assuming that marriage is a beautiful box full of all the things they have longed for: companionship, romance, sexual fulfillment, intimacy, friendship, laughter, financial security, joys doubled and sorrows and burdens halved.  Most people pick their partner because they think/hope/assume that everything they’ve found with that person will either continue or get even better.


But the truth is that, in the beginning, a marriage or an intimate relationship only gives you a taste of these.  The box is loaded with freebees and samples.  Soon the box will be empty.  Unless both people start putting things into the box.


Like Love, kindness, appreciation.


There is no Love in marriage.  Love is in people.  And people either put the love in marriage or keep it out.


There is no romance in marriage; people have to add romance and passion to their relationship or else the relationship will turn tepid and stagnant.


A couple must learn the art of and form the habits of giving, sharing, loving, being kind, being affectionate, serving, sacrificing, communicating, appreciating, forgiving, accepting, not sweating the small stuff, being consistent, and so on.  In other words, keeping the box full.


Or else the box will empty.


That’s what happens when one or both people take out more than they put in, the box soon empties.


To keep the Marriage Box full requires that we be willing to work at the relationship (that we have a work ethic; that we give as much as, if not more than, we take; that we try to leave things as good as, if not better than, we found them), and that we be bring a healthy version of our “self” to the relationship (and not a depleted self, not an unproductive exploitative self).

 *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *        *

When you love someone, you put things into the box, you give, you invest, you nurture, you build.  When you don’t really love someone—when you say you love a person but actually you don’t—you aren’t concerned with the box, you maybe don’t even realize that there is a box, because the “relationship” isn’t about the other person, it’s about you and about receiving.

When you love someone, it’s not about you, it’s about them, or it’s about BOTH of you. But it’s no longer just about you.  When the relationship is no longer just about you, then there’s a box.

And when you love someone, you don’t just put into the box what is meaningful to you: you put into the box what is meaningful to the other person, what speaks love to the other person.  That’s what makes it Love, giving, sacrifice, self-extension, going the extra mile, about the other person.

Most people are narcissistic in ways that they cannot even begin to imagine let alone even see. They are blind to how narcissistic/selfish they are.  That also makes them blind to all of the ways that they take in a relationship as well as all of the little and not so little ways that they fail to give in a relationship.

When we love another person the relationship isn’t just about us anymore.  When we love someone we don’t starve them, we give to them.

When we love someone love becomes a verb that allows us to put stuff into the box, give to the other person in a way that is meaningful to him or her and works with their schedule, not just ours, and works with their tastes and preferences, not just ours.

When we give in a way that works for us and when we give when we want to give or when we’re in the mood to give, we aren’t really giving or Loving the other person: that’s just that our narcissism temporarily not interfering with the relationship; that’s just our narcissism happening to coincide with the other person benefiting in some collateral way.

This is what most people call Love: their narcissism coinciding with and benefiting the other person collaterally.  Instead of the focused intentional giving that is done out of Love, or that is about the other, the “giving” is really receiving where the focus is primarily on oneself and what one is getting.  When the focus is primarily on oneself in a relationship, one is not actually Loving the other person, one is a narcissist who is using/exploiting the other.

When we love someone, the focus is on the other person, what we are putting in the box, the quality and frequency of what we are putting in the box, whether it matters to the other person, and whether it is good for the other person or will bring happiness to the other person.

When we don’t put stuff in the box, we starve the relationship or marriage.  We are takers, not givers; narcissists, not Lovers.

It’s like the story of the two banquet halls. There are two banquet halls that are laid out identically with an abundance of delicious food. In one banquet hall the people are happy and well-fed.  In the other, they are unhappy and malnourished.  In both banquet halls, people have to eat with identical 3-foot long utensils. The difference is that in the unhappy hall, the people are unhappy because they are focused on trying to feed themselves, and the size of their utensils prevent them from doing so and also have them constantly getting in each other’s way.  In the banquet hall where the people are happy, they are happy because they have learned how to feed each other, and to do so courteously, to give each WHAT the other would like to eat (this analogy assumes that the people themselves have a decent idea of what is good for them to eat and what is not).

The oft told inspirational story that compares the Dead Sea with the Sea of Galilee makes the same point.  The Dead Sea is a dead sea because it keeps all of its water—nothing flows out of it and so nothing can grow in it; the water is too salty.  But the nearby Sea of Galilee is full of life because water flows out of it.

When we love another person, we want to give to that person in a way that is meaningful to him or her; we want to be good to that person; our focus is no longer just on ourselves, but is also equally if not more so on the other.  When we don’t Love the other person, our focus is only incidentally or sporadically or peripherally on the other, and not on the other as an end in him- or herself, but as a means, a prop, a tool, a slot machine for the gratification our wants and needs.

When we love another person, we don’t use him or her, we make the other person and his or her well-being and happiness just as important as our own. We don’t do things that will benefit us but will disrespect him or her.  When we love another, we have the other person’s best interests at heart—and not just some of the time, but constantly.  We have internalized the other person and their next interests so much that they have become a part of us, inseparable from us.  This is not merging or glomming on or fusion without integrity; this is self-extension of the highest and most respectful order.  This is fusion *with* integrity.  This is what real Love is all about: knowing another person and their best interests and what they like and what is good for them well enough that we have come to naturally desire to give this to the other and not withhold it from them or starve them of it.

And it takes a certain amount of personal growth and self-development, a certain level of emotional maturity and character development, a certain amount of self-awareness and honesty and getting real and very truthful with ourselves, to get to this place and not be BSing ourselves about being at this place.

Simply put, a good percentage of people are BSing themselves when they say “I Love you” to their partner.  They don’t actually Love their partner, they don’t treat their relationship like a living thing and nurture and tend to it and invest in it; they don’t see their partner as a REAL person, as someone with tastes and preferences (a love language) different than their own, with ways of wanting to be loved and cared for that are different from how they want to be loved and cared for.  Most people say “I Love you” to keep up the ruse, to keep the game going, to maintain the status quo of what they are getting out of the relationship.  Most people say “I Love you” because the truth would end things: “I am using you, and will continue to do so as long as your needs and wants coincide with what I am prepared to give you collaterally, incidentally, peripherally, as an afterthought.  You are not my primary focus, nor are ‘we’ my primary focus; I am primarily focused on myself because that’s the level of emotionally maturity and psychological development that I am at.  I have been stunted by dozens of things—my culture, upbringing, parents, friends, media, even myself—and so I have not grown enough to love and to give consistently.”

. Related articles:
Posted in Anthony Robbins, Love is a Decision, Love Is a Verb, Love is an Act of Will, Love is Not a Feeling, Marriage Box, Mature Love, Mental Health, Personal Growth, Real Love, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What Are Your Relationships Based On?


[W]hat is . . . relationship generally based on? Is it not based on so-called interdependence, mutual assistance? At least we say it is mutual help, mutual aid and so on, but, actually, apart from words, apart from the emotional screen which we throw up against each other, what is it based upon? On mutual gratification, is it not? If I do not please you, you get rid of me, if I please you, you accept me either as your wife or as your neighbour or as your friend. That is the actual fact.


So, relationship is sought where there is mutual satisfaction, gratification, and when you do not find that satisfaction you change relationship, either you divorce, or you remain together but seek gratification elsewhere or else you move from one relationship to another till you find what you seek, which is satisfaction, gratification and a sense of self-protection and comfort. . . .


We talk about love, we talk about responsibility, duty, but there is really no love, and relationship is based on gratification, the effect of which we see in the present civilization. The way we treat our wives, children, neighbours, friends is an indication that in our relationship there is really no love at all. It is merely a mutual search for gratification and as this is so, what then is the purpose of relationship? What is its ultimate significance?


Surely, if you observe yourself in relationship with others, do you not find that relationship is a process of self-revelation? Does not my contact with you reveal my own state of being if I am aware, if I am alert enough to be conscious of my own reaction in relationship? 


So relationship really is a process of self-revelation which is a process of self-knowledge and in that revelation there are many unpleasant things, disquieting, uncomfortable thoughts, activities and since I do not like what I discover I run away from a relationship which is not pleasant to a relationship which is pleasant. So, relationship has very little significance when we are merely seeking mutual gratification, but relationship becomes extraordinarily significant when it is a means of self-revelation and self-knowledge.


(J, Krishnamurti, from


So what are our intimate relationships based on?  What are marriages based on?

Two people meet, date, and decide to marry.  Why?  There are probably as many reasons for marrying as there are marriages.  Some marry primarily for love, for children, for the steady access to a sexual partner, for the tax break, because they want a companion, because they’ve found “The One,” because they’re tired of being single, because they want to try something different than the single life, et cetera.  People’s primary and secondary and tertiary, et cetera, motives for marrying will vary from person to person.

Krishnamurti’s point in the above excerpt is that relationships are invariably going to be about getting, receiving.  We just can’t escape this.  There’s no escaping that there’s no such thing as pure altruism: the giver always receives something in return.

But what?

K’s question is what are we primarily trying to get from our marriage or an intimate relationship?  Sex?  Comfort? Companionship? Security? Financial Aid? Gratification of one sort or another.

Or something different?  Self-knowledge?  An increase in our awareness/consciousness?

Self-knowledge & self-revelation, though, are not ends in themselves, but parts of a process that can either lead to greater self-centeredness, pettiness, manipulativeness, and narcissism/navel-gazing, or that can lead to greater virtue and growth.

When we value a relationship as a means of self-knowledge and self-revelation for the sake of growing up and becoming less self-centered and less petty, and instead becoming more Loving and generous and appreciative, then we are engaging in what in Buddhist terminology is “Right Relationship.”

But when we value the self-knowledge and self-revelation that we gain from an intimate relationship to become better connoisseurs of our own self-centered gratifications and hedonistic tendencies, then we are not engaged in right relationship.  In fact, we are not even really relating to the other person, but rather using him or her, valuing the other person (our supposed “partner”) as a tool or prop or means, not an end-in-him- or herself.

And what about children?—isn’t that a valid reason to enter into a marriage or intimate relationship?  Sure . . . But what kind of parents does any child want?—Two people who are highly dependent on each other and basically using each other for personal gratification, security, comfort—in short, two people who are using each other as substitutes for personal growth and self-development?  Two people who are needy and dependent and underdeveloped and don’t have any real time or attention for their child, or even really know much about how to raise a child?  Or two parents who are committed to trying to grow up and mature emotionally and spiritually, two people who are committed to becoming more aware of how selfish and petty and narcissistic they can, two people who are committed to seeing how manipulative and exploitative they can be, two people who are committed to becoming better parents, two people who are deeply intent on trying to love each other (and their child), be good to each other, respect each other, be responsible, financially disciplined (not good little mindless consumers), and to role model all of this for their children?

So why are you in the intimate relationship you are in?

Related articles:

What Are Your Relationships Based On?—Mutual Gratification or Are They Processes of Self-Revelation? (

Love & the smaller and LARGER Self (

Posted in Emotional Maturity, Immature Love, Intimate Relationships, Krishnamurti, Personal Growth, Perspective, Real Love, Spiritual Growth, The Examined Life, What is Love? | 1 Comment

How To Begin Being More Thankful

Gratitude, like love, is best defined not as a feeling, but as something so much more and different: as a choice, a behavior, an attitude, as a way of seeing things, as a way of perceiving and thinking about things.

Being more grateful—becoming a more grateful and appreciative person—is something we can consciously choose to do and work on.


We can choose to see things as half-empty—what is normally thought of as seeing things pessimistically but what also means seeing things ungratefully, in terms of what is lacking. We can also make the choice to see the same situation, person, relationship with eyes that see more gratefully. It’s not a pessimist who sees the glass as half-empty, it’s the ungrateful, unsatisfied, consumeristic type of person who sees the glass as half-empty—and who gets irritated with people who tell him or her to enjoy every moment with their children.


Truly kind and grateful people see the glass as half-full, see life and relationships from a larger perspective—from the perspective of knowing that things truly *could be otherwise*.  Being grateful means not taking things and people and health for granted.  It doesn’t mean that we feel shamed or guilted into appreciating them, because that would just be an ungrateful person trying to mimic being grateful and doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (but it would be better than not even doing so at all!).  Rather it means actually understanding—really getting it, having an epiphany or an “a-ha” light bulb moment—that things really could be otherwise and then rising to the occasion (the demands) of living in alignment with that insight.

OtherwiseJane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs,
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Living gratefully takes practice. To live more gratefully takes practice—hours and hours of practice—perhaps even 10000 hours to master. Which means that living gratefully will take determination/will-power as well.  It will take effort and practice to begin acquiring the habit of seeing life and relationships with greater appreciation and not taking them for granted. It will take effort and practice to not take things (and people and health, et cetera) for granted.

It will be a very difficult battle, because we will be doing battle with ourselves and some pretty bad habits that took root in us when we were very young and naïve, as well as doing battle with the societal and cultural influences that have shaped and reinforced those habits.

We live in a culture that encourages ungratefulness.  We live in a culture that constantly encourages dissatisfaction and seeing the proverbial glasses all around us in our lives—the size of the house the house glass, the car glass, the marriage glass, the size of the TV glass, et cetera, as half-empty.  We live in a consumeristic culture based largely on planned obsolescence and instant gratification, where we are constantly fed the message that we can buy our way to happiness and where we are constantly bombarded with advertisements bandying something as “new” (as in “NEW!”) “IMPROVED!” “MUST HAVE!

And we have been exposed to this pattern and this way of thinking and looking at things since we were young, since we first started watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading magazines. . . . What you have isn’t good enough anymore, you need to keep up with the Joneses and get with what is new.

And from “what you have isn’t good enough anymore” it’s only a very small step or stumble for most people to: YOU aren’t good enough anymore because you don’t have the latest this or that, or the labels on your clothes aren’t classy or trendy enough.

And so from an early age we are encouraged to “want the best for ourselves” and the newest and latest and greatest for ourselves in terms of what we life has to offer and that we can buy.

We are taught to try to buy our way to happiness and to a better version of ourselves and to fitting in and being accepted.  Constant craving and constant dissatisfaction are what drive a good portion of the economy, and these traits become embedded in us as ungratefulness, pessimism, a chronic lack of appreciation, suggestibility, the need for “retail therapy” (or “shopping therapy”—the beginning of the movie “Fight Club” was very good in its parodying of this).

And so once a year many of us try to go against the grain of our conditioning and instead we try to be grateful, we try to appreciate what we have—all before, or course, getting right back on the wheel and setting out on the biggest shopping day of the year and getting busy right back to seeing what we don’t have, and what we are sold into believing we “need” in order to feel happy, accepted, satisfied—at least temporarily, for a few moments or days.

Gratitude isn’t a feeling.  It’s a way of life.  It begins with appreciating what we have—which for many of us is actually more than most people have or will ever have.  It begins with getting perspective—seeing the ways in which we take things and people and our health and their health for granted.  It begins with seeing how things could be “otherwise”—understanding how precarious our lot is, how fragile we are, how quickly things can change in life, how disaster could strike at any time.  And instead of responding with fear and panic and anxiety, we make the choice to practice responding instead with appreciation, with gratitude, by saying Thank You to God, Life, the Universe for our life, and saying Thank You to those around us for being in our life.

Related articles:

The Problem with Thanksgiving (or “Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving”) (

Posted in "Otherwise", Gratitude, Jane Kenyon, The Examined Life, Waking Up, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Problem with Thanksgiving (or “Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving”)

Gratitude, like love, is best defined not as a feeling, but as something so much more and different: as a behavior, as a way of seeing things, as a way of perceiving and thinking about things. Gratitude is an attitude, a way of looking at things. It is a conscious choice–something we can choose consciously. We can choose to see things as half-empty–what is normally thought of as seeing things pessimistically but what also means seeing things ungratefully, in terms of what is lacking. We can also make the choice to see the same situation, person, relationship with eyes that see more gratefully. It’s not a pessimist who sees the glass as half-empty, it’s the ungrateful, unsatisfied, good little consumer type of person who sees the glass as half-empty and who gets irritated with people who tell him or her to enjoy every moment with their children. A truly kind and grateful person sees the glass as half-full, sees life and relationships from a large perspective–from the perspective of knowing that things *could truly be otherwise*. Being grateful means not taking things and people for granted. It doesn’t mean that we feel shamed or guilted into appreciating them, because that would just be an ungrateful person trying to mimic being grateful. Rather it means actually understanding–really getting it, having an epiphany or an “a-ha” lightbulb moment–that things really could be otherwise and then rising to the occasion (the demands) of living in alignment with that insight.

Gratitude takes practice. To live more gratefully takes practice–hours of practice–perhaps even 10000 hours to master. Which means that living gratefully will take determination/will-power as well. It will take effort and practice to begin acquiring the habit of seeing life and relationships with greater appreciation and not taking them for granted. It will take effort and practice to not take things (and people and health, et cetera) for granted. It will be a tough battle, because we will be battling ourselves and some pretty bad habits that took root in us when we were very young and naive. We live in a culture that encourages ungratefulness, dissatisfaction, as seeing the glass as half-empty; we live in a consumeristic culture based largely on planned obsolesence and instant gratification where we are constantly sold the message that we can buy our way to happiness and where we are constantly bombarded with advertisements bandying something as “new” (as in “NEW!”) “IMPROVED!” “MUST HAVE!” And we have been exposed to this pattern and this way of thinking and looking at things since we were young, since we first started watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading magazines. What you have isn’t good enough anymore, you need to keep up with the Joneses and get with what is new. And from “what you have isn’t good enough anymore” it’s only a very small step for most people to you aren’t good enough anymore because you don’t have the latest this or that, or the labels on your clothes aren’t classy or trendy enough. And so from an early age we are encouraged to “want the best for ourselves” in terms of what we life has to offer and that we can buy. We are taught to buy our way to happiness and to a better version of ourselves and to fitting in and being accepted. Constant craving and constant dissatisfaction are what drive a good portion of the economy, and these traits become embedded in us as ungratefulness, pessimistism, a chronic lack of appreciation, suggestability, the need for “retail therapy” (or “shopping therapy”; the beginning of the movie “Fight Club” was very good at parodying this).

And so once a year many of us try to go against the grain of our conditioning and instead be grateful, appreciate what we have–all before the getting right back on the wheel and setting out on the biggest shopping day of the year and getting busy seeing what we don’t have, and what we are sold into believing we “need” in order to be happy, accepted, satisfied–at least temporarily, for a few moments or days.

What Is Real True Love?


First off, this will not be a curmudgeonly tough-minded rant where I rage rage against how commercialize things are at this time of year and how “Black Friday” is starting earlier and earlier, so much so that it is now encroaching more and more onto Thanksgiving Day’s turf. (Although that is all true, it’s just not where I’m going with this.)

Nor will this be a glib positive-thinking post about being more grateful.

This will be a more tough-minded tell it like it is no holds barred post about why we–about why any and all of us–should be more grateful and appreciative, and how to get there.

And if this posts makes you feel guilty or “bad” for not being more grateful, then good: better feeling guilty and bad now rather than regretful later when you can no longer do anything about it.


The Problem with Thanksgiving

My hang-up with Thanksgiving—and with holidays…

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On Love & Life



The story I posted yesterday (about Taylor Morris & Danielle Kelly) led me to reflect  on (and to write about) the nature of love—and life—as well as character, commitment, devotion, for better or worse, and what it means to really love another person.

For me, there were two big takeaways from the thinking and writing I did yesterday that essentially reinforced what I have already concluded and try to live by.

1. Life is Capricious. 

This is just a brute fact of life.  We’re here today, gone tomorrow.  We’re each “written on the wind” (a line from a Stevie Winwood song).  If you are lucky enough to find someone decent who loves you and whom you love, then it would seem wise not to take that person or your time with him or her for granted.  The fundamental nature of life is that it is unpredictable, uncertain, even deadly, eventually deadly.  We never know when things might change or turn bad.  Health is changeable, youth and strength are fleeting; life is what happens to us when we are busy making our own plans.  Life can change dramatically in a split second—a car accident, a plane crash (, a lump, a stroke or aneurysm.

These are all truisms that we nod our head in agreement with, but that we usually quickly try to put out of mind and stop thinking about (not to mention acting in accordance with) because they’re just too paralyzing and worrisome and fretful.  Life’s capriciousness and unpredictability just causes us stress, makes us nervous and anxious.  And we don’t like feeling that way—feeling out of control or panicked, so we opt to live in denial and not face the brute facts of our existence and deal honestly with our own and other peoples’ mortality and work through the anxiety and even panic and make the necessary changes that will allow us to live and love and act better and with greater force and clarity and less regret.

Most of what couples argue about, if seen on a long enough timeline, is small stuff—ridiculously small petty insignificant stuff.  Couples argue so often over silly things.  Why?  Because we’re all basically egos in skin bags.  We might aspire to more and have a few inklings of something more, but basically the vast majority of us wake up each day in denial, still asleep, and start going about our day as if life goes on forever and as if we have all the time in the world for our daily task and pet ego projects.  And moreover most people tend to behave in ways that suggest that life is about them and their own comfort and momentary gratification and indulgence.   Many of us live as children—we want, want, want, we spend, spend, spend, we’re very suggestible and distracted.  We make our concerns many and our perspective small.  We want comfort, indulgence, security, excitement, pampering, to be entertained, titillated, et cetera.  We want escape—escape from what?—from work, effort, from anxiety, uncertainty, from having to think about loss and our own and others’ mortality.  We don’t wake up and reflect on life’s fleetingness and capriciousness, how vast and unfathomable the cosmos is, how little we really know about this incredible mystery (life) that we are partaking in or that is experiencing itself through us, how odd it is to find ourselves here in this time and place and with this face and body.  We don’t wake up and remind ourselves that someday—perhaps today—all of this will come to end, that we will die, that what we fear most and would like to avoid is inevitable, that someday we will get the bad news from our doctor.  And that not only will it happen to us, it will happen to our partner, our parents, our friends, our children, to acquaintances, strangers, even enemies.  And we don’t pause to remind ourselves of all of this at points throughout the day—especially when we’re having a difference of opinion with our partner.

2. Real Love Really Is About For Better AND For Worse.

Real love is not just about a strong feeling or an overwhelming euphoric emotion; it’s equally if not more so (ok, definitely more so) about character, commitment, conscience.  The best long term relationships and marriages take place when two people deep down not only Love and are attracted to each other, *but* also really like and appreciate each other, when they enjoy each other’s company and companionship (are friends, not only lovers), *and* when have they both have the character traits—i.e., the loyalty, patience, focus, resolve, appreciation, generosity, respect, compassion, empathy, steadfastness, integrity, honor, responsibility, et cetera—necessary to care well for all of that attraction and interest and nurture it and make their relationship stable and lasting.

For love to last, it requires more than just an intense beginning.  It requires that both people have good character and that they both actually care about their character and developing it in a noble and decent way and not just letting it go or ignoring it (which is what many people do—pay little to no conscious attention to their own character development, seemingly not even consider it in their decision-making—“what kind of person am I becoming by choosing to do this or not do this?”).

The intensity or “rightness” of a relationship —how right a relationship feels—in the beginning really has no bearing whatsoever on whether a relationship will last or not.  The intensity and attraction and fireworks in the beginning are only one part—and arguably a non-essential part—of what it takes for a relationship to thrive and last.  The more important and crucial part is the level of character development and integrity and emotional maturity of the two people.  All the heat and attraction imaginable can befall two people of not very good character, and the temptations of this world and the vicissitudes of life will rip their relationship apart.  In order for their relationship to survive they will have to be kept sheltered from the real world and temptation, trial, tribulation, hardship, and misfortune.

But give two people of sound character a decent dose of attraction and mutual interest and compatibility and their relationship stands an infinitely better chance of passing the test of time and of providing them each with years of happiness and satisfaction and enjoyment (as well as ample opportunities for growth and self-improvement).

This is what making a commitment to another person (and even what the marriage vows) are all about—a personal declaration / mission statement of what we’re about—i.e., we’re not just emotionally reactive creatures (Stephen Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”), playthings of circumstance (Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”), falling leaves (Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha”); and we’re not just social climbers or egos in a skin bag here for our own emotional and psycho-sexual gratification and to emotionally strip-mine others and then callously and calculatingly move on when the other person no longer serves us or has outgrown their usefulness to us or has fallen on hard times.  We’re better than that.  When we make a commitment or declare the marriage vows, that’s what we’re saying: we’re better than mere emotional reactivity, we’re more than just our moods and feelings, we’re more than just some epiphenomenalistic/deterministic plaything of circumstance.

When we make a commitment to another person (or take the wedding vows) we’re saying this relationship is no longer just about “love,” but about love *and* character, love + character, love and attraction augmented and stabilized by *what’s best in us*; this is not just about our own gratification and happiness, but about another human being and his or her well-being, growth, happiness; we are declaring to the other person (as well as ourselves) that we will not be ruled just by the heart, by love the feeling or love the emotion, but a type of Love made much more durable and stable than the fickleness and flimsiness and fleetingness of mere emotion and feeling; we are going to become devotees and practitioners of Love the choice, Love the commitment, Love the action, Love the verb.

I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you and cherish you all the days of my life, till death do us part. . . .”

I promise to do certain things and act a certain way and show up a certain way each day to our relationship.  I promise not just to feel love for you, but act in ways that speak love to you—and speak it in your love language (not mine), I promise to behave around you and towards you in ways that demonstrate my love for you.  And I will do this not just when it’s convenient or easy or when I am feeling like it or when I am sexually motivated to, but I will do so when I don’t feel like it, or when it’s inconvenient, or when it requires effort, or when life gets difficult, or when you are ill or wounded or poor.  I’m not just going to use you for my own personal enjoyment and gratification while you are healthy and can give me things; I am going to actually love you for the long haul and care deeply about you as a human being and type of person we both become. And I am going to cherish you—not treat you as if life goes on forever and as if we have all the time in the world, because that’s not cherishing another, that’s taking him or her for granted; instead I am going appreciate you, act with gratitude and generosity towards you, be good to you and good for you.

Bottom line—

When you really love someone, you don’t take them for granted, and you care not just about them and their happiness, but about their character—as well as your own.

Posted in "Siddhartha", Commitment, Critical Thinking, Death, Denial, Reactive, Stephen Covey, Taylor Morris, The Examined Life, Truth, Viktor Frankl, Waking Up, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment