In the Gap Between Stimulus and Response is Where Real Love Occurs

I’ll meet you there (to riff on Rumi).

Or better yet: Start meeting your partner there.

Choice is sexy. When partners choose when and where and how they want to have sex, that is sexy. When they make a choice to engage in sex and make a choice as to how to engage in sex and make choices as to what to do in sex–what to try, what to touch, what to say–that is sexy.  When they realize that life is fleeting and that they will both one day die, and choose to love and appreciate and forgive each other more because of it–that is sexy.

We live in a world of people who are asleep–sleepwalking. Not making reflective deliberate intentional choices but running on autopilot–the autopilot of habit, the autopilot of feeling & moods (unless their moods are self-selected and chosen, similar to the way one can learn to choose one’s attitude).

Moods are reactive, epiphenominalistic, determined. Constantly going with the flow of one’s moods indicates an absence of self, of core self, of solid principled self. It means an external locus of control. It means that it is the environment and not oneself that has control over oneself. So mood is an abnegation of self and control and responsibility. Being awake may mean going with the flow and even choosing to go with the flow. But it also means perhaps trying to steer or direct or create the flow, which are also all to some extent in our capacity.

Choice involves higher and newer parts of the brain. Mood doesn’t. Mood relies on ancient reptilian parts. Everyone can be a reptile. It’s what we’re born as. And it’s what some of us never want to grow out of or go beyond–trousered or skirted lizards. Not everyone can make choices–other than relinquishing making choices.  Not everyone can actually realize that there is almost always–ALWAYS–a gap between stimulus & response, between input and output, between mood and doing and thinking things that will either increase, decrease, or maintain a given mood. Or attitude. The gap is there. That’s a huge part of what it means to be present, mindful, aware, self-aware–to be aware that we can decide how we want to respond, that we can decide to open and give of ourselves during a sexual encounter or close ourselves off, that we can engage in conscious deliberate sex and focus on both self and other, or we can engage in autopilot go with the flow or mood sex. We can challenge the status quo or go along with it and reinforce it.

It’s fine to do this (go with the flow of good moods) when things are going well in a relationship.

It’s a huge part of the problem to go with the flow of moods this when things are not going well in a relationship, because the moods that one will be going with will be negative as well.

Start making the choice to wake up. Not everyone does. Most people sleepwalk through their lives, largely unaware of themselves and their own deeper motivations and the deeper implications of what they are doing or of how they are living. Being awake means being aware, constantly. The moment one is unaware, one is asleep. Going with the flow or mood means sleepwalking. If one is only aware that one is going with the flow or that things depend on one’s mood, one is still asleep, because one is not awake to the possibility of choosing one’s mood and that how one thinks about, conceptualizes, perceives, behaves, affects one’s moods, alters one’s moods, modulates and mitigates one’s moods.

There’s no being awake without being aware of this. There’s no being awake without being consistently aware of this & constantly making choices about it. Why be yet another reactive creature deluding itself that it is awake? The world is full of (and has been overrun by) creatures such as these, many of them potentially human, but who have not yet made the decision to be so–to wake up and be so. There’s no being awake without at the very least realizing that there is almost always a gap between stimulus and response, and that that gap is what makes us most human. Anyone and any living creature can just go along with the flow and go from stimulus to response without choice, refection, awareness, deliberation. Only a fully fledged sentient self-aware human being can think about the flow, realize that there is a flow, be aware that there is flow, make decisions about the flow, realize that there are other possible flows and ways of flowing, challenge the flow (or the status quo), swim against the flow, swim sideways to the shore and away from the flow.

In that gap between stimulus and response we can turn the tide. In that gap we can make heaven of hell, or at least make the beginning of something more heavenly from something that is or has turned hellish.

Look around you today. Look at yourself throughout the day today:

How many people do you see who are reslly awake?  Who are deeply aware and attentive and present; who are making deliberate choices of who to be and how to respond?

And how many people are just going along with the flow, convention? And how many people are rebelling against it?

And how many are trying to become more aware of it and awake to it and better understand it?

To be alive is to be aware!

Posted in Character, Conscious Love, Intimacy, Intimate Relationships, Love, Love is a Choice, Love is a Decision, Love is Not a Feeling, Mature Love, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Personal Growth, Perspective, Real Love, Self-Awareness, The Examined Life, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quotes on LOVE


“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. . . . To love another is to will what is really good for him [or her]. A love that . . . loves blindly merely for the sake of loving, is hatred, rather than love, . . . because the goal of such love is not the real advantage of the beloved but only the exercise of love in our own souls. . . . It is not interested in the truth, but only in itself.” — Thomas Merton (No Man Is an Island, p. 5.)


“Loving someone is a very active process. Love is not just a feeling you have; it’s supposed to accrue to the benefit of the loved one.” — David Schnarch, PhD (from )


“This book . . . wants to show that love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of the level of maturity reached by him. It wants to convince the reader that all his attempts for love are bound to fail, unless he tries most actively to develop his total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation; that satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline. In a culture in which these qualities are rare, the attainment of the capacity to love must remain a rare achievement.” — Erich Fromm (The Art of Loving, p. xvii.)


“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love”

“Often, when we say, ‘I love you’ we focus mostly on the idea of the ‘I’ who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered”

“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”

“The more you understand, the more you love; the more you love, the more you understand. They are two sides of one reality. The mind of love and the mind of understanding are the same” — Thích Nhất Hạnh (How to Love, pp. 39, 85, 10, & 81).





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Back to back to face to face

Great stuff, and spot on. Dovetails nicely with the post a few below this with the excerpt from Schnarch’s “Passionate Marriage” about our level of “partner engagement.”

~~~ bride and groom silhouetteIn session, with a couple.  He does not want to be here. But she’ll end the marriage unless he comes. I ask questions, make little jokes, try to engage him.  But it’s slow going until he finally says out loud how he sees things.

“It’s like we live back to back,” he mutters.

This triggers an earworm. You know, when you get a song stuck in your head and can’t stop hearing it? Except my worm isn’t a song. It’s a bit of nonsense rhyme from my childhood.

Back to back
They faced each other,
Drew their swords
And shot each other.

The worm plays over and over while I listen to them talk.

It plays until I figure out what the hell it means.

Then I do, and the meaning comes all at once.  And I interrupt the couple to tell them. 

I say,

What you said about living…

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Fixed-Mindset versus Growth-Mindset: What Mindset Do You Actually Have? Which Mindset Are You Encouraging and Reinforcing in Your Children?

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Originally posted on The Critical Thinking & Examined Life Blog:
? It seems fairly self-evident that the more we ourselves can develop a growth-mindset, the mentally healthier and happier we will be. It also seems self-evident that the more we…

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What Does “I Love You” Mean to You?

I Love You

What does it really mean when you say “I love you” to your partner/spouse?

Does it ultimately mean— “I like/love/am addicted to how you make me feel, I like/love/am addicted to what you do for me because it makes me feel warm, glowing, giddy, alive. You agree with me, you support me, you validate me, you make me look good to others, you give me what I want, and this is why you are important to me and why I keep you around and why I say that I love you to you.”—?

Or does it ultimately mean— “In all the world, you are unique to me. There is no one who thinks like you, acts like you, sees the world like you, sees me like you do, has your little quirks and neuroticisms, your little eccentricities. Thus you are not expendable and interchangeable, nor can you ever be. And thus obviously 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, and I am so grateful that you want to share yourself with me.”—?

Or does it mean something else to you?

Please share below in the comment section what “I love you” means to you when you say it to your partner or spouse or beloved, or when you hear it spoken to you.

When I say I love you


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Love Means Opening Yourself Up

C S Lewis - Love Anything


A big part of love means consciously opening yourself up to your beloved and sharing with your partner from what’s best in you. This means consciously choosing and risking being vulnerable and trusting your partner and revealing yourself.

The opening up of oneself occurs relatively easily in the beginning of most romantic relationships because the euphoria of new love encourages this–sharing ourselves, opening ourselves is reciprocated and also helps to increase the mutual intoxication and euphoria of falling in love.

But as love deepens and changes from novel to familiar, it also changes from automatic to conscious and deliberate, from easy to requiring effort and attention and attentiveness. It’s similar to the difference between stumbling upon someone else’s garden and consuming/enjoying in all of the flowers and vegetables and fruits you find there, versus learning to plant and tend to a garden of your very own.

Which means consciously and deliberately choosing to open yourself up instead of waiting to be opened up.

As your beloved becomes more important to you and more and more a part of you, loving your partner means actively choosing to open yourself up to him or her instead of passively waiting for this to happen for you automatically and or because the feeling or mood strikes you.

Consciously opening yourself up to your partner means allowing yourself to be vulnerable to loss, to death, to rejection, to pain, to disappointment—to the full gamut of the risks and rewards of intimacy—which also means choosing to open yourself to the possibility of beauty, consolement, tenderness, kindness, warmth, passion that can only be found in a mutually loving relationship.

Consciously opening yourself up to your partner and the relationship also means approaching your partner and the relationship from what’s best in you.

Thus, a sizeable part of consciously choosing to open yourself to your partner and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and real means trying to remove your own inner blocks to doing this.

And this almost certainly entails courage, insight, understanding, journaling, inner work.

We all have blocks to love. The blocks are not our fault. They are relics from our past, useful in the past because they helped us survive and make sense of what was confusing, new, foreign, dysfunctional, neglectful, even abusive, even traumatic in our past. Those blocks may be useful now, or they may be intrusive, counterproductive, and not needed now. Because now that we are grown and have survived and are in a different environment, different responses may likely serve us better, as well as serve better those we love.

And because we have grown and survived, we are capable of those different responses, if necessary, if warranted.

It will be up to us consider all of this.

And it will be up to us to choose.

We can take responsibility for our own life and relationship by making the choice to open ourselves and give and receive the love that those around us have for us as well as want and desire from us. Or we try to avoid that responsibility by continuing to act from the past and trying to love those around us from behind the safety and familiarity of our blocks and relics, and in spite of our blocks and relics, and see if we are actually able to love and be loved.


Often, when we say, ‘I love you’ we focus mostly on the idea of the ‘I’ who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered.” — Thich Nhat Hanh, in “How to Love


Posted in "The Four Loves", C.S. Lewis, Conscious Love, Critical Thinking, Love is a Choice, Love is a Commitment, Love is a Decision, Love Is a Verb, Love is Not a Feeling, Mature Love, Personal Growth, Perspective, Real Love, Self-Awareness, Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Examined Life, Truth, Vulnerability, Waking Up, What is Love? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

The following long and very thought-provoking excerpt is from David Schnarch’s incredible 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—if not in any book in recent memory. It takes Schnarch almost 250 pages of writing and detailing other more overtly dazzling and life-altering insights and ideas before he has laid down sufficient groundwork to be able to segue into the much subtler 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 other person isn’t actually a real 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, et cetera? (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.

To see our partner as a real human being requires consciousness—meaning self-awareness, and more specifically, self-awareness that is intensely honest—and a well-developed conscience.

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 (and something itself that requires a well-developed conscience)—then how can we expect to see our partner as more than an object, a prop, something to be used and manipulated, in other words, not just an object, but 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

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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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