In 1967, John Lennon wrote a song called, ’All You Need is Love.’ But the harsh truth is he also beat both of his wives, abandoned one of his children, and verbally abused his Jewish manager.
Thirty-five years later, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails wrote a song called ’Love is Not Enough.’ Reznor, despite being famous for his shocking stage performances and his grotesque and disturbing videos, got clean from all drugs and alcohol, married one woman, had two children with her, and then cancelled entire albums and tours so that he could stay home and be a good husband and father.
Many of us idealize love. We see it as some lofty cure-all for all of life’s problems. Our movies, stories and our history all celebrate it as life’s ultimate goal, the ultimate solution for all of our pain and struggle. And because we idealize love, we overestimate it. As a result, our relationships very often pay a price.
When we believe that ’all we need is love’ like Lennon, we’re more likely to ignore other fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all the hard stuff?
But if, like Reznor, we believe that ’love is not enough,’ then there’s the chance that we’ll understand that healthy relationships require more than pure emotion or lofty passions. We understand that there are things more important in our lives and our relationships than simply being in love. And the success of our relationships hinges on these deeper and more important values.
The problem with idealizing love is that it causes us to develop unrealistic expectations about what love actually is and what it can do for us. These unrealistic expectations then sabotage the very relationships we hold dear in the first place. It’s time to confront three harsh truths about love:
1. Love Does Not Equal Compatibility
Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t bleed into one another very well.
How does this incompatibiltiy manifest itself? Well, it’s possible to fall in love with somebody who:
doesn’t treat us well
who makes us feel worse about ourselves
who doesn’t hold the same respect for us as we do for them
who has such a dysfunctional life themselves that they threaten to bring us down with them
who has different ambitions or life goals that are contradictory to our own
who holds different philosophical beliefs or worldviews that clash with our own sense of reality
who just doesn’t bring us enough happiness
That may all sound paradoxical, but it’s true.
Many (or even most) disastrous relationships are entered into on the basis of emotion — two individuals felt that ’spark’, and so they just dove in head first. And then when a bitter break up comes around, they wonder where it all went wrong.
The truth is, it went wrong before it even began.
When dating and looking for a partner, you have to use not only your heart, but also your mind. Yes, you want to find someone who makes your heart flutter. But you also need to evaluate a person’s values, how they treat themselves, how they treat those close to them, their ambitions and their worldviews in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you…well, you’re going to have a bad time.
2. Love Does Not Solve Your Relationship Problems.
My first girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other. We also lived in different cities, had no money to see each other, had families who hated each other, and went through weekly bouts of meaningless drama and fighting.
And every time we fought, we’d come back to each other the next day and make up, and that none of those little things matter because we were completely in love and, we’d find a way to work it out and everything will be great. Our love made us feel like we were overcoming our issues, when on a practical level, absolutely nothing had changed.
As you can imagine, none of our problems got resolved. The fights repeated themselves. The arguments got worse. Our inability to ever see each other hung around our necks like a stone. Looking back, there was no hope that it was going to last. Yet we kept it up for three years.
After all, love conquers all, right?
Unsurprisingly, that relationship ended with an ugly breakup. And the big lesson I took away from it was this: while love may make you feel better about your relationship problems, it doesn’t actually solve any of your relationship problems.
The roller coaster of emotions can be intoxicating, each high feeling even more important and more valid than the one before, but unless there’s a stable and practical foundation beneath your feet, that rising tide of emotion will eventually come and wash it all away.
3. Love Is Not Always Worth Sacrificing Yourself
One of the defining characteristics of loving someone is that you are able to think outside of yourself and your own needs to help care for another person and their needs as well.
But the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is: exactly what are you sacrificing, and is it worth it?
In loving relationships, it’s normal for both people to occasionally sacrifice their own desires, their own needs, and their own time for one another. This is normal and healthy and a big part of what makes a relationship so great.
But when it comes to sacrificing one’s self-respect, one’s dignity, one’s physical body, one’s ambitions and life purpose, just to be with someone, then that same love becomes problematic. A loving relationship is supposed to supplement our individual identity, not damage it or replace it. If we find ourselves in situations where we’re tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior, then that’s essentially what we’re doing: we’re allowing our love to consume us and negate us, and if we’re not careful, it will leave us as a shell of the person we once were.
The Friendship Test
One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is ’You should be your partner’s best friend.’ Most people look at that piece of advice and think ’I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend’; ’I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend’; ’I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend’.
But people should also look at it from a different, negative point of view: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?
Amazingly, when we ask ourselves this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is ’no.’
Why do we tolerate behavior in our romantic relationships that we would never ever, ever tolerate in our friendships?
Imagine if your best friend moved in with you, trashed your place, refused to get a job or pay rent, demanded you cook dinner for them, and got angry and yelled at you any time you complained. That friendship would be over very fast indeed.
Or imagine another situation: a man’s girlfriend who was so jealous that she demanded passwords to all of his accounts and insisted on accompanying him on his business trips to make sure he wasn’t tempted by other women. His life was practically under 24/7 surveillance and you could see it wearing on his self-esteem. His self-worth dropped to nothing. She didn’t trust him to do anything. So he quit trusting himself to do anything.
Yet he stays with her! Why? Because he’s in love!
Remember this: The only way you can fully enjoy the love in your life is to choose to make something else more important in your life than love.
You can fall in love with a wide variety of people throughout the course of your life. You can fall in love with people who are good for you and people who are bad for you. You can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. You can fall in love when you’re young and when you’re old. Love is not unique. Love is not special. Love is not scarce.
But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust. There can potentially be many loves throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they are very hard to get back.
Love is a wonderful experience. It’s one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. And it is something everyone should aspire to feel and enjoy.
But like any other experience, it can be healthy or unhealthy. Like any other experience, it cannot be allowed to define us, our identities or our life purpose. We cannot let it consume us. We cannot sacrifice our identities and self-worth to it. Because the moment we do that, we lose love and we lose ourselves.
Because you need more in life than love. Love is great. Love is necessary. Love is beautiful.
But love is not enough.
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