Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by repetitive/obsessive thoughts and recurrent/compulsive behaviors.

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges and images that are experienced as intrusive and negative in nature and makes one feel uncomfortable. The person often attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges or images or neutralize them with some other thought or action….compulsions.

Examples of obsessions include, for example, a driver suddenly becoming convinced that, while checking his rear-view mirror, s/he ran over someone on the street; becoming convince that one’s clothes are not clean; believing that one has picked up germs after touching something or someone; fearing that the stove, somehow, is not turned off and could cause an explosion, etc.

Compulsions are behaviors or mental exercises that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. These behaviors or mental exercises are meant to relieve the stress/anxiety the person feels due to the obsessions.  Sometimes, the person develops specific rules about the performance of the behaviors or mental exercises.

Examples of compulsions include: driving around the block repeatedly to see is someone is lying in the road after being hit and run over by a/your car, inspecting one’s clothes before putting them on, washing one’s hands repeatedly (to the point that they chaff and bleed), checking and rechecking the stove to see if it is off, praying, counting, repeating words silently, organizing, etc.

The obsessions and compulsions become increasingly time-consuming and cause significant impairment in the person’s ability to meet responsibilities in different areas of the person’s life, i.e., socially, occupationally, sexually, etc.

When working with someone who presents themselves complaining of being OCD, I’ll ask about the following:

Hand-washing:  After shaking a person’s hand or touching something, do they feel a strong need to wash their hands or feel they have been contaminated?

Does the person spend excessive amounts of time looking at/examining their body and/or body functions, i.e., blinking, swallowing, and breathing?

Over Cleaning: After typical cleaning activities for a home or apartment, does the person feel what they have done is not enough? Do they subsequently re-clean, doing the exact same cleaning procedures? Does not re-cleaning make them feel uncomfortable?

Checking and Re-checking:  Do they feel the need to recheck doors, windows, stoves, appliances?  Do they repeatedly perform an action associated with checking, i.e., lock and unlock and lock a door 4-5 times, turning on and off a light fixture repeatedly, etc.

Counting Compulsions: Does the person find themselves counting….anything?  Do they count and not realize that they have started counting? Also, do they fixate on certain numbers (when this is part of their counting or not), believing these numbers have special significance?

Perfectionism: Closely related to cleaning, the person with OCD struggles with trying to get everything or certain things perfect in their lives. This drive for perfectionism helps them avoid making mistakes and experiencing the anxiety associated with making mistakes.

Dwelling on Relationships: The person struggling with OCD will obsess over what they said/did with others. They will over-analyze what they and the other person said/did, look for hidden meanings in such and lament what they didn’t say/do.

Need for Reassurance: Does this person constantly ask for reassurance about decisions they have made, comment they have made, etc.? The motivation for the want for reassurance is to avoid making a mistake and dealing with the anxiety they feel over decisions/action they have already taken.

Trouble concentrating and failing to meet social/work obligations: This person is frequently distracted because they are obsessing about mistakes they have made or will make in the future; thus, they find it hard to focus on what is in front of them.  This causes them to waste time and subsequently be late in meeting work deadlines; or they will be late for work or social events because for example they must examine and re-examine their clothes for dirt or imperfections.

A lot of people have some of these traits.  Only a few have enough of these behaviors to warrant a diagnosis. Typically, the combination of (outpatient) talk therapy and medications help most people overcome the obsessions and compulsions.


Men and Marriage

A few days ago, I met with a couple: young, in their 30’s.  They farm his land together.  They had been living together for 6 years.  She wants to marry.  He is reluctant.

I asked why he was reluctant:  “She could take half of my stuff”, “I don’t see how a piece of paper would make anything different from the way they are now.”  And “Marriage is a sham.  I know people who have married and nothing has change.”  She said that when they are alone, he says he wants to marry her.

I am not an attorney and don’t know Illinois law as it applies to marriage and divorce.  I am divorced.  We used an attorney.

From what I understand, his first comment is true.  If there were to be a divorce, she could take “half of my stuff”.  As a therapist however, I wonder if he is even a candidate for marriage if he looks at it this way.  This comment suggests A LOT of suspicion and a serious lack of trust of his partner.  So it leads me to believe he is not a candidate for marriage.

What would lead her to take half of his stuff?  The implications is that that desire is present in her and hidden from him.  I believe however, what may motivate her to take half of his stuff is HIM!  People treat others based on how others treat them.  So, if she wants to take half of his stuff, it is because, at least in part, due to how he has treated her.  And if he begins the relationship with the belief that she will take half of his stuff, this will skew how he sees everything she does.  This suspicion will drain the relationship of its love and affection.  He will continue to suspect her, doubt her, check on her, etc.  This will create resentment and anger.  It could eventually drive her a way and if she feels unjustifiably accused, she may retaliate and sue for half of his possessions, citing, “mental abuse”.

A healthy relationship or marriage REQUIRES vulnerability.  He is vulnerable to her.  She is vulnerable to him.  The two people must let down their walls to mix all their parts to create something unique to them.  The relationship is not “his” relationship or “her” relationship.  It is THEIR relationship.  All aspects of the relationship is or should be a compromise between the two partners.

For this vulnerability to exist, both partners must have some maturity.  This situation reminds me of the older sibling that says to the younger sibling, “My toys…my toys”!  They have not yet learned to share and give with the understanding that they will be given to as well.  If you don’t want her to take half of your stuff, ALWAYS treat her with respect!  If she doesn’t treat you always with respect, look for another partner.

This speaks to the aforementioned man’s comment about marriage being a sham, that nothing changes when two people marry and what could a piece of paper mean.  Either he is not looking too closely to the marriages around him or the marriages around him are of poor quality.  When you marry, EVERYTHING changes…or it should.  I believe the line is “….and the two shall become one”.  How could everything NOT change if the two people become one entity?  Further, has this man never bought a house or car?  EVERYTHING can change with a piece of paper!

This brings up another issue:  What have you been taught about how women or men REALLY treat their partners.  If you were raised with parents with modeled suspicion and distrust, you are more likely to act in the same way.  If you see such behavior in your parents but don’t see such in yourself, ask a trusted friend if you act this way.

Consider a third issue:  How are men and women socialized when the question of marriage comes up?  Women, in general, are taught to take care of everyone else’s needs before caring for themselves, cooperate, negotiate, to give in hopes of receiving.  Men are taught to be independent, fight for what they want, provide for the family, but don’t actually participate in the emotions of the family.  It seems pretty clear to me how the socialization of the male leads to fear of their stuff (representing their independence) being taken from them.

Strong Women Should Never Do These Things For a Man – or Anyone Else

** Again, I got this from my MSN home page, BUT IT IS SO CORRECT!

     I see women in my office frequently who learned these lessons the hard way.

     I encourage you to read these and contemplate.   Ed


When you’re head over heels for someone, or maybe when you’re feeling insecure, it’s sometimes easy to put someone else’s wants and needs before your own. But if you don’t catch yourself in time, you may lose a part of who you are. Ladies, don’t ever do the following five things for a man – or for anyone.

  1. Change your appearance.

If your SO is a decent human being, they won’t ever force you to alter the way you look for their benefit. They should love you for you, and all of you. If your weight, hair, or style really bothers him, he’s clearly not with you for the right reasons. Any physical changes you make should be made because you want them, not for attention or for someone else.

  1. Compromise your passions.

Absolutely no one should get in the way of your goals. It is your life, after all, and nobody else will regret leaving any dreams behind more than you. The decision to pass on a job opportunity or put an idea on hold might seem best at the moment, but the future is never guaranteed. Your partner should support your endeavors, and if he’s willing to come along for the ride, that’s just a bonus.

      3. Wait for his approval.

A strong woman plays by her rules and doesn’t sit around for instructions. You should be assertive and go forward with your own decisions rather than seek validation from someone else. You’re grown enough to know what’s best for you.

  1. Cancel already-set plans.

It’s different to reschedule when something important comes up, but it’s problematic when you drop what you’re doing just to be with him. Your friends and family should not be on the sideline and only brought in when he’s unavailable. You should never be on standby, and if he’s respectful, he won’t mind catching you another time.

  1. Let him change who you are.

Don’t change who you are for anyone but yourself. And if you do decide to make any self-adjustments, they should be improvements that will better you. It’s possible that he’d be more interested if you do x, y, and z, but he wouldn’t genuinely like you for you. Never lose sight of who you are.


Anger Management for Teens

“Anger” consists of two parts:

1. The issue that you are mad about.

  1. The energy the emotion of anger creates in you.

Consider this example: You are laughed at in class. Consequently, you pick a fight with the kid that laughed at you between classes. Teachers intervene and you are sent to the principal’s office, where you wait for 20 minutes before you are lectured by the principal.

What is going on in this example?

While being laughed at, you feel humiliation and anger. Humiliation usually makes a person feel weak/no energy.  Anger, on the other hand, always results in the body producing a lot of energy (Perhaps you have noticed physical changes in your body when you are angry.  Some of these changes include a tingling in your hands, sweating, rapid breathing, etc.).

All emotions impact our thinking. Setting aside the effects of humiliation for the moment, anger usually always makes us want to get active, quickly and strongly. And when this occurs, you don’t take time to think through want you want to do and you react with too much force.

So, you pick the fight. Why? Because we are energized and not thinking clearly.

Teachers break up the fight and send you to the principal’s office, where you wait (and have time to calm down). The energy your anger produced in your body has now been expelled by the fight; consequently, you calm down and your thinking returns to normal.

Later, you say something like, “I don’t know what got into me!” What got into you was the energy your body created when you got mad…and you let it come out in the form of a fight, thus getting yourself into more trouble.

So, if you want to manage your anger, what should you do?

First. Understand the above principles: When you get angry, your body produces energy.  That energy must be expressed before you address the issue that made you made in the first place.  Once you have expressed the energy, then go back and address the issue that made you mad.

Second. Think about safe and “ok” ways of expelling or channeling this energy in a variety of settings, i.e., in school, at home, in a store, at your girl/boyfriends house, etc.

Three. Practice these methods.  Learning to address such powerful emotions takes a lot of practice!

Fourth. Ask people you respect and/or you feel are mature how they handle their anger when they get angry.  Other people, especially older persons have more experience and can give ideas on how to handle your anger energy that you may never have thought of.

Fifth.  Here are some other ideas for managing your anger:

  • Know your triggers. Pay attention to what upsets you by noticing how your body feels when you are angry. Sometimes people are first aware of experiencing anger through their bodies rather than their thoughts or feelings. You may feel like your heart is racing, you might be breathing faster, your muscles may tighten, or you could feel hot or sweaty. When you notice your body beginning to react, it’s time to slow down and identify the feeling before reacting. If there are certain things that you know bother you, sometimes you can avoid them.  Sometimes your triggers may not be avoidable and then it’s up to express your emotional energy first and then address the trigger or issue.
  • Plan your time wisely. One of the most common anger stressors is being in a rush. The simplest way to avoid this is to plan ahead.
  • Talk to someone you trust. Reacting in anger often causes the reasoning center of the brain to shut off for a time and the way you can turn it back on is to talk rather than act out when anger takes hold. Taking a few minutes to gather your thoughts and speaking them out loud to a trusted person can do wonders to diffuse an angry situation.
  • Think about the consequences of your behavior. Do this before you act.
  • It is not a good idea to bottle up anger because it will usually explode later. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them about it at a time that you are calm. Many times disagreements can be worked out quickly and painlessly when everyone has a cool head.

Good Movies for Pre-Pubescent Boys

Two films have been recently released that are ideal for boys, ages roughly 8-12:        A Monster Calls, and Moonlight. These films address often unspoken questions boys have at this age: Why do bad things happen to good people?  What do you do in those situations?  How do you know what is the “right thing” to do in those situations? What do you do if you hate your mom/dad?  What is sex about?  How can you tell if you are heterosexual or homosexual or something else?

A Monster Calls is about a boy whose mother is dying due to cancer. The boy’s parents are divorced and dad’s presence in the boy’s life is insufficient.  The grandmother is present, is attempting to care for the mother and willing to take the boy in but the grandmother and boy DO NOT get along.

One evening, a wooden man grows out of a tree and addresses the boy.  He tells the boy he will tell the boy 3 stories and then the boy will tell him a story…the story of the nightmare the boy has been having for some time.

The boy reluctantly agrees and then is told 3 stories. The stories correspond to what is going on in his life.  The boy has emotional reactions to the stories. The tree man gives more rational conclusions. These lessons are not lost on the boy.  Eventually, the boy shares his story….his nightmare and together they face it and discuss it.

The lessons of all the stories include: life is not fair, one’s actions need to be evaluated not only on outcome but also intent, life involves suffering, love doesn’t conquer all but can be eternal, tremendously powerful and comes in different forms.

Moonlight teaches the same lessons but in a dramatically different way.  A boy’s life is explored at the ages of approximately 10, 15 and 20.  This young man grows up in “the projects” with a drug addicted mother.  He is shy, quiet, observant, insecure, wanting and needing to be loved. He questions is sexuality.

Early on, he is rescued and develops an attachment to a man who is a drug dealer.  The drug dealer feels for the boy and tries to teach him about being a man, trust, relationships, etc.  Later, the boy asks if he deals drugs and if he sells to his mother.  The dealer is honest. The relationship ends.

In the second chapter, he is an insecure adolescent, unsure of his sexuality, taunted by other, bigger boys, struggling to figure out how to be a man.

In the third chapter, he is now a man and struggles to make sense of his relationship with his mother, a close friend, his chosen profession and his sexuality.

These are films to view before deciding if your son should watch them.  They are excellent films to raise questions for discussion that boys at that age have and often don’t ask or get answered. These are serious films about the hardships of life, not “feel-good” movies.  Don’t be surprised if you or he cries after viewing them.  Don’t be surprised if he reports nightmares about them. Serious but essential things in life are often like that.

I encourage you to view and then watch them with your son.


Do I Owe Her Anything? Do I Owe Him Anything?

He was 10 months post-divorce and asked me this question in my office; “Do I owe her anything?”  He said he’d been asking himself this over and over since our last appointment.

He had repeatedly apologized to her for his affair that precipitated their divorce.  She said she would never accept his apology.

I told him he needed to ask himself this question and answer it himself.  Further, if he decided that yes, indeed, he had a debt to repay her, he needed to “re-pay” his debt without expectation of reciprocation, appreciation, forgiveness, thanks, etc.

He argued that she’d just take whatever he gave her in payment and probably just ask for more, angering him.

I told him that payment of such a debt is not “for her” but rather, “for him”, to theoretically clear his conscience.  It didn’t matter if she accepted his payment.  What mattered was his (attempt to) repay it.

The process of becoming mature is long and arduous.  It requires that we not only admit our mistakes but that we attempt to make good on them (regardless of whether such efforts are accepted) and then live with the fact that you can never undo mistakes, only learn from them.

I told him that maturity dictates he tell her once with full sincerity, “I cheated on you, I am sorry, and I was wrong”.  Then, regardless of her reaction, you live with your actions and try to be a decent human being in the future.

Living with how you failed to live up to your promises keeps you humble. The memory of apologizing will help you repair your self-esteem. Remembering these two will help you avoid doing such in the future and be kind and forgiving with others in the future.

This process doesn’t work if you ask her if you owe her something.  If you do this, you are just doing what someone else told you to do to be “good” again.  And it is quite possible others don’t feel you owe anything or they don’t want your “repayment”.  That is not the point.

The point is…what you do (your beliefs, values) dictates what you do to address your mistake.  This is how one clears one’s conscience; this is how one learns to sleep peacefully at night with the mistake we have made.

But what if you have a tendency to be “hard” on yourself?  Then discuss what you plan to do to repay your debt with a trusted friend and alter your plans as you see fit.

But what if I know my attempt to do anything to my ex will only end in disaster?  Then consider a symbolic repayment of your debt, i.e., a sizeable donation to a charity, a year’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, donation of your professional/work skills to those in need.

This is who I am, this is what I did and live with.


Hacked by ReKaNErrOr

Hacked by ReKaNErrOr

19 ways to help teenagers handle their anger.

What Parents Can Do….

Teenage anger can be frightening. Parents find toddler tantrums hard enough to deal with, but when their child becomes taller than they are, and throws their weight around, it is time for some serious thought into how to manage the situation.

So here are some ideas on how to help our teens keep their anger under control.

  1. Model good anger management. Make sure when you are angry that you express it appropriately and ask assertively for what you want to change the situation. Talk to your teen about how you cope with angry feelings and what you do to release them
  2. Help teens to express anger appropriately and how to manage angry feelings. Tell them that it is Ok to be angry, but not to harm people or property. Talk about all the different ways people manage their anger and find what works for them. It could be punching a punch-bag or pillow, going to the gym or doing some vigorous exercise. It may be retreating to their room and listening to music, or a relaxation CD. It could be saying a mantra in their head such as ‘keep calm’, ‘I can stay in control’ or ‘I can handle it’. Alternatively they might imagine a pause button on a remote control and physically press it. It is important that teenagers have somewhere private to go to when they feel angry. If they have to share a bedroom you may need to plan ahead for when they need some time alone.
  3. Be aware of other influences not just home life. Parents often feel that the behavior of their teen is a reflection on their (poor) parenting. Remember that your teen spends much of their time with friends and other teens. Take any angry outbursts seriously but don’t take it personally and blame yourself. Some of the nicest parents have problem teenagers.
  4. Discipline with Rewards. Don’t forget the rewards when your teens do behave the way you want! Make the rewards something that really appeals to your teenager without compromising your values. Rewards can be a powerful motivator and much more positive than consequences.
  5. Understand the sheer volume of pressure your teen may be under. Teens may find the pressure of study, work, friendships, responsibility, and teenage hormone surges overwhelming. Teens can feel great one moment and then down the next. No one would enjoy working all day and then having to do more work in the evening. Their friends may also be having big issues and teens often don’t have the maturity to know how to help.
  6. Ask your teen about areas of conflict. Find out what they are struggling with and ask if there is any way you can help. You may have forgotten how difficult it was at school, and the ‘terminal embarrassment’ that teenagers suffer from. The desire to be seen as cool, intelligent, successful, part of the gang or attractive. The list is endless. And be open to being singled out as one of their sources of conflict!
  7. Take time to listen and talk with them. Find time each day to ask them about their day. Make them feel important enough to be worth you asking about them. If you can, arrange to go out with your teen – for a coffee or a walk – or anything that appeals to them.
  8. Be open to negotiation. If your teen complains about restrictions or punishments, try to work something out. The best way is to compromise if they can show they are responsible about the existing rules. For instance if your teen needs to be back by 10, let them know that if  they manage to get in by 10 for three nights, you will extend the curfew by half an hour. But that if they can’t, you will need to stick to the original time. Let them earn their privileges.
  9. Encourage them to talk about negative feelings, anger, their opinion and things they disapprove of. When a teenager tells you about things that make them angry this should not be seen as disrespectful. Don’t reprimand them or punish them. Allow them to complain, disagree and disapprove as long as it is not nasty, flippant or sarcastic. It is also important that teenagers understand that it is OK to describe their frustrations in private, and to talk assertively to the right person when they feel angry.  But it is not OK to bully or belittle other family members.
  10. Try to understand things from your teen’s perspective. Teenagers need to break away from their parents and become independent adults. They need to make mistakes, and we can’t protect them from that. Sometimes you need to cut them some slack, and let them know you will still be there to help them pick up the pieces. Avoid an ‘I told you so’ attitude. Teenage lessons are hard enough without rubbing it in. It is very empowering to know that your parent is willing to stand alongside you and be there, without judgement, when you make a mistake. Another important point is not to keep bringing up past bad behavior and mistakes. When a mistake has been made and your teen has made amends and apologized, don’t to bring it up in conversation again. Let bygones be bygones.
  11. Help your teen problem-solve and find solutions. When your teenager tells you something is wrong sit down with them and come up with a whole range of possible solutions. Write everything down, no matter how silly (or unacceptable) it sounds at first. Let your teenager come up with their answers first, and then add a few of your own. Ask your teen to look at the list and choose which solution they want to try first. If their solution involves you, only agree to it if you are happy to – you can always negotiate a compromise. Be there to back them up and find out if their solution worked. If not, look at the rest of the ideas and ask them to choose their next strategy.
  12. Don’t give attention for bad behavior – but notice & comment on good behavior.  It is easy to ignore your teen when they do what you expect them to, and then nag and criticize when they don’t. But what we need to do is notice when they follow the rules, comment on their achievements, successes and steps in right direction. We shouldn’t ignore it when they help out at home or get to college on time. Just appreciating your teen and thanking them can be a reward in itself. When you first start doing this your teenager may feel awkward or say that you are patronizing them. Please don’t stop –they will learn to accept it, and a stream of comments about what they are doing well will have a positive impact eventually.
  13. Give at least five positive comments to every negative one. Don’t constantly nag and complain about everything. In some households teens suffer from a constant stream of negativity from the moment they get up. If we were constantly belittled, nagged, criticized and threatened our lives would be pretty unbearable. In his book ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’ Daniel Goleman found that people needed five positive comments for each negative comment for their marriages to last. Can you imagine how much more important it is for a teen with all their insecurities and anxieties to have a stream of regular positive comments?
  14. Ignore passive aggressive behavior. If you ask you teen to tidy bedroom and they do it but put music on very loud, ignore the music and thank them for tidying up.
  15. Consider depression. About twenty percent of teenagers will experience teen depression before they become adults. Untreated depression can lead to trouble at school and in jobs, risky behaviors, sexual promiscuity and suicide, so it is worth taking your teen to your doctor/counselor if you are concerned.
  16. Give them a way out. When tempers flare parents often give an all-or-nothing ultimatum or threaten their teens. It may not be physically possible to stop your teen, but you can tell them that you will be talking to them when the situation has calmed down to discuss consequences.
  17. Keep trying. Sometimes parents just want to throw their children out of the house at the earliest opportunity. But parents who persevere and hang in, and continue to work with their teens are the ones who generally manage to save their relationship. It is true that teens often find their own parents the most embarrassing, difficult adults on the planet. Try to empathize with them, whilst keeping the perspective that you are trying to do your best for them, and love them regardless. Having said this, no parent should live with violence or continual threats of violence. Sometimes teens need to live away from home if they cannot keep from harming people or property.
  18. Keep your sense of humor. It is hard not to be overwhelmed when a teen exerts control over the household. But take a step back and learn to laugh about the sheer insanity of your teen’s behavior. (Keep a diary – it could be worth thousands when you write your memoirs!) Make sure that you take time out for yourself and continue to find time to have a laugh with your friends too.
  19. Show your love and caring. Sometimes a little gesture of love can go a long way. Buying your teens favorite food, sitting on their bed when you wake them up and chatting to them, putting your arm round them or touching their arm, smiling when you see them, telling them about how you felt the day they were born or writing them a little note may help them to feel loved and cherished. When it comes to anger, prevention is better than cure, and everyone benefits from some warmth and closeness.



20 ways to help teenagers handle their anger.

The Hard Work of Love and Relationships – Alain De Botton

This is my (almost late) submission in light of Valentine’s Day.  The link below is a conversation from a radio show, On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett.  She interviews Alain De Botton who speaks about the real and hard work of love and relationships.  This is a follow up to a blog I posted months ago on why we choose wrong in relationships.

Very interesting interview; difficult concepts to consider but none-the-less interesting.

Alain de Botton — The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

What if the first question we asked on a date were, “How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this”? Philosopher and writer Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was, amazingly, the most-read article in The New York Times in the news-drenched year of 2016. As people and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. How might our relationships be different — and better — if we understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after?


February 9, 2017

  1. KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST:“Compatibility is an achievement of love. It cannot be its precondition.” Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was, amazingly, the most-read article inThe New York Times in the news-drenched year of 2016. As people, and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. Nowhere do we realistically teach ourselves and our children how love deepens and stumbles, survives and evolves over time, and how that process has much more to do with ourselves than with what is right or wrong about our partner.  How different would our relationships be, de Botton says, if the question we asked on an early date was, “How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this,” and then understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after?
  1. ALAIN DE BOTTON:We must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.
  2. TIPPETT:I’m Krista Tippett, and this isOn Being.

[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]

  1. TIPPETT:Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life, a gathering of courses, workshops, and talks on meaning and wisdom for modern lives, with branches around the world. He first became known for his bookHow Proust Can Change Your Life. His latest book is a novel, The Course of Love.
  2. TIPPETT:So, we did speak a few years ago, but on a very different topic, and I’m really excited to be speaking with you about this subject, which is so close to every life. And as I’ve prepared for this, I’ve realized that you’ve actually — I knew that you’d written the novelOn Love a long time ago, but you’ve really been consistently attending to this subject and building your thoughts on it and your body of work on it, which is really interesting to me. You wrote On Love at the age of 23, which is so young. And you were already thinking about this so deeply. I think this is the first line: “Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over knowledge.”
  3. DE BOTTON:Well, I think what’s striking is that our idea of what love is, our idea of what is normal in love is so not normal.
  4. TIPPETT:Is so abnormal. Right.
  5. DE BOTTON:So abnormal. And so we castigate ourselves for not having a normal love life, even though no one seems to have any of these.
  6. TIPPETT:Or not have been loved perfectly.
  7. DE BOTTON:Right, right. So we have this ideal of what love is and then these very, very unhelpful narratives of love. And they’re everywhere. They’re in movies and songs. And we mustn’t blame songs and movies too much. But if you say to people, “Look, love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is, but we’re going to do our best,” that’s a much more generous starting point.  So, the acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures seems to me what love really is. Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points. So we’ve got these two contrasting stories, and we get them muddled, and…
  1. TIPPETT:And also — and I feel like this should be obvious — but you just touched on art and culture and how that could help us complexify our understanding of this. And one of the things you point out aboutWhen Harry Met Sally or Four Weddings and a Funeral, one of the things that’s wrong with all of that is that they — a lot of these just take us up to the wedding. They take us through the falling and don’t see that — I think you’ve written somewhere — and you’ve said, “A wiser culture than ours would recognize that the start of a relationship is not the high point that romantic art assumes; it is merely the first step of a far longer, more ambivalent, and yet quietly audacious journey on which we should direct our intelligence and scrutiny.”
  2. DE BOTTON:That’s right. We are strangely obsessed by the run up to love. And what we call a love story is really just the beginning of a love story, but we leave that out. But most of us, we’re interested in long-term relationships. We’re not just interested in the moment that gets us into love; we’re interested in the survival of love over time.
  3. TIPPETT:A lot of what you are pointing at, the work of loving over a long span of time, is inner work, right? [laughs] And it would be hard to film that. But I’m very intrigued by how you talk about the Ancient Greeks and their “pedagogical” view of love.
  4. DE BOTTON:That’s fascinating, because one of the greatest insults that you can level at a lover in the modern world apparently is to say, “I want to change you.” The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education, that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.
  5. TIPPETT:Right. You say somewhere they are committed to “increasing the admirable characteristics” that they possess and the other person possesses.
  6. DE BOTTON:That’s right.
  7. TIPPETT:Your most recent book on this subject isThe Course of Love, which is a novel, but it’s a novel that actually I feel you kind of weave a pedagogical narrator voice into it. Do you think that’s fair?
  8. DE BOTTON:That’s right. Absolutely.
  9. TIPPETT:Woven into the narrative. And you say, at one point, this is the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. And you said, at one point, “Their relationship is secretly yet mutually marked by a project of improvement,” which I think we all recognize. And then there’s this moment where you say, “After the dinner party, Rabih is sincerely trying to bring about an evolution in the personality of the wife he loves. But his chosen technique is distinctive: to call Kirsten materialistic, to shout at her, and then, later, to slam two doors.” [laughs]
  10. DE BOTTON:That’s right.
  11. TIPPETT:And we all recognize that scene. [laughs]
  12. DE BOTTON:[laughs] By the time we’ve humiliated someone, they’re not going to learn anything. The only conditions — as we know with children, the only conditions under which anyone learns are conditions of incredible sweetness, tenderness, patience. That’s how we learn. But the problem is that the failures of our relationships have made us so anxious that we can’t be the teachers we should be. And therefore, some often genuine legitimate things that we want to get across are just — come across as insults, as attempts to wound, and are therefore rejected, and the arteries of the relationship start to fur.
  13. TIPPETT:Someone recently said to me — I’m curious about how you would respond to this. It was a wise Jewish mother who had said to them, “Men marry women with the intention that they — with the idea that they will the stay the same. Women marry men with the idea that they will change.” Which is obviously a huge generalization. But gosh, it made a lot of sense to me, even in terms of my own life and in terms of what I see around me.
  14. DE BOTTON:Yeah. I would argue that both genders want to change one another, and they both have an idea of who the lover should be. And I think a useful exercise that sometimes psychologists level at feuding couples is they say things like, “If you could accept that your partner would never change, how would you feel about that?”  Sometimes pessimism, a certain degree of pessimism can be a friend of love. Once we accept that actually it’s really very hard for people to be another way, we’re sometimes readier. We don’t need people to be perfect is the good news. We just need people to be able to explain their imperfections to us in good time, before they’ve hurt us too much with them, and with a certain degree of humility. That’s already an enormous step.
  1. TIPPETT:It’s a lot to ask, but it’s so — it’s also — it’s sounds reasonable, right? If we could really have that in our minds early enough on in a relationship.
  2. DE BOTTON:That’s right. And almost from the first date. My view of what one should talk about on a first date is not showing off and not putting forward one’s accomplishments, but almost quite the opposite. One should say, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.” There should be a mutual acceptance that two damaged people are trying to get together because pretty much all of us — there are a few totally healthy people — but pretty much all of us reach dating age with some scars, some wounds.  And sometimes, we bring to adult relationships some of the same hope that a young child might’ve had of their parent. And of course, an adult relationship can’t be like that. It’s got to accept that the person across the table or on the other side of the bed is just human, which means full of flaws, fears, etc., and not some sort of superhuman.
  1. TIPPETT:Yeah. And I think that question that you said could be a standard question on an early date — “And how are you crazy?” — there’s also something that you’re getting at that — it almost seems like we must be hardwired to do this. Although, one of the wonderful things we’re learning in the 21st century is that we can change our brains. But a way you say it inOn Love, in a scene in On Love is — boy meets girl, and they — you start to be enamored in details of this new person and find things in common like — I don’t know — “both of us had two large freckles on the toe of the left foot.”  And then you wrote, “Instinctively” — and this happens very quickly — “he teases out an entire personality from the details.” But also, what I know from my own life is you tend to — I think we — when we fall in love with another person, we magnify in our minds those things that are immediately enrapturing and craft our idea of the other person almost exclusively around those wonderful qualities, which is not fair to them or to us. [laughs]
  1. DE BOTTON:That’s right. And we feel in a way that we know them already, and we impose on them an idea…
  2. TIPPETT:And of course, we don’t. Right.
  3. DE BOTTON:We don’t. We don’t. Which also explains another phenomenon that I’m fascinated by — you probably would’ve noticed in both novels — is the phenomenon of being in a sulk, of sulking. Because sulking is a fascinating situation which takes you right into the heart of certain romantic delusions. Because what’s fascinating about sulking is that we don’t sulk with everybody. We only get into sulks with people that we feel should understand us, but rather unforgivably, haven’t understood us.  So in other words, it’s when we are in love with people and they’re in love with us that we take particular offense when they get things wrong. Because the kind of the governing assumption of the relationship is, this person should know what’s in my mind ideally without me needing to tell them.  If I need to spell this out to you, you don’t love me. And that’s why you’ll go into the bathroom, bolt the door, and when your partner says, “Is anything wrong?” You’ll go, “Mm-mm.” And the reason is they should be able to read through the bathroom panel into your soul and know what’s wrong. And that’s such an extraordinary demand.
  1. TIPPETT:It’s so unfair. [laughs]
  2. DE BOTTON:We see it in children. This is how little children behave. They literally think that their parents can read their minds. It takes a long time to realize that the only way that one person can really learn about another is if it’s explained to them, preferably using words, quite calm ones…
  3. TIPPETT:Yes. Use your words. [laughs] Which we say to children.
  4. DE BOTTON:[laughs] When people always say, “Communicate,” we have to be generous towards the reasons why we don’t. And we don’t because we’re operating with this mad idea that true love means intuitive understanding. And I go crazy when people say things like, “I met someone. The loveliest thing is they understood me without me needing to speak.”
  5. TIPPETT:[laughs] Right.
  6. DE BOTTON:And I thought — so many alarm bells go off when I hear that because I think, “OK, well, good luck in this instance, but if you guys get together, that’s not going to go on forever.” No one can intuitively understand another beyond a quite limited range of topics.
  7. TIPPETT:Right. Your children — how old are your children? They’re still pretty young, right?
  8. DE BOTTON:Yeah. They’re 10 and 12.
  9. TIPPETT:Oh, OK. So as — now that I have young adult children, when you hear that coming out of the mouth of your 21-year-old, “He should know. He should just know.” [laughs] And you just — what I also know is that grasping this, what you’re talking about, is work. It is the work of life, right? It is the work of growing up.
  10. DE BOTTON:It’s the work of love. But it’s interesting that you mention your children and children generally because I think — it sounds eerie, but I think that one of the most — one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children. And not to infantilize them, but when we’re dealing with children as parents, as adults, we’re incredibly generous in the way we interpret their behavior.  And if a child says — if you walk home, and a child says, “I hate you,” you immediately go, OK, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something. We’re looking around for a benevolent interpretation that can just shave off some of the more depressing, dispiriting aspects of their behavior. And we do this naturally with children, and yet we do it so seldom with adults. When an adult meets an adult, and they say, “I’ve not had a good day. Leave me alone,” rather than saying, “OK. I’m just going to go behind the facade of this slightly depressing comment…”
  1. TIPPETT:And understand that that’s actually not about me; that’s actually about what’s going on inside them today.
  2. DE BOTTON:Right, exactly. We don’t do that. We take it all completely personally. And so I think the work of love is to try, when we can manage it — we can’t always — to go behind the front of this rather depressing challenging behavior and try and ask where it might’ve come from. Love is doing that work to ask oneself, “Where’s this rather aggressive, pained, noncommunicative, unpleasant behavior come from?” If we can do that, we’re on the road to knowing a little bit about what love really is, I think.

[music: “The Sick System” by Lambert]

  1. TIPPETT:I’m Krista Tippett, and this isOn Being. Today, exploring the true hard work of love with writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

[music: “The Sick System” by Lambert]

  1. TIPPETT:I’d love to talk about your — you used this word “pessimism” a little while ago, and I’d love to dig into that a little bit more. And what you’re really talking about is being reality-based as opposed to being ideal-based. There’s a beautiful video that I’ve shared that’s out there. I think it’s “The Darkest Truth About Love.” Is that right? That’s the title, isn’t it?
  2. DE BOTTON:Yes. That’s right. Exactly.
  3. TIPPETT:From the School of Life?
  4. DE BOTTON:Yeah. Made that for YouTube.
  5. TIPPETT:I’d like to talk through some of these core truths that fly in the face of this way we go around behaving and that movies have taught us to behave and that possibly our parents taught us to behave, these core truths that can put us on the foundation of reality.
  6. DE BOTTON:Yes, that’s very useful. We could chisel them in granite. Look, one of the first important truths is, you’re crazy. Not you, as it were; all of us, that all of us are deeply damaged people. The great enemy of love, good relationships, good friendships, is self-righteousness. If we start by accepting that of course we’re only just holding it together, and in many ways, really quite challenging people — I think if somebody thinks that they’re easy to live with, they’re by definition going to be pretty hard and don’t have much of an understanding of themselves. I think there’s a certain wisdom that begins by knowing that of course you, like everyone else, is pretty difficult. And this knowledge is very shielded from us. Our parents don’t tell us, our ex-lovers — they knew it, but they couldn’t be bothered to tell us. They sacked us without…
  7. TIPPETT:Well, by the time they tell us, we’re dismissing what they say anyway. [laughs]
  8. DE BOTTON:Well, that’s right. And our friends don’t tell us because they just want a pleasant evening with us. So we’re left with a bubble of ignorance about our own natures. And often, you can be way into your 40s before you’re starting to get a sense of, “Well, maybe some of the problem is in me.” Because of course, it’s so intuitive to think that of course it’s the other person. So to begin with that sense of, “I’m quite tricky and in these ways.” That’s a very important starting point for being good at love.  So often we blame our lovers; we don’t blame our view of love. And so we keep sacking our lovers and blowing up relationships all in pursuit of this idea of love which actually has no basis in reality. It’s simply not rooted in anything we know.
  1. TIPPETT:This right person, this creature does not exist.
  2. DE BOTTON:And is, in fact, the enemy of good enough relationships. I’m really fond of Donald Winnicott, this English psychoanalyst’s term, which he first used in relation to parenting, that what we should be aiming for is not perfection but a “good enough” situation. And it’s wonderfully downbeat. No one would go, “What are your hopes this year?” “Well, I just want to have a good enough relationship.” People would go, “I’m sorry your life is so grim.” But you want to go, “No, that’s really good. That’s kind of — for a human, that’s brilliant.” And that’s, I think, the attitude we should have.
  3. TIPPETT:In this “Darkest Truth About Love,” you say the idea of love in fact distracts us from existential loneliness. You are irredeemably alone. You will not be understood. But also, behind that is the — as you say, these are dark truths, but it’s also a relief, as truth always ultimately is, if we can hear it. That again, that is the work of life is to reckon with what goes on inside us.
  4. DE BOTTON:Yes. I think one of the greatest sorrows we sometimes have in love is the feeling that our lover doesn’t understand parts of us. And a certain kind of bravery, a certain heroic acceptance of loneliness seems to be one of the key ingredients to being able to form a good relationship.
  5. TIPPETT:Isn’t that interesting? And it sounds paradoxical.
  6. DE BOTTON:Of course. If you expect that your lover must understand everything about you, you will be — well, you’ll be furious pretty much all the time. There are islands and moments of beautiful connection, but we have to be modest about how often they’re going to happen. I think if you’re lonely with only — I don’t know — 40 percent of your life, that’s really good going. You may not want to be lonely with over 50 percent, but I think there’s certainly a sizable minority share of your life which you’re going to have to endure without echo from those you love.
  7. TIPPETT:You know, I debated over whether I would discuss this with you, but I think I will. I’m single right now and have been for a few years, and it’s actually been a great joy. Not that I think I will be single forever or want to be single forever. Although, actually, I think I would be alright if I were, which is a real watershed. And also what this part of — this chapter of life has taught me to really enjoy more deeply and take more seriously are all the many forms of love in life aside from just romantic love or being coupled. Do people talk to you about that?
  8. DE BOTTON:Well, it’s funny because just as you were saying, “I’m single,” I was about to say, “You’re not.” Because we have to look at what this idea of singlehood is. We’ve got this word “single” which captures somebody who’s not got a long-term relationship.
  9. TIPPETT:But I have so much love in my life.
  10. DE BOTTON:That’s right. And another way of looking at love is connection. We’re all the time, we are hardwired to seek connections with others. And that is, in a sense, at a kind of granular level, what love is. Love is connection. And insofar as one is alive and one is in buoyant, relatively buoyant spirit some of the time, it’s because we are connected. And we can take pride in how flexible our minds ultimately are about where that connection is coming.  And I think it’s also worth saying that, for some people, relationships are not necessarily the place where they encounter their best selves, that actually, the person that they are in a relationship is not the person that they want to be or that they can be in other areas of life, that they feel that there are other possibilities that they’d like to explore. And I think getting into a relationship with someone, asking someone to be with you is a pretty cruel thing to do to someone that you love and admire and respect because the job is so hard. Most people fail at it.  When you ask someone to marry you, for example, you’re asking someone to be your chauffeur, co-host, sexual partner, co-parent, fellow accountant, mop the kitchen floor together, etc., etc. And on and on the list goes. No wonder that we fail at some of the tasks and get irate with one another. It’s a burden. And I think sometimes, the older I get, sometimes I think one of the nicest things you can do to someone you really admire is leave them alone. Just let them go. Let them be. Don’t impose yourself on them because you’re challenging.
  1. TIPPETT:I want to read your — this definition of “marriage” that you’ve written in a few places. I think it’s wonderful. And just talk about this. “Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.”
  2. DE BOTTON:Well, yes. It’s challenging. [laughs] And it’s certainly contrary to the romantic view. But again, this kind of realism or acceptance of complexity, I think, is ultimately the friend of love. I’m not — look, its also worth adding — I don’t believe that everybody should stay in exactly the relationship that they’re in, and that any relationship is worth sticking with, and that in a way the fault is always the fault of the lovers if it’s not — both lovers if it’s not happy. There are legitimate reasons to leave a relationship.  But if, when you’re really being honest, if you ask yourself, “Why am I in pain?” and you can’t necessarily attribute all the sorrows that you’re feeling to your lover, if you recognize that some of those things are perhaps endemic to existence, or endemic to all human beings, or something within yourself, then what you’re doing is encountering the pain of life with another person but not necessarily because of another person.
  1. TIPPETT:And because we have that power, in fact — and for example, you are, in fact, arguing — as you said before, some marriages are meant to end. And there’s certainly reasons for marriages to end or to end marriages. But you also point out this very contradictory fact that the thing that’s ultimately wrong with adultery as an easy out to what’s going on in the marriage is that it is based on the same idealism that certain ideas of marriages are based on that go wrong.
  2. DE BOTTON:That’s right. In a way that you’re just redirecting your hope elsewhere and…
  3. TIPPETT:Imagining that this is the perfect one, right? This is the one person with whom you won’t ever be lonely again, who will understand you completely.
  4. DE BOTTON:That’s right. And so it’s — on and on the cycles of hurt continue.
  5. TIPPETT:Something else you name about marriage that I feel is not often enough just named is that — we spoke a little while ago about children coming into a marriage. And of course, children teach us so much. One thing you say that’s beautiful that children teach us that love in its purest form is a kind of service, that the love we have for our children — I certainly know this with myself — that the love I have for my children has changed me, and it is distinct from all the other loves I’ve ever known. But also that children are hard on marriages, right? And for — I think, on a more complicated level, if there are problems in a marriage, that can get amplified when children are there. And it’s also partly because you just get — everybody’s tired. Right? [laughs]
  6. DE BOTTON:That’s right. It’s interesting. In a way, there’s a lot of mundanity in relationships. And one of the things that romanticism does is to teach us that the great love stories should be above the mundane. So in none of the great, say, 19th-century novels about love does anyone ever do the laundry, does anyone ever pick up the crumbs from the kitchen table, does anyone ever clean the bathroom. It just doesn’t happen because it’s assumed that what makes or breaks love are just feelings, passionate emotions, not the kind of day to day wear and tear.  And yet, of course, when we find ourselves in relationships, it is precisely over these areas that conflicts arise, but we refuse to lend them the necessary prestige. There’s no arguments as vicious as when two people are arguing about something, but both of them think the argument is trivial. So they’ll say things like, “Oh, it’s just absurd we’re arguing over who should hang up the towels in the bathroom. That’s for stupid people.”
  1. TIPPETT:[laughs] Right. That has nothing to do with …
  2. DE BOTTON:Right. And you know that that’s going to be trouble. And so we need, in a way — one of the lessons of love is to lend a bit of prestige to those issues that crop up in love like who does the laundry and on what day. We rush over these decisions. We don’t see them as legitimate. We think it’s fine to…
  3. TIPPETT:But they are.
  4. DE BOTTON:But they are. As you say, there’s a lot of life that is extremely mundane.
  5. TIPPETT:It is the stuff of life. Right. It’s the stuff of our days. There’s this wonderful line fromThe Course of Love about these two parents with children: “The tired child in each of them is furious at how long it’s been neglected and in pieces.”
  6. DE BOTTON:That’s right. And in a way — it’s so funny. If I can be indiscreet on air, my wife used to say to me, in the early days of our marriage, she sometimes would say to me things like, “My father would never have said something like” — I would say something, or it’s not my turn to make the tea or something. She’d go, “My father would never have said it. He would always to do this for us.”  And then I had to point out that there was really a — she wasn’t comparing like with like. She was comparing this man, her father, as a father but not as a lover. And in the end, what I say to her, did end up saying to her was, “In a way, I’m probably behaving exactly like your father, but just not the father that you saw when he was around you.”
  1. TIPPETT:The way he behaved toward your mother. [laughs]
  2. DE BOTTON:[laughs] That’s right. Exactly. And so one of the things we do as parents is to edit ourselves, which is lovely, in a way, for our children. But it gives our children a really unnatural sense of what you can expect from another human being because we’re never as nice to probably anyone else on Earth as we are to our children. I’m saying this is the cost of good parenting.

[music: “Red Virgin Soil” by Agnes Obel]

  1. TIPPETT:You can listen again and share this conversation with Alain de Botton through our website, onbeing.org.  I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.

[music: “Red Virgin Soil” by Agnes Obel]

  1. TIPPETT:I’m Krista Tippett, and this isOn Being. Today, we are exploring the true hard work of love with the writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.
  2. TIPPETT:I’d like to go a slightly different place with all of this. The things you’ve been saying, pointing out about how love really works, that people don’t learn when they’re humiliated, that self-righteousness is an enemy of love. I’m thinking a lot right now these days about how and if we could apply the intelligence we actually have with the experience of love, not the ideal, but the experience of love in our lives, to how we can be as citizens moving forward. Where there’s a lot of behavior in public — I’m speaking for the United States, but I think there are forms of this in the UK as well. We’re kind of acting out in public the way we act out at our worst in relationships. [laughs]
  3. DE BOTTON:I think that’s fascinating. I think you’re onto something huge and rather counterintuitive because we associate the word “love” with private life. We don’t associate it with life in the republic, with civil society.  But I think that a functioning society requires two things that, again, just don’t sound very normal, but they require love and politeness. And by “love” I mean a capacity to enter imaginatively into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree, and to look for the more charitable explanations for behavior which doesn’t appeal to you and which could seem plain wrong, not just to chuck them immediately in prison or to hold them up in front of a law court but to…
  1. TIPPETT:Or just tell them how stupid they are, right?
  2. DE BOTTON:Right. Exactly. We’re permanently — all sides are attempting to show how stupid every other side is. And the other thing, of course, is politeness, which is an attempt not necessarily to say everything, to understand that there is a role for private feelings, which if they were to emerge, would do damage to everyone concerned. But we’ve got this culture of kind of self-disclosure. And as I say, it spills out into politics as well. The same dynamic goes on of, like, “If I’m not telling you exactly what I think, then I may develop a twitch or an illness from not expunging my feelings.” To which I would say, “No, you’re not. You’re preserving the peace and the good nature of the republic, and it’s absolutely what you should be doing.”
  3. TIPPETT:Yes. And I guess — I’ve been having this conversation with a lot of people this year. The truth is, more than ever before perhaps, in our world, we are in relationship. We are connected to everyone else. And that’s a fact. Their well being will impact our well being, is of relevance to our well being and that of our children.  But we have this habit and this capacity in public to — and also, we know that our brains work this way — to see the other, to see those strangers, those people, those people on the other side politically, socioeconomically, whatever, forgetting that in our intimate lives, and in our love lives, in our circles of family and friends, and in our marriages, and with our children, there are things about the people we love the most who drive us crazy that we do not comprehend. And yet, we find ways to be intelligent, right? To be loving – because it gets a better result. [laughs]
  1. DE BOTTON:That’s right. And families are at this kind of test bed of love because we can’t entirely quit them. And this is what makes families so fascinating because you’re thrown together with a group of people who you would never pick if you could simply pick on the grounds of compatibility. Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be the precondition of love as we nowadays, in a slightly spoiled way, imagine it must be.
  2. TIPPETT:Yes. Wonderful. I think this is deeply politically relevant. And it’s…
  3. DE BOTTON:Totally. And I think if we just try and explore the world “political,” “political” really means “outside of private space.” And we’re highly socialized creatures who really take our cues from what is going on around us. And if we see an atmosphere of short tempers, of selfishness, etc., that will bolster those capacities within ourselves. If we see charity being exercised, if we see good humor, if we see forgiveness on display, again, it will lend support to those sides of ourselves. And we need to take care what we’re exposing ourselves to because too much exposure to the opposite of love makes us into very hostile and angry people.
  4. TIPPETT:Yes. And I think it’s also such an important thing to bear in mind that the import of our conduct, moment to moment, that that is having effects that we can’t see.
  5. DE BOTTON:That’s right. We’re far more sensitive than we allow for. And we need to build a world that recognizes that if somebody goes “mm-hmm” rather than “this” or “thanks” rather than “yes” or whatever it is, this can ruin our day. And we should think about that as we approach, not just our personal relationships, but also our social and political relationships. These things are humiliating — little things can deeply wound and humiliate.  Let’s not forget that one of the things that makes relationships so scary is we need to be weak in front of other people. And most of us are just experts at being pretty strong. We’ve been doing it for years. We know how to be strong. What we don’t know how to do is to make ourselves safely vulnerable, and so we get we tend to get very twitchy, preternaturally aggressive, etc., when we’re asked to — when the moment has come to be weak.
  1. TIPPETT:And I feel like there’s almost this calling now because the stakes are so high for emotional intelligence in public, which of course, we don’t — none of us gets perfectly in our intimate lives. But we do know these things about people we love, and they’re also true of people we don’t know and don’t think we love.  But I want to return a little bit to love and sex and eros and all of this. I have to say one thing I really love and appreciate and learned from in your writing is your reflection on flirting as an art, the art of flirting, that it can be something edifying, a pleasurable gift. And you have this phrase, a “good flirt.” So would you describe what a “good flirt” is?
  1. DE BOTTON:Well, if you think about what flirtation is, in many ways, flirtation is the attempt to awaken somebody else to their attractiveness. I think it would be such a pity if we had to drive something as important as validation and self-acceptance and a pleasant view of oneself through the gate of — rather narrow gate of sex.  And flirtation is kind of an act of the imagination. And what’s fun about flirtation is that it often happens between really quite unlikely people. Two people meet, and maybe they’re both with someone, or there’s a difference in status or background, etc., and they can find that they’re in a little conversation about the weather, and both parties will realize that there’s something a little bit flirtatious going on. And it’s got really nothing to do with sex as such. It’s just two people delighting in awakening one another.
  1. TIPPETT:It’s pleasant. Right.
  2. DE BOTTON:To the fact that they’re quite nice people, and they’re quite attractive, and that that’s OK.
  3. TIPPETT:Yeah. I think somewhere — you also have this lovely film, one of these School of Life films about this. Here’s a “good flirt.” You can make these assumptions that this other person maybe would love to sleep with us, won’t sleep with us, and the reason why they won’t has nothing to do with any deficiency on our part. But it’s also not, as you say, a deception; it’s a natural, pleasurable human experience.
  4. DE BOTTON:That’s right. The other thing that we get quite wrong in our culture is the whole business of what sex actually is, because we’ve come from a Freudian world. Freud has told us that there’s a lot more going on in sex than we want to believe, and that a lot of it is quite weird and darker than we’d ever want to imagine, and that sex is everywhere in life, even in places where we don’t think it is or perhaps should be.  But in a way, I’ve got a sort of different view of this. I think that it’s not so much that sex is everywhere; it’s that psychological dynamics are everywhere, even in sex. And so often, we think of sex as just a sort of pneumatic activity, but really, it’s a psychological activity. And if you try to imagine why people are excited by sex, it’s not so much that it’s a pleasurable nerve-ending business; it’s ultimately that it’s about acceptance.  If you think about — why is it exciting to kiss someone for the first time? It’s probably more fun eating an oyster or flossing your teeth or watching T.V. than kissing. It’s a bit weird. What’s this odd thing we call kissing? It’s like we’re trying to inflate somebody else’s mouth. And it’s just odd.
  1. TIPPETT:[laughs]
  2. DE BOTTON:Nevertheless, we like it. Not because of its physical feeling, but because of what it means, the meaning we infuse. And the meaning we infuse into it is, “I accept you. And I accept you in a way that is incredibly intimate and that would be quite revolting with anyone else. I’m allowing you into my private space as a way of signaling, ‘I like you.’” And what really — we call it getting “turned on,” but what we’re really, as it were, excited by is that someone accepts us with remarkable — in all our…
  3. TIPPETT:Takes delight in us.
  4. DE BOTTON:Right. Takes delight in us. And that’s what’s exciting about it. In other words, sex is continuous with a lot of things that we’re interested in outside of the bedroom.
  5. TIPPETT:And you say that flirting is one way to experience, in the course of ordinary life, in a way that’s completely nonthreatening to whatever your commitments are, what is enjoyable about sex that’s not necessarily the act itself, the fact that we are sexual beings.
  6. DE BOTTON:That’s right. That’s right. But we feel often conflicted about it. I shouldn’t be flirting. I can’t flirt, etc. So there’s a lot of fear of — there’s a lot of fear of slippery slopes. In many situations, we can hang on on the slippery slope. It’s OK. We’ve got tools to hang on in there.
  7. TIPPETT:Yeah. I want to know — I don’t want to let you go before asking what you think about — what’s your view of online dating because this a new way that so many people, perhaps most people, moving forward are meeting, are engaging this romantic side of themselves.
  8. DE BOTTON:At one level, online dating promises to open up something absolutely wonderful, which is a more logical way of getting together with someone. The sort of dream is that the secrets of our soul and the secrets of somebody else’s soul will be sort of downloaded onto a computer and that we will find the best possible match for who we are.  The darker side of online dating is that it encourages the idea that a good relationship must mean a conflict-free relationship, and therefore, any relationship which has conflict in it, which has unhappiness and areas of tension in it, is wrong and can be terminated because we have this wonderful backup, which is alternatives. So, like any tool, it’s got its pluses and minuses and has to be used correctly. And I think — what I mean by “correctly” is it has to broaden the pool of people from which we’re choosing our lovers while not giving us the illusion that there is such a thing as a perfect human being.
  1. TIPPETT:Right. So then you’re back to the basic truth, the darker truth about love. Also, that what online dating does is it introduces you to people, but then really, the whole thrust of your thinking is — that loving is really what comes next. That’s what comes after the meeting.
  2. DE BOTTON:That’s right. Silicon Valley has been incredibly interested in getting us to that first stage of meeting the person. And that’s great, but the next stage has been abandoned. Where is the app that will tell you how to read, how to interpret somebody else’s confused signals of distress, or that will remind you at a certain point to look charitably upon someone’s behavior because you remember their childhood, etc? So we have a long way to go.  Our technology is still — look, we’re still — it sounds odd because we — it’s one of the sort of narcissisms of our time that we think we’re living late on in the history of the world. We think we’re sort of — we’re late comers to the party. We’re still at the very beginning of understanding ourselves as human emotional creatures. We’re still taking our first baby steps in the understanding of love, and we need a lot of compassion for ourselves. And no wonder we make horrific mistakes pretty much all the time.

[music: “Turquoise” by Mooncake]

  1. TIPPETT:I’m Krista Tippett, and this isOn Being. Today, a conversation about love with writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

[music: “Turquoise” by Mooncake]

  1. TIPPETT:I happened to see your tweet at the end of 2016 whenThe New York Times released its most-read articles of the year. And your “Why You’ll Marry the Wrong Person” was number 1, which is really extraordinary, the most-read article in a year of the Brexit vote, the presidential election, war, refugee crisis. I wonder what that tells you about us as a species.
  2. DE BOTTON:Look, it was deeply fascinating and quite extraordinary. And apparently, it was first by a long way. It’s just peculiar. And I think that — look, first of all, it tells us that we have an enormous loneliness around our difficulties. One could write a follow-on piece — I may or may not — called “Why You’ll Get Into the Wrong Job,” which would probably score quite highly too, and “Why You’ll Have the Wrong Child,” and “Why You’ll Go on the Wrong Vacation,” and “Why Your Body Will Be the Wrong Shape,” and “Why You’ll Think You Live in the Wrong Country,” etc. And in a way, we need solace for the sense that we have gone wrong in an area, whatever it may be, where perfection was possible.  And anyone who comes along and says, “You know, it’s normal that you are suffering. Life is suffering,” is doing a quite unusual thing in our culture, which is so much about optimism. It sounds grim. It is, in fact, enormously consoling, and alleviating, and helpful in a culture which is oppressive in its demands for perfection. So I think a certain kind of pessimistic realism, which is totally compatible with hope, totally compatible with laughter, good humor, a sense of fun — it doesn’t have to be dour.
  1. TIPPETT:It’s how comedy and tragedy belong together.
  2. DE BOTTON:Right. Exactly. I’m a great fan of gallows humor. We’re all on our way to the gallows in one way or another, and we can hug and give each other laughs and point out the more pleasant sides as we head towards the scaffold.
  3. TIPPETT:[laughs] That may be your last word. I just want to ask you — when we first began to speak aboutOn Love, which you wrote — which was published when you were 23 in the late ‘90s. You’ve now been married for over a dozen years. What did you really not know? And that book was so wise. And in fact, that book that you published when you were 23, On Love, really presented a lot of the themes you’ve carried forward in time. But I do wonder what you really did not know, what you’ve learned, what you continue to learn about love at this stage in your life.
  4. DE BOTTON:I genuinely thought at that time that problems in love are the result of being with people who are, in one way or another, defective. And in 2002, this belief was severely tested in that I met someone who was really absolutely wonderful in every way. And through much effort, I pursued her and eventually married her and discovered something very surprising. She was great in a million ways. She was very right. And yet, oddly, there were all sorts of problems.  And I think it’s been the path that I’ve been on to realize that those problems had nothing to do with her being a deficient person or indeed with me being a horribly deficient person. They were to do with the challenges of being a human being trying to relate to another human being in a loving relationship, that I was encountering some endemic issues that every couple, however well-matched — and there is no such thing as a perfect match — but however well-matched, every couple will encounter these problems, that love is something we have to learn, and we can make progress with, and that it’s not just an enthusiasm; it’s a skill.  And it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination, and a million things besides. And we must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are, that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

[music: “Semblance” by Auditory Canvas]

  1. TIPPETT:Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books includeReligion for AtheistsHow Proust Can Change Your Life, and the novel The Course of Love.

[music: “Semblance” by Auditory Canvas]

  1. TIPPETT:Love takes many forms, and there’s more love in our lives than we often realize. We’ve teamed up with some incredible artists at Bear Fox Chalk to craft beautiful hand-illustrated postcards, each with a quote evoking one of the four types of love — friendship, romance, compassion, or lovingkindness towards a neighbor or stranger or oneself. Head over to onbeing.org and fill in a little about a person you care about. We’ll mail them a hand-designed quote card in your name. We’re calling this celebration #FourKindsOfLove. So join us in celebrating love in its many shapes.

[music: “A Dividing Line” by The End of the Ocean]

STAFF: On Being is Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Bethanie Mann, Selena Carlson, and Rigsar Wangchuck.

  1. TIPPETT:Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating. And the last voice you hear singing our final credits in each show is hip-hop artist Lizzo.

On Being was created at American Public Media. Our funding partners include:

The Fetzer Institute, helping to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Find them at fetzer.org.

Kalliopeia Foundation, working to create a future where universal spiritual values form the foundation of how we care for our common home.

The Henry Luce Foundation, in support of Public Theology Reimagined.

The Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders’ interests in religion, community development, and education.


The Two Essential Ingredients for a Loving, Long-Lasting Relationship

The below is an article, by John Gottman, (John and Marie Gottman are therapists who study only couples. Good authors to read for help in relationships.), I received through the Psychotherapy Networker; a magazine for therapists.

The first two-thirds recounts the history of marital therapy (you can skip).  It is in the last one-third where I want you to focus.  It says trust and commitment are essential to relationship success.  Do you trust your partner?  Are you committed to them?  Can you stay calm in conversations?  Can you stay calm during highly intense conversations?  This is key….essential to couples weathering the storms in relationships.

A second interesting point is understanding the other person’s point of view; yes, in the middle of the fight.  The question to focus on here is “How or why is this (your position) important to you?”  If you understand why their point is important, then you are in a much better place and compromise versus conflict with your partner.

The third tidbit I found so interesting is the reference to cuddling.  The author speaks of the importance of cuddling as part of the research that comes out in the writing of “The Normal Bar“; a book that looked at the sex lives of 70,000 people in 24 countries (I’m reading it now….very interesting).  The research shows that cuddling, in and out of itself, is important to have a good sex life; non-sexual cuddling!


The Two Essential Ingredients for a Loving, Long-Lasting Relationship

John Gottman Shares the Latest Research from his Love Lab

John Gottman • 1/16/2017 • Be the First to Comment

Editor’s Note: In the January 2017 issue, a group of innovators and leaders look back over different realms of therapeutic practice and offer their view of the eureka moments, the mistakes and misdirections, and the inevitable trial-and-error processes that have shaped the evolution of different specialty areas within the field. Here’s one reflection.


The first book to have an impact on the field of couples therapy was The Mirages of Marriage by Don Jackson and William Lederer in 1968. Its basic premise was that the problem in distressed marriages was a failure of the implicit quid pro quo contract between partners when it comes to transactions around the exchange of rewards and positive feelings. The therapy approaches at the time focused on how to help people negotiate these contracts with each other from positions of self-interest, where each person was really trying to get the best deal for themselves as individuals. The role of the therapist was to be a kind of super-negotiator and problem-solver, the idea being that negotiating the best deals for each individual would result in the most satisfying relationship. And to sweeten things up, the authors encouraged couples to have “love days,” in which they did especially thoughtful things for one another.

Neil Jacobson and Gayla Margolin, psychologists at the University of Washington and University of Southern California respectively, were the ones who operationalized and researched this as a model of couples therapy in which people learned to be nicer to each other through contingency contracts, communicating better, and improving their conflict-resolution skills. But this approach had a fundamental theoretical flaw. Game theory—brought into psychology by Harold Kelley and John Thibaut—suggests that the only way you can get a really good contract is to work together with mutual trust. So each person needs to work not out of self-interest, but out of mutual interest, where the sum of the benefits is what the partners are maximizing. Otherwise, it becomes some sort of zero-sum game where it’s a win–lose paradigm. That was really the fundamental problem in those early days of behavioral marital therapy, the notion that you could work from positions of self-interest and still get a loving contract that really helps both people. It turns out that most of the time, people will sabotage that kind of a contract because it feels like an unacceptable compromise. And not surprisingly, when Jacobson analyzed the results of this approach to behavioral marital therapy, he found very small effect sizes and huge relapse rates.

The idea that transformed couples therapy emerged from attachment theory and the belief that what’s needed in marriage isn’t better contracts, but looking at marriage for a safe haven. That’s largely the contribution of Susan Johnson and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which expanded John Bowlby’s idea about infants needing a secure base from which to explore their environment. Essentially, Johnson said that is what’s often missing in couples relationships, and she designed an approach to heal attachment injuries through extending Rogerian concepts of expressing emotions and paraphrasing and validating those emotions.

Beyond that, her big paradigm shift was bringing emotion into couples therapy. Before her, influential therapists like Murray Bowen had insisted that emotions got in the way of therapy. He famously said, “I don’t want to know what you feel; I want to know what you think.” The core concept in his theory of psychological differentiation was that at the highest level of development you could control your emotions with your reason. But then Johnson comes along and says, “No, that’s wrong: you really have to express emotions and validate them. Carl Rogers needs to be brought into the couples arena.”

So by focusing on emotion and the safe haven, Johnson wound up creating a revolution in couples therapy. And even though she wasn’t directly talking about trust, it’s essential in creating a safe haven, as is building commitment. The foremost researcher on commitment has been a woman named Caryl Rusbult, who came from social psychology, not from the psychotherapy tradition. Her 30-year research program is the only approach that’s ever been able to predict sexual infidelity successfully. All other research on sexual infidelity asks people to reconstruct from memory what happened before the act of betrayal occurred, but Rusbult can actually predict which couples will be sexually unfaithful.

She concluded that the basic element of betrayal is the tendency for partners to make negative comparisons. So when things get tough in a relationship, like you have an argument or your partner is emotionally distant, if you start to think, I can do better with someone else, you’re negatively comparing your partner to real or imagined alternatives. She found that when that happens, you’re going to invest less and less in the relationship and give yourself permission to cross boundaries and start relationships with other people. That’s where commitment comes in. People don’t recognize the enduring importance of a relationship very deeply if they have only a conditional investment in it. If you’re not really building gratitude by cherishing what you have with your partner, but instead are building resentment for what’s missing, you’re likelier to engage in an act of betrayal.

What the latest research from my lab is telling us is that trust and commitment are both the key ingredients for being in love with your partner for a lifetime, and for having your marriage be a safe haven. These are the ingredients for not just loving your partner, but being in love with your partner. And here the work of Helen Fisher is important. Fisher studies people who are in love. When she puts them in the functional MRI tube and they look at the face of the person they say they’re in love with (versus a stranger’s face), their entire pleasure center, the part of the brain that secretes dopamine, lights up. People used to say, “How long can you be in love with somebody? It’s got to have a shelf life of maybe 18 months.” Well, she’s found people who are still in love with their partner two decades after the wedding and longer. Apparently, being in love can last forever.

While Fisher’s work doesn’t focus on the ingredients that make that happen, I think future research is going to show that it’s based on building both trust and commitment. And we already have techniques now for doing that in couples therapy. The key element in making those techniques work is paying more attention to the moment-to-moment state of clients’ physiology. To do effective couples therapy, people really have to be calm when they talk to one another. And so the focus on conflict that pervaded couples therapy in its early years needs to be supplemented by calm, everyday emotional connection, where people can really talk to one another and listen and work on friendship.

Another thing we need to do is develop a system of shared meaning within the couple that has an existential base. When partners aren’t compromising in their essential conflicts, it’s because they feel as if the compromise means giving up a core part of themselves. Therefore, we have to get at the meaning of each person’s position in the conflict to resolve the majority of relationship conflicts. It’s also necessary to look at intentionally building shared meaning to have a connection that’s fulfilling and has some depth to it. It comes down to having a sense of shared purpose and meaning. For many couples, that includes a religious basis. William Doherty has been writing about this for decades.

Last, we need to look at the research that shows how unsuccessful most sex therapy is at evoking anything but the smallest changes. We’ve learned recently from a remarkable study—described in a book called The Normal Bar, which looked at 70,000 people’s sex lives in 24 countries—that the people who have a great sex life are doing about a dozen concrete things differently from those whose sex life sucks. It’s the same everywhere—in China, in Italy, in Canada, and in the United States—everywhere on the planet. The people who have a great sex life are saying “I love you” every day and meaning it. They’re kissing their partner passionately. They’re expressing affection in public. They’re cuddling. Research shows that only six percent of non-cuddlers have a great sex life. If couples don’t cuddle, they don’t secrete oxytocin, and their sex life isn’t fulfilling. It’s not rocket science.


This blog appears in our January/February 2017 issue, The Connected Self: Therapy’s Role in the Wider World.