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By: Jonathan Goodman-Herrick, LCSW

We want somebody to comfort us, save us, give us peace.... Our whole strategic drive is for pleasantness.
Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special: Living Zen.

What propels us to enter and drive through the jungle and
desert of the relationship wilderness? We usually say it is
because we love the other person. Biologists say it is to raise children and pass on our genes. As a psychotherapist, what I have seen is that it is a fundamental need to be loved, and simultaneously a fear of abandonment and death. At the core of our animal/human nature is great frailty. This frailty invests us with a bottomless desire for safety and love. We enter relationship with this desire and at a deep level expect our partner to fulfill it. This condition then underlies all the mischief and trouble we find ourselves in during the course of our involvement. The second truth of love is that our fundamental animal/human need and fear fuel all the struggles - ALL THE STRUGGLES - that cause our suffering in relationship. In discussing primal need and fear it is essential to distinguish our animal and human nature from our Ultimate nature. Our most essential or ultimate nature is infinite, complete, dazzlingly perfect and innately filled with love. To the degree, or on the occasion that we genuinely separate from our deep-rooted animal and human sense of being an individual self, we are free of fear, desire and therefore of conflict. We abide in the world of non-duality, of Bubar's unconditioned I-Thou.

However rarely, if ever, do most of us recognize and
appreciate our ultimate, Universal, God-nature. Instead, at the profoundest level, deep in our bones, we experience ourselves as mere motes in the universe, bubbles that can pop and cease at any moment. In addition, human and perhaps all warm-blooded creatures seem to have an intrinsic need to be held, cherished, accepted, respected and valued. We then cling to whatever we can, especially to a life-partner, like a life-raft. While existential fear and need are twin tickets we are all handed at birth, we also carry varying degrees of fear and desire from our guardians' limitations and behavior during our childhood. All children experience various amounts of disapproval, rejection or abandonment. And many of us even experience covert or even overt threats of death. These fears color the fabric of our lives, creating an underlying sense that we are unsafe. At the same time, we all know some degree of unfulfilled promises of love. During our childhood it is often just out of reach, creating an underlying craving for that need to be

Parental - or peer - disapproval and rejection also produces
another powerful outcome. Because it is virtually impossible for children to see their parents or peers objectively, to see that a parent's or peer's rage, disapproval or disappointment relates to the parent's limitations and not to their own limitations we generally process any negative, parental experience as a message of our own unworthiness. When a parent or peer ridicules us for crying, abandons us when we get angry, or shames us when we get sexual, we assume that our natural tendencies are bad, that we are bad. When a parent or peer verbally or physically abuses us, we learn two profound lessons: first, that since even our protectors or community are out to harm us, we will not find safety anywhere; and second, if these all-important figures treat us poorly, it must mean we are worthless. Parents and peers are a mirror to the child, even if a distorted one.

If you look deep enough for the source of any psychological
difficulty - whether it is low self-esteem, insecurity, rage,
anxiety, depression or relationship trouble - you will find the
same root cause: the absence of sufficient love and safety. This creates our neediness, defensiveness, anger and distrust wherever we go. Without a foundation of love and safety, our body and psyche remain in a state of trauma.

As we become adults, regardless of how successful we are,
we continue to view the needy, vulnerable, child parts of
ourselves as worthless or undesirable, making it virtually
impossible to turn around and love those parts. We therefore seek love, safety and approval outwardly with the same determination with which we seek nutrients for our body. This becomes the driving force in our couple relationship. When, during the early honey-moon period, we finally feel we have found complete love and acceptance, it leaves us ecstatic. Having waited for this our whole life, we become almost addictively dependent on our partner's approval and love. No one else has ever fully loved these needy parts of ourselves. We, ourselves, don't love these parts. But finally here is someone who will. Run by fear, by desire for nurturance, and by inner images of unworthiness, and simultaneously possessing an almost bottomless yearning for love and safety, as adults we clutch our partners and expect the world of them. Unfortunately our partner cannot possibly deliver this emotional safety-net. Partners have their own limitations, which leave us ripe for disappointment and hurt. There is even a third way that fear and need create suffering in relationship. They actually distort our perceptions, causing us to see our partners through a veil of projections or hallucinations. Fear can cause us to see a momentarily angry husband as a monster. It can cause us to see a temporarily shut-down wife as heartless. When there is emotional turbulence we see our companion through a dream-world, making the relationship difficult to navigate.

In a nutshell, the roots of our profound need and fear are
two-fold: our animal/human birthright and parental and peer
disregard or abuse during childhood. The effect of need and fear is threefold: it drives us to seek more from a partner than they can ever fulfill; it creates in us an abiding belief that we are unworthy; and it distorts our view so that we cannot see our partner clearly.

The distortion and the sense of unworthiness in combination
with excessive emotional weight placed on a partner almost
ensure that relationships teeter or collapse. Only when we
appreciate that the search for love and safety is the very driving force in our relationships can we fully make sense of our behavior and begin to give proper care to our needs. And only then can we begin to see our partner as they really are.

Jonathan Goodman-Herrick, LCSW, is the author of The Heart of Relationship: Five Ultimate Truths for Understanding the Couple Relationship, Jonathan is one of the Northeast's foremost couples
therapists. A graduate of NYU's Masters Program in Social Work, he is licensed in NY and CT. For more information, visit his website: Marriage Mastery.com

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