Love relationships fail because at no time in our training by society are we given a factual model of what a love relationship is, or how to make one succeed. There are fundamentally three levels on which intimate relationships operate, and our social training only prepares us to deal with one of them – the most superficial one – and even that one ineptly. This superficial level is called the expectations level. It is usually the only level we address consciously.
The expectations level consists of all our self-images and self-importance. When we primp ourselves in front of a mirror, what we are primping is our expectations of other people. It’s the level of our daydreams and fantasies, whereon everyone is as impressed with us as we are with ourselves.
On the expectations level what interests us the most about a prospective partner is his or her physical attractiveness, manner of dress and bearing, social and educational background, future prospects, how “cool” he or she is, how he or she reflects back on us, what others will think of us for having chosen this partner.
On the expectations level a “love relationship” is actually an approval agreement, a contract, To Wit: “The party of the first part hereby agrees to pretend to honor, love, cherish and obey the party of the second part; in return for which considerations the party of the second part agrees not to hurt, betray, nor expose to public embarrassment the party of the first part (see appended schedule of specific acts which shall be deemed to constitute ‘hurt’, ‘betrayal’, and ‘public embarrassment’). Any violation of this agreement by either party shall be considered valid grounds for spitefulness, vengeance, and all manner of carrying on like a big baby.”
On the expectations level we submit ourselves to another person not for love, but for approval. Love and approval have nothing to do with one another. Love is a light, joyous, happy feeling; receiving approval is a tight, clinging, possessive feeling, which does, however, have an ego rush behind it. That ego rush is not joy – it’s glory, self-importance, which we have been trained to seek instead of love.
The expectations level must eventually wear out because its basic premise is getting something for nothing. On this level everything we’re putting out (“giving”) is phony – it’s just to impress other people, or to get something more in return. We’re putting out phoniness in the hope of getting something real (happiness) back. And that’s not how the universe is set up. There are no free lunches or free rides out there.
What fools us is that most of the messages we receive – from our parents and peers, our teachers and preachers, our leaders and the media – are that the expectations level works; and if it doesn’t, that’s our fault and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
For whom is it working? Look around. How many truly happy marriages are you aware of (of more than ten years’ duration, since it can take that long or longer for the expectations level to wear thin). Sure, there are some, but not many; and usually the people involved in truly happy marriages are very, very special people in their own right.
Isn’t this true? But there are also lots of relationships which appear to be happy on the surface, but are actually miserable underneath: both partners have learned to repress their true feelings and resign themselves to unhappiness without showing it. These people never get beyond the expectations level.
The reason why the expectations level inevitably crashes – although it can and often does mellow into true love after the crash – is because it is wholly narcissistic: it doesn’t include the other person. It does not permit the other person to be a person, but only a reflection of our own fondest self-images. It doesn’t allow the other person space to be real – to have feelings of his or her own.
For example, is our partner permitted to have sex with whomever he / she wishes? Is our partner even permitted to be sexually turned on by anyone but us? Is our partner permitted to tell us that we are not a satisfying lover? The list could go on and on. Only sexual expectations are mentioned here because those are practically universal, but we have all sorts of other fences we try to erect around our partners to keep them pristine and unsullied for us – expectations that they will agree with us about money, child raising, career, religion, etc.; expectations that they will forego making their own decisions in order to support us.
Love is not something we get; love is something we give – or better said, something that flows through us. We can’t sit back and expect other people to hand us love just because they’re our parents, spouse, or children. True, this can happen on occasion, just as it has happened on occasion that we’ve found money lying on the street and picked it up and it was ours. But to expect money to come to us in that way is absurd; and to expect other people to give us love just because we’ve stuck them in a supporting role is also absurd.
The expectations level must eventually crash under its own weight by sheer exhaustion. When people are involved with one another in an approval agreement, or any agenda that is not love, then everyone has to work overtime in order to convince the other or to convince oneself; and this is painful to bear.
The expectations level would be problematical and contradictory enough if it were the only level on which we relate with other people. Unfortunately, there are two deeper levels which actually govern the course of our relationships, and these deeper levels contradict the expectations level.
The level which underlies and controls the expectations level, which assures that the expectations level will eventually crash, or be maintained in great suffering, is the conditioning level. It’s the level of our basic conditioning by society, which is to hate ourselves. Beneath the glitter and glory of our expectations, our self-images, is the grim truth that we actually hate ourselves. We are taught to hate ourselves by our parents and society: women are taught to hate their looks and their bodies; Men are taught to hate their gentle, tender feelings (as opening the door to homosexuality).
Whereas the expectations level is set up so that people will be “nice” to each other (make the agreement: “I won’t expose you as a liar and phony if you won’t expose me as a liar and phony”), the conditioning level is set up to divide people, to make them fear and distrust each other. We are not trained to relate intimately with one another, but rather to wage war upon one another – to feel hurt, jealous, competitive, critical; to pick at each other and bend each other out of shape – rather than to be happy and accepting. The parent / child relationship is the basic war setup; the man / woman war is grafted on top.
While on an expectations level we tell ourselves that what we want is to live happily ever after, we are conditioned by our society to feel unworthy and ashamed of ourselves, and to deny ourselves the very love which we consciously tell ourselves that we are seeking. We are trained by our parents to hate ourselves in precisely the same fashion in which our parents hated themselves.
The conditioning level is the level which psychotherapy addresses (unfortunately, after the damage is already done). We are so overwhelmed by our parents when we are little – so awed by their divinity – that we are afraid to express, or allow ourselves to feel openly, anger at them, or any other feeling of which they would not approve – which contradicts their expectations. Thus our parents’ expectations level becomes our conditioning level.
Society calls infatuation with our own self-images “love”; and so on an expectations level we tell ourselves that we are going into relationships to get “love;” whereas on a conditioning level we are going into relationships to deny ourselves love – to pinpoint, through the mirroring of another person, precisely how we ourselves are incapable of giving and receiving love.
One might well wonder why people would want to reenact in their love relationships the situations out of their childhood which brought them the most pain and trauma. The reason is that those wounds never healed properly. They are still raw and suppurating, and extremely tender to the touch. Only by tearing those wounds back open again and cleaning out all the dreck, the self-hatred, can a true healing occur. And only by staging a situation similar to the one which produced those wounds originally can the wounds be reopened (actually this isn’t the only way of doing it; there are far more skillful ways of doing it, such as Active Imagination, which is described in my book Thought Forms. However, the locking horns with another person and inflicting pain and suffering on each other is the more popular way of doing it).
Just as on the expectations level our goal is the validation of our images, on the conditioning level our goal is to recreate all the emotional turmoil our parents inflicted on us, but this time around to grab the brass ring of love which our parents denied us.
Up until recently society has had the fifth Commandment and a raft of social sanctions in place against examining the conditioning level too closely. Freud was one of the first to take a good, hard look at this level of human interaction. And at the present time there are lots of good popular books available on the subject of toxic parents, how we all marry our father or mother, and seek in marriage the precise same hurt and nonfulfillment which our principle caregivers made us feel in infancy. The problem is that we don’t bother reading these books until our relationships are already in deep trouble. These books should be required reading for all high school students.
“Don’t blame your parents! Just wait until you’re a parent yourself!” they (our parents) tell us. Well, that’s wrong; we should blame our parents, because only by consciously blaming them are we in a position to consciously forgive them. Only when we can see that it was their own self-hatred which their parents laid on them that impelled them to do what they did to us; only when we can see them as people in as much or more pain as we, who really did try to do the best for us they knew how; only then can we forgive our parents. And only then can we forgive ourselves, and let go of our own self-hatred, no longer needing to reenact it or to blame ourselves over and over because we loved our parents, and all they cared about was being right.
The third (and deepest) level of relationship is the karma level – the level of the lessons we are trying to learn from certain people, based upon our experiences with them in other lifetimes and realities. Anything which is wrong or out-of-kilter in a relationship originates on the karma level. Our gut-level, first impressions of people are often good indicators of the kind of karma we have going with them; but our conscious minds often bury such information directly as it is perceived.
For example, it could happen that the reason we are sexually turned on by a certain person is that in a previous life we raped and tortured that person; for some aeons, perhaps, that individual has been itching for a lifetime in which to right matters. That might be the karma we have set up with someone; but all our conscious mind knows, on its level of expectation, is that we are sexually turned on by that person and want the person to validate it by having sex with us. And so we put our head in that person’s noose, and wonder later on why things aren’t working out as we’d fantasized.
The karma and conditioning levels work in tandem to control the actual circumstances and course of a relationship. For example, if on the conditioning level we decide to reenact a parent’s abandonment of us and we choose a partner who will abandon us, we might select for that role someone whom in a previous lifetime we abandoned. This can be considered a penance; but we can also look at it as a kind of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” – like saying, “I made you suffer in that lifetime, and now I want to know how you felt – to feel the feelings I made you feel.” On the karma level, as on the conditioning level, we try to restage events which will produce a resonance with some unresolved emotional issue in the totality of our being.
The agendas we have set up with other people on the karma level are often revealed in the very first impressions we have of them and which we immediately repress. It’s hard to describe this, and it’s different for everyone, but often upon meeting someone with whom we have a heavy karmic agenda going, we get a FLASH, a conscious feeling or thought, of something we desire or feel threatened by about that person. And then we immediately “forget” what we just felt, because if we have bad karma going with the person, then that flash was of a side of ourselves which we don’t want to consciously face or acknowledge – a side we are calling upon that person to enact openly for us, to ram down our throat for us, until we’re forced to acknowledge it. Thus we “forget” this first impression, and later on pretend we don’t understand why the person we loved and trusted so much could have changed so.
Of course, we can run past-life regressions to check what sort of karma we have going with someone before getting seriously involved with them – sort of like running a credit or AIDS check on a prospective spouse. In India astrology has been historically relied upon for this sort of information. But it’s also possible to avoid difficulties just by being alert to our own gut feelings and intuitive impressions of other people, rather than ignoring this most essential information in a relationship.
Thus the basic intensity or emotional theme of a relationship is set up on the karma level; the particular script, the sequence of events which will unfold in a relationship, is set up on the conditioning level; and the costuming, the superficial appearances or show put on for the benefit of the neighbors, is set up on the expectations level.
The glare of the expectations level blinds us to what is happening on the two deeper levels; and the expectations level is a lie. What is actually going on in a relationship on the conditioning and karma levels is always quite visible; but we pretend we don’t see it, we pretend we don’t understand it, in order to uphold our expectations as long as possible.
By “lie” is meant something that we feel, but which we suppress or conceal. For example, if our sex partner is doing something that doesn’t feel good and turns us off, and we lay there and take it because we’re too embarrassed to speak up and possibly hurt our partner’s feelings, then that’s a lie. Any time we do not communicate something we are feeling because we are embarrassed to do so, or because we don’t want to hurt or provoke the other person or become a target for his or her disapproval, we are lying. Lying leads to sneaking around behind the other person’s back. Lies lead to more lies.
We can tell if lying is taking place in a relationship this way: if there is an area in which we don’t trust the other person; where we withhold from the other person; where we are afraid of the other person (his / her disapproval or rejection); where we feel something other than GOOD about the person; then that is a place where we are lying. We are trained to lie to other people, and then to feel betrayed when our lies are exposed.
All a lie is, is a contradiction. Lies must always exist in pairs, whereas the truth – love – just is. For example, on the level of our expectations we might set up the pair: “I want you to be honest with me” and “I don’t want to hear how turned on you are by someone else.” On the level of our conditioning we might set up the pair: “I truly love you, mommy!” and “I’ll never question your love for me!” On the level of karma lies don’t exist per se (it’s repressing this level that makes a lie out of it); but one could say that the basic lie or duality of the karma level is: “You and I are two” and “You and I are one.”
All the lies in a relationship are laid down right at the beginning. By “laid down” is meant: conscious. Conscious for a moment, and then – just as consciously – repressed, ignored, “forgotten.” The basic lies of the karma level may be laid down in the first few seconds of a relationship. The lies of the conditioning level (the game plan of who’s going to hurt whom, and how) are usually laid down at the time the relationship is formalized – when the mutual decision is made to commit, to get serious as it were. And the expectations level is a complete lie from the first pop.
Anyone with their eyes open could see what’s going on. Sometimes our parents, friends, or other people who care about us try to pass us warnings. But we’re “so much in love” and “love is blind” and we’re so “happy” that we don’t want to see it. We don’t want anything to call us down from this lovely cloud we’re on; this lovely lie we’re telling ourselves.
And for each and every lie, the piper must be paid. There’s a karmic law at work in all this, and every single lie, no matter how teensy-weensy, will someday have to be brought into the open and admitted, else the relationship is doomed – doomed to be something other than a love relationship, because in a love relationship there is no room whatsoever for lies of any kind, at any time, for any reason.
All the alarm about the soaring divorce rate in our society, the call for a return to “traditional values,” is a bunch of baloney. Those traditional values were a total lie, and it’s amazing that the human race put up with that lie as long as it did. Traditional values means you get married on the expectations level and you never question it. You learn somehow to live with a lie, with unhappiness, and you bite your tongue because the social sanctions (what the neighbors might think) against divorce were so stringent. Instead of returning to living out lies, our society ought to stop glorifying the expectations level. As is the case also with war, when society stops glorifying infatuation people will stop seeking it.
Love relationships fail because we go into them with a lot of la-de-da thought forms about who we are and what we expect to get, and we run smack into heavy karma and conditioning agendas we had no conscious idea even existed. We are not consciously aware of what expectations we have until those expectations aren’t fulfilled; and we don’t understand what our parents did to us until we find our partner doing the same thing – make us feel that old, familiar feeling in the pit of our stomach.
As long as we’re relating to the other person on one of these three levels, we’re not relating to an actual person at all, but only to our own self-reflection, our childhood wounds, or our deep-seated fears and insecurities. On the expectations level our attention is focused on the future; on the conditioning level it’s focused on the past; and on the karma level it’s focused on the remote past. A true love relationship, however, involves relating to a real, live person in the now moment.
(excerpted from Bob Makransky’s book Magical Living)