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Do You Want A Sane Relationship? Be Lovable and Loving!


Healthy relationships

Do You Want A Sane Relationship? Be Lovable and Loving!

Is being lovable and loving all you need to form a sane relationship?

I know you’ve been hurt by someone else
I can tell by the way you carry yourself
If you let me, here’s what I’ll do
I’ll take care of you
I’ve loved and I’ve lost
—“Take Care,” Drake, featuring Rihanna ( is external))

“I almost missed my whole life.”

Perhaps we can accept a definition of insanity, from the individual perspective, as repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. But how might we broach a definition of relational/relationship sanity? If we accept a simple and straightforward definition of sanity as “soundness of mind,” could we say that experiencing ourselves as being loving and lovable is a (if not therelational definition of sanity? Think about it, how could one possibly feel sane—of sound mind, secure—in a relationship sans either feeling loved or lovable?

“Yes,” said Jim, “I almost missed the whole thing. A major part of changing my own destructive behavior was working on and practicing being loving, kind and generous to others. I thought that was enough. I never considered how important it might be to allow others to offer these same things to me.”

Though irrelationship does not often start out as florid insanity, the imbalance that is co-created and mutually sustained leaves very little, if any, room for the kind of reciprocal loving, being loved and feeling it, that we are suggesting constitutes relational sanity.

“The ways that I experienced myself as being loving,” Jim went on, “had everything to do with the things that I do for other people—the things I give. It never occurred to me that not allowing others to do the same for me could create an imbalance, and ultimately have me questioning my own lovability.”

It is possible to orbit around the heart of another—in so-called “relationship”—in a position of either givingor taking care—never taking in what others have to offer? Can we co-create a sustained orbit around each other where our positions never shift and never change? In such a state, we cannot form a healthy interdependence; we are safe in the insecurity of knowing (feeling, believing) that we can count on no one. This is a tightly knit control. This is a dynamic wherein we never get in (to the heart of the other), a place where no one gets in (to ours). The problem is not care-giving or care-receiving, it is that in irrelationship we only caretake—even if we do so by acting as if someone else’s care is effective, and that we are letting it in. Never accepting the offer: I’ll take care of you. Is it possible that the Drake and Rihanna characters from “Take Care” are, in fitful, tentative and tumultuous ways, co-recovering from lost love?Together, re-opening to loving and being loved?  After all, the invitation to accept care is also an invitation to empathize with our own history of love and loss.

“Funny, I never would have thought that being loveable was about anything other than thinking and believing that others love me—that they accept what I have to give. Now I can see that all the thinking in the world does not necessarily equal accepting and taking in what others have to offer me. It is amazing that being loveable has so much to do with valuing what someone else is offering.”

Though in many cases, being loving and being lovable go together hand in glove, we see them as two separate and distinct directions that love can flow. In irrelationship, they do not flow, they collide (or endlessly chase each other’s tails) and tend to create either a very-difficult-to-permeate boundary or a chronic chase scene. Either way, it is a defense, against what another seemingly “loving” person has to offer. In situations where we are threatened by love’s possibilities (and anxieties and insecurities), it is easy to see how this hard-to-detect imbalance can simultaneously keep us safe and drive us crazy.

“Asking for help became a kind of first step in allowing others to love me, to help me, to become important—maybe even essential—to me.”

Because these are unconscious dynamics, we are generally unable to tell where the pain—the feeling of being ripped-off—is coming from. Giving and giving without allowing others to give us is the point. Irrelationship is an unconscious dynamic; so we don’t know it. And so, to give to us is, we believe, a rip-off (to the other person), but we will feel as if we are the ones being snaked. A goal of being loving, solely, leaves no room for others to experience themselves as valuable contributors to us—everyone’s safe, everyone loses, everyone’s lonely. And, everyone’s pissed off.

“It turns out that being loving—without accepting my own wish or need to be loved—is not accepting conditions as they are. Only now am I coming to understand how I tried to control others, and my responses to them, by not accepting their care. Only now can I understand why so many people I’ve known have been so hurt and angry. Only now can I see how crazy I’ve been—how insane my relationships were.”

Ironic as it may seem, loving in that everything-flows-outward way is about as effective for being reached—hearing what others have to say, seeing what’s good about them, their assets, etc, and letting them in—as contempt. Hurt feelings over having one’s offerings refused will trigger angry emotions leading to hostile and aggressive behaviors that, in sum, equal contempt. It is easy to see how this creates a hermetically sealed protection against allowing ourselves to see—to feel—what others have to offer. How much less so, to see—to feel—that loving others without allowing them to love us creates and sustains the same isolated emotional state. Both are recipes for loneliness.

“In irrelationship, I put myself in solitary confinement. It was insane. For me,” continued Jim, “the first step on the road to sanity was a very simple, but not easy change: I began to listen, to be willing, open and finally able to accept and take in what others were offering me, and in this way began to, finally, let others love me.”

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[Mark Borg]



Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D. is a community psychologist and psychoanalyst, founding partner of The Community Consulting Group, and a supervisor of psychotherapy at the William Alanson White Institute. He has written extensively about the intersection of psychoanalysis and community crisis intervention. He is in private practice in New York City. Grant H. Brenner, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice, specializing in treating mood and anxiety disorders and the complex problems which may arise in adulthood from developmental childhood trauma. He works from a humanistic and integrative perspective, recognizing that each person requires an comprehensive assessment and individualized treatment plan, and that often different types of treatment are sometimes necessary to explore before finding an approach which works. At the same time, he values evidence-based approaches and stays current with new developments. He uses various approaches including talk therapy, medications, and interventional psychiatric approaches such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and neurofeedback. He is a volunteer and Board member of the not-for-profit organization Disaster Psychiatry Outreach. He teaches and supervises, and is a faculty member of the Mount Sinai Hospital and Director of the Trauma Service of the William Alanson White Institute. He is an editor of and author in the book Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience: Integrating Care in Disaster Relief Work, and the author of several papers and book chapters. Daniel Berry, RN, MHA has practiced as a Registered Nurse in New York City since 1987. Working in in-patient, home care and community settings, his work has taken him into some of the city's most privileged households as well as some of its most underprivileged housing projects. He is currently the Assistant Director of Nursing for Risk Management at a public hospital serving homeless and undocumented victims of street violence, drug addiction and severe traumatic injuries.

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