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Real Love vs. Perceived Love

What It Is and Is Not

Some of us are wired with unhealthy thought patterns and habits that affect us today, much of it emotionally driven misinterpretation. We’ve all experienced or heard of a story based in perceived love. It usually starts with something like this. Honesty is the key to a relationship, if you can fake that, you’re in. No thanks. Perceived love is like the knock off bag (a fake) when you know if you just worked a little harder, you could have the real thing.

The chronic patterns and choices we make create the story of our lives and lead us to define our own type of love. This is also where we can begin to recognize if we are truly in love, or in love with the perception of it. Clinical Psychologist, Lisa Firestone defines leaning towards a more perceived love as a Fantasy Bond. A fantasy bond is created when two people replace real acts of genuine love, admiration, passion, and respect with the role and ritual of “being” in a relationship. Sound like anyone you know?

Here are a three ways to increase our capacity to determine love motives, be aware of our patterns and create genuine care.

Composed vs. Emotion Driven

A flood of neuro-chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline rush into our brains during emotionally charged interactions. Including conversations with our loved ones. In fact, especially with our loved ones. Since thoughts affect emotion, and we tend to have more direct thoughts about those close to us. In short, an emotionally driven interaction generates threat countering actions, anxiety, and anger that make it harder to interpret our partners responses or read between the lines. Intimate relationships provide psychological and physiological bonds. Ones that create both trust and misgivings.

It’s not uncommon to create a very real perception of a situation, including our desired love bond, that is driven by inner patterns and emotion, not the present facts. This in fact, immobilizes us to see the other side. We can shift to a more composed interaction, but creating a safe space and staying composed in conflict takes practice. One that begins with recognizing the flood of neuro-chemicals and your limbic brain jumping into threat mode. That threat mode narrows your love patterns to black and white, emotion driven responses while leaving out the other side. Real love allows for the emotion, but takes the time to listen and repair it. So next time you feel that rush, breathe, trust, and stay composed.

Outer Validation vs. Inner Validation

I believe in creating mental health as much as I do physical health, and part of that mental health is creating real love. Not dependent love with involuntary bonds, or romantic love focused on idealization not reality. And not dominant or submissive love where one plays a role. There seem to be an infinite number of love “types” and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Creating an inner driven healthy love includes defining our boundaries. Non negotiables you are no longer willing to compromise on in your relationships. Usually destructive patterns, where one partner is stepping over the other. This is the beginning of a loss of respect for yourself and your partner. When we lose a level of respect for our partners, it allows us to justify intrusive, insensitive or manipulative acts. I love Margaret Paul’s steps to inner bonding to begin to break those inner patterns.

  • Be willing to feel pain and take responsibility for your feelings

  • Move into the intent to learn

  • Learn about your false beliefs

  • Dialogue with your higher self

  • Take the loving action learned in step four

  • Evaluate your action

Now let’s turn outward. If you are attacking your partners character you have detached from real love. Of course we are allowed to feel our emotions, including anger, but what I’m talking about is not fighting fair, and simply being a bully. This comes from fear, and produces toxic patterns. To check yourself in your real love interactions, use John Gottman’s famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that are high predictors of divorce and separation.

  • Criticism

  • Defensiveness

  • Contempt

  • Stonewalling

Relationships will usually have some form of these predictors, but healthy and real love doesn’t focus on them, but rather the repair and management of a them.

True Sharing vs. Unhealthy Attachment

Vulnerability is a key strength in relationships, and a skill our society is talking more about. “What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” Haruki Murakami. Sharing experiences and connection is part of real love, oversharing for acceptance, validation and unhealthy, immediate bonding is not. Flex your vulnerability muscles here and open your heart. Creating compassion for yourself and your partner creates real love, hanging on to superficial validations is a perception of love.

Sharing is a commitment based on a selfless alliance, one where we are looking at what we can do for the other person, not simply an attachment to how they can make us feel. This is not real affection, loyalty and acceptance of each other. If a selfish (one sided) alliance breaks down, partners break apart because the perception of their attachment didn’t fit the reality. It also didn’t fit facing real love’s commitment to continuing after the “honeymoon” phase.

Define your level of sharing vs. oversharing, and know we don’t have to own other people’s feelings, thoughts, opinions, behaviors or comments. A go-to for letting go is John Kim’s list of returning what’s not yours.

  • Other people’s inability to cope with their own bullshit

  • Other people’s opinions and perceptions of me

  • Other people’s expectations of me

  • Other people’s definitions of what’s right, or wrong

  • Other people’s stories.

We can be influenced by adversity as much as we can by encouragement and contentment. We need more than just love to sustain a relationship, but defining real vs. perceived can save you a lot of time and added cracks to your heart.

In the end real love requires two people who are working on their own personal love and dedicated to engaging in healthy love together. We must be able to be committed, spontaneous and passionate, able to trust, to give and take, and to be honest. It may sound like a lot, but we can start with one at a time. In truth, there are many kinds of love, but only one is totally healthy.

Read more in the Relationship Rescue Plan

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