“Probably the next important evolution of Western humankind is to find a proper container for religious life so that we do not unrealistically expect another mortal human being to carry this high value. In short: don’t ask a human to be God for you.”

* Robert Johnson, Balancing Heaven and Earth

“Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy.”

* Robert Johnson, We: The Psychology for Romantic Love

When it comes to romantic love, Western culture is predicated on multiple distortions. Not only are you conditioned to expect your partner to be your physical ideal, socially fluent, witty, and high achieving, but you’re also conditioned to expect your partner to complete you, light you up, cure you of boredom, and inject you with purpose. It’s the Jerry McGuire mindset that swept the nation years ago with its romantic ideal of “you complete me.” It’s every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, every classic novel you’ve ever read, every pop song you’ve ever heard.

In order to shift the dysfunctional paradigm of love in Western and the belief that your partner is supposed to complete you, we have to follow two basic steps. The first is to call out the faulty messages when they appear and replace them with a message that teaches some of the principles of healthy love. One of my favorite ways to do this, especially when I’m teaching my sons about real love, is with popular music. Let’s take these lyrics by Dido (whose music I adore):

And I won’t go, I won’t sleep
I can’t breathe
Until you’re resting here with me
And I won’t leave, and I can’t hide
I cannot be until you’re resting here with me.

We all assume that she’s singing about a romantic partner – and what a profoundly dysfunctional message it is when heard through this lens! – but when I sing it I tell my kids I’m singing about the divine or poetry or even our cat ;). I’ll say to my older son, who is a pilot, “This is probably how you feel about flying.” When you connect to your true source of inspiration, which, in Jungian theory is called the anima or animus, it’s like coming home to and falling in love with yourself – and it’s a reason for living. That is true love. Read those lyrics again through that lens and the meaning changes entirely.

I’ve said it a hundred times on this blog and in my courses but I’ll say it again: It’s not your partner’s job to fill you up, to be your source of aliveness, or to make you feel in love. That’s your job and yours alone. Well, let me amend that: It’s actually the job of the culture to help you project your longing for wholeness and aliveness onto an appropriate source, so I consider it a massive cultural failure that so many people struggle in the realm of love. But given that our culture fails us here, we have to learn ourselves about what it means to take back our gold.

This leads to the second step, which is to learn to become the source of your own aliveness and project your healthy and human need for spark and euphoria onto an appropriate source. The antidote to the expectation that your partner is supposed to complete you and fill you with euphoria is to learn what it means to fall in love with life itself so that you can love your partner for the imperfect and completely lovable human that they are.

We carry a limited idea in the culture that falling in love is exclusive to another human being. This isn’t true. I fall in love multiple times a day. When I write a poem, I’m filled with an elixir of ecstasy. When I sit on a stone in the middle of the creek and converse silently with the mallard duck who keeps watch over his beloved, joy sings my being wholly alive and I think of my own beloved husband who keeps watch over us day and night. When I stand at an open door at night and listen to the crickets announcing summer’s arrival knowing it will be only a few short months before they announce its end, I kiss the night and she kisses me, and in doing so I’m tapped into the greater rhythm of life that reminds me of my footprint of belonging.

It’s these practices that deserve our true devotion. It’s the creative impulse and the natural world that long to be the object of our ardor. The creek and the duck and the tree outside our window are waiting for us to sing them songs of gratitude, and when we do so not only do we tap into the current of true love that permeates our world but we’re elevated above the fear fray that attempts to grab us by the heals and pull us down into the spiral of intrusive thoughts.

Author's Bio: 

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety – whether single, dating, engaged, or married – give yourself the gift of her popular eCourse (http://conscious-transitions.com/break-free-from-relationship-anxiety-e-...).