Being the best partner — 14 September 2008
Where has the unconditional love gone?

So much has been written about what love is, what people seek in finding love, who is the best partner for whom, and how do you really find and keep the love of your life? All these and many other questions about love have always preoccupied humanity.

The search for love often focuses on the traits, attributes and precious qualities sought in the other. Actually, finding love is not about finding a partner with some ideal traits but rather about finding someone who would elect to love, accept and cherish you as you are.

It all starts in infancy. A newborn baby is cradled in his/her parent’s arms, close to the adult’s chest, feeling warm, safe, fed and soothed while hearing sounds of delight and admiration just for his/her mere existence. All babies are cute, adored and awed by adults with words of love and admiration; “look at those beautiful eyes, such a cute baby, ten fingers and toes”. Though the baby does not understand the meaning of the words, the infant absorbs the positive, accepting and appreciating energy that surrounds him/her. All of the baby’s survival needs are met, and his essence is cherished with no expectation of performance placed on him/her. This is what I term “the cradle effect”- the state of being unconditionally loved, nurtured and pleased for just being. It is the ultimate nirvana.

This blissful state does not last for long. As soon as the baby begins to walk, talk and act, discipline and safety restrictions are imposed. Though necessary for the child’s safety or later for the parents’ sanity, the disapproval smarts. Children know that they must please their parents to survive and make all the efforts necessary to attain approval. However, no matter how hard they try, they cannot fully please the parents all the time.

School and peers also render the child as less than perfect, insecurities about one’s worth and esteem creep in and plague children and then adults to a greater or lesser degree for years to come. The yearned-for unconditional love continues to be craved.

Falling in love during adolescence and later closely approximates the “cradle effect”. Feeling wanted, adored, pursued and special to another person is intoxicating. The hope that once again you can be totally pleasing for no effort on your part is sparked.

The baby’s attachment to his mother was described in Ainsworth studies of human infants; “ by crying when mother leaves the room, greeting her on her return with smiles, lifting of the arms, and crows of delight.” Attachment behaviors, in a more mature style, but with similar intensity and dependency, are manifested in first and subsequent falling in love experiences as well.

The illusion of receiving another’s sole attention forever and having your needs instantly and consistently filled, inevitably get shattered. The disillusionment is directed at the partner’s imperfections and the yearning for the “cradle effect” resumes.

• Realize that even the most loving and adoring partner will be unable to duplicate the “cradle effect” for you on an ongoing basis. The original unconditional love was based on the sole fulfillment of the baby’s needs. In a relationship there are two individuals whose needs must be considered simultaneously.
• The love, acceptance and admiration you receive from your partner, cannot be truly unconditional – you may need to earn some of it.
• Recreate for each other times and experiences approximating the “cradle effect”. Romantic get-aways, date nights, and courting behaviors could facilitate your feeling very special to each other.
• Use admiring language, frequent praising words, appreciations and kudos on a daily basis. These will help sustain your partner’s self esteem and sense of lovability.
• Express physical affection and intimacy with tenderness and consideration. It is another affirmation of your partner’s uniqueness and specialness that is validating and thrilling.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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