I strongly believe that understanding is more important than love, especially when it comes to parenting and intimate relationships. As a psychologist for more than twenty-five years I can tell you that I have never had an adult look back at her childhood and complain that her parents were too understanding. And similarly, I have met many divorced people who still love each other but yet they never really understood each other.
Don't get me wrong. I think love is great. I love my children and all of my family members. I love my wonderful fiancee.
The painful reality, however, is that love is just not enough. I work every day at better understanding the people whom I love. The willingness to understand is very important. It is not always easy, but healthy love is strengthened by the willingness to understand. Love without understanding will wilt like flowers without water.
Parents help themselves and their children by realizing and understanding their emotional and developmental changes as they grow up. Some parents fail to ever really understand their children. And sadly, many parents are never understood by their children. In many cases understanding of parents does not occur not until they are on their death beds, they have passed, or sadly, in some cases, this understanding never comes to fruition. We tend not to like those parts of others that we do not understand. For disconnected and frustrated parents and children, this may sound like, "I love him but I just don't like him".
Well adjusted couples work and learn to understand one another's evolving needs as the years go by. Alternatively, couples that bite the dust and divorce typically have suffered a breakdown in understanding, also known as empathy. Countless individuals reflect back on failed marriages or intimate relationships and say, "I guess we just drifted apart." I don't believe they just drifted apart. Instead what likely happened is that they relied on their love versus understanding to get them through difficult challenges and the passage of time. This often becomes translated to "I love you but I am no longer in love with you." Most relationships implode or explode when one or both partners think this way,
When parents, children, spouses or other relationship partners think or say "I'm done with you" what they are really saying isn't, "I don't love you", but rather, "I can't (or don't want to) understand you."
Our egos are what seem to get in the way of understanding those who we love and care about. Often it is our need to be right that makes what others think and feel so wrong for us. I have certainly been quite guilty of this in some of my relationships.
As I have written repeatedly in my relationship book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, and in my other books, empathy, is truly the emotional glue that holds all close relationships together. Empathy allows us to slow down and try to walk in the shoes of those we love. The deeper our empathy, the deeper-and healthier-our love. Not all relationships are meant to be. Yet all relationships that are meant to flourish in a healthy way, must stress understanding just as much, if not more, than love.
See Dr. Jeff's new second edition of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, which was recently cited in the Wall Street Journal as a book helpful for parents of defiant children.