I strongly believe that understanding is more important than love, especially when it comes to 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.
As I write in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, 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.
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.
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.
For parenting issues, please 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.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal, and executive coach, and motivational speaker in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. You can also follow him on twitter and Linked In.