The great twentieth century poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that for one human being to love another was the most difficult thing, everything else in life was preparation.  What is it that makes loving another so difficult? 

When we meet someone who sparks our love interest, we put our best foot forward, presenting vibrant peacock feathers to be admired.  But we are all flawed works of art.  When we get up close and personal, there is no hiding.  Sooner or later, the unglamorous, difficult, and even ugly parts of who we are become apparent. And who among us feels relaxed about letting others glimpse our warts and flaws, especially those we love? 

When our shadow selves eventually emerge, the inevitable happens.  Hurtful things get said, hurtful scenes are enacted.  We break the hearts of those we love.  Our own hearts get broken by our partners.  And when we reenact painful scenes from our past, we break our own hearts too.  I recall a TV interview with the actress Anne Bancroft, the late wife of the director Mel Brooks. The interviewer noted they had been married a long time. He wanted to know their secret.   She stared at him in silence for five or ten seconds, an eternity on live television. Then she nodded her head slowly before saying it was hard work. That was her secret. It was hard work. How refreshing to hear someone express a simple profound truth. 

Loving someone and being loved is wonderful, exciting, passionate, and life affirming.  But it is also difficult.  Everything else in life is preparation. Allowing ourselves to love and to be loved involves working with our warts and flaws and the shadow selves of those we love. That is where the rubber meets the road.  

The most successful relationships embrace the reality of emotional storms. It is remarkable how many people assume a good relationship involves little or no conflict. Successful partnerships create space to have difficult conversations and affirm a mutual commitment to slog through the emotional mud together before coming out the other side. There is no other way to create lasting intimacy with anyone. And successful relationships involve a capacity to forgive, both ourselves and those we love, for being flawed works of art, for being human. 

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Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience providing psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children. Read more here.