If people do not believe that mathematics is simple,
it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.
― John von Neumann
Mr. Glover, my high school algebra teacher, who failed me, would be so proud. Despite my life-long adversarial relationship with math, I surprisingly rely on it to describe both healthy and problematic relationships in my book, “The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.” The theory I created uses simple math to illustrate the magnet-like properties of dysfunctional romantic relationships. In this article, I will be a mathematician once again as I delineate healthy versus unhealthy relationships.
What follows are two mathematical equations: one that reflects a healthy romantic relationship, the other dysfunctional, unstable and ultimately doomed. To some, this lesson might seem paradoxical, and to others, just common sense. For my math phobic brethren, don’t worry…no need to reach for your calculators…just take a deep breath and trust me…you will be okay. Here goes…
The Unhealthy Love Equation
1/2 + 1/2 = 1: Two “half” or emotionally unhealthy and underdeveloped relationship partners comprise a whole or complete dysfunctional relationship. Although the initial feeling in this relationship is often euphoric and emotionally explosive, this soul mate experience typically devolves into pair of angry and resentful “cellmates.”
It seems that psychologically immature lovers are pulled together by the power of the Human Magnet Syndrome. As I wrote in my book of the same name, codependents and pathological narcissists are attracted to each other because one is the “yin” to the other’s “yang.” Like an award winning dance couple, the two are compelled to dance with each other because they fit together like a hand in glove…perfectly! The leader of the dance, typically a narcissist, always finds a partner that syncs up with his controlling and self-serving dance style.
Conversely, the follower of the dance, the codependent, similarly finds her “perfect” dance partner. As a couple, these two emotionally and psychologically challenged dancers dance to a perfectly synchronized rhythm; neither one misses a beat. The coupling of psychological “halves” feels exquisitely perfect to the dancers, at least in the beginning, but the “math” never works out.
The Healthy Equation
1 + 1 = 2: Two “whole” or emotionally healthy lovers comprise a complete relationship. In this relationship equation, the two lovers relate to each other as interdependent adults. An interdependent relationship works because of the unique mixture of cooperation and autonomy. Neither need nor rely on the other to feel whole, complete and, therefore, happy. Instead, they come to the relationship as psychologically healthy people seeking an independent but shared love experience.
The 1 + 1 healthy love experience is based on the age old maxim that you can’t love someone else until you first love yourself. Healthy relational love is built on the foundation of self-love. According to Melanie Greenberg, PhD., “When we have the courage to let the walls down—to know and embrace ourselves, despite our human failings, we also open the door to connecting in a more caring, empathic, intimate way with the ones we love and with all living beings.” While self-love is the prerequisite for healthy relational love, nothing beats a shared love experience.
The Sum of the Two Equations
In unhealthy or dysfunctional relationships, a half plus a half equals one, which is always a half relationship; one that is comprised of insecure, needy and fear-based lovers. For healthy lovers, one plus one equals two—or a full relationship, which is comprised of two independent and personally-fulfilled lovers.
How to Maintain a “Mathematically” Sound Relationship:
1. Recognize that personal growth and emotional healing will always enhances your relationship. Find a good therapist that matches up with your needs and personality. Don’t forget that the human spirit is malleable and capable of astounding feats. George Elliot said it best: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
2. Support your partner’s dreams and goals, as they will be happier, more fulfilled and, consequently, more able to love you completely and fully. It isn’t codependent to sacrifice for your partner. Don’t forget, ‘what goes around, comes around.’
3. Personal and emotional freedom requires courage to confront your fears and insecurities. Don’t let them weigh you down. They are like lead weights to a swimmer, making it harder to keep you head above water.
4. Healthy 1 + 1 love requires risk-taking and courage for the unknown. Risk-adverse lovers never experience the freedom of healthy love. The author Anais Nin eloquently spoke about the need to prioritize risk: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
5. According to Gary Chapman, the author of the Five Love Languages, the best way to fill your spouse’s “love tank” is to express love in their unique love language. Expressing love to your spouse in a way that they can understand and appreciate builds them up and empowers them to reciprocate to meet your own unique love language.
6. Consider your relationship an important investment that requires frequent deposits. Remember, the more you personally invest in your relationship, the higher the “dividends” will be.
7. The antithesis of healthy love is mutual selfishness. Healthy 1 + 1 love requires mutuality, reciprocity and commitment to the greater whole. “Love is what is left in a relationship after all the selfishness is taken out.” – Nick Richardson
8. With healthy romantic partners, sacrifice isn’t a negative proposition. On the contrary, it only adds to a relationship. According to Joseph Campbell, noted philosopher and author, “When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship.”
So, for now, the math lecture is over. It is time to put down your calculators and create your own “mathematically sound” relationship. Don’t forget that the very best, longest-lasting and satisfying love requires two whole and psychologically healthy partners. One plus one will always equal healthy love. If you don’t believe, me, then just do the math…
Originally published on PsychCentral