“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.