A m a j o r purpose of relationship is to meet your and your partner’s needs in an expanded way. There are three levels ofrelationship, that is, three ways that people in a relationship meet their needs. These are selfish love (level one), conditional love (level two), and unconditional love (level three).
Level One: Selfish Love (My needs come first.)
This is the least mature level. At this level, one or both of the partners are focused on meeting their own needs first. When partners have this focus, the relationship is fragile. If you put your needs first, what happens to your partner? Eventually there will be an erosion of trust and togetherness, and there may even be a conflict or dispute about who gets personal needs met first. Do you ever find yourself with your partner in a situation where you are arguing about who is right, who goes first, who gets their way? All of us do sometimes—and when we do, we are playing at relationship level one.
Occasionally there may be some way that you can meet your needs together in the same way, but this cannot be sustained. Life doesn’t work that way— there are always points of choice where if you put yourself first, the other person will suffer. Putting the other first is the essence of trust. When two partners fail to understand each other or put each other’s needs first, then trust is being undermined by individual self interest.
Level Two: Conditional Love (I’ll give you yours if you give me mine.)
We call level two “horse trading.” At this level, every gesture, every gift, every concession or compromise has strings attached. Nothing is given out of free will, only out of a wish for barter, fairness, or personal gain. We call a level two player by the shocking term “whore,” because what does a prostitute do? He or she gives “love” in exchange for money; without money, no “love” is given. In a relationship in which love is exchanged for favors, nothing is simple. Everything is a ploy, a calculation, an advance payment creating debt. It is difficult to accept love because we never know what the price might be. Everything is purchased. In order to avoid debt, both parties insist on creating fairness, that is, a model of even exchange.
However, plans of even exchange will never create the spontaneous self-expression that leads to a passionate relationship. Trust comes not only from following a prescribed plan but also from feeling that if you should suddenly find yourself in need, your partner will come and serve you. Trust comes from the belief that the relationship is always bigger than any individual exchange or temporary advantage or debt of one partner or the other. Again, all relationships devolve to the level once in a while where it seems that things are not equal or fair. When we are at level two, we fall into blaming, suspicion, cautious truces, and exchanges. We hesitate before giving while the other person is waiting for us, in need. When that happens, do not stay at that level: It is crucial to communicate, to make needs understood, and to give to each other.
Level Three: Unconditional Love (The other’s needs come first.)
This is the level where passion and emotional juice flow. Both partners put each other first. When a partner discovers the other’s need, he or she serves that need
spontaneously in the best way possible, without calculating a payback. In fact, the partners are constantly studying each other in order to understand how to serve each other better. They become experts at knowing each other’s needs. Both partners recognize that, at a deep level, they love each other unconditionally and that nothing is needed for the love to be expressed. At this level, it is easy to please each other and to share, because even if you don’t experience the same needs as your partner, you can love what he or she loves. You don’t have to worry about your needs remaining unmet because your partner habitually puts you first—all you have to do is give your partner a clue about what you need. At the level of passion, there is enough safety for you to serve each other not only by giving gifts but by penetrating each other emotionally.
When there is a foundation of trust, you can express yourselves in darker and naughtier ways to give your relationship a suspenseful edge. Of course, all relationships devolve occasionally. We all have panic moments when we think that we will not be loved or that we will fall short of expectations; in those moments, we will ask for “fair exchange” or will even focus on getting our individual needs met first. However, if the “center of gravity” of your relationship is at level three, you are enjoying one of the rare experiences of life.