World famous psychotherapist Irvin Yalom (86) has been together with his wife for 70 years. This is how he feels about love and a meaningful life.
You have been with your wife for 70 years. What’s the secret to a long relationship like yours?
I met Marilyn when I was fifteen and immediately, I know she would be my wife. I love her. She has been at a Chicago conference for three days now, and I miss her. I cherish every minute I’m with her, especially know. I know my days are numbered. We share the same interests and we love books. Literature has learned me a lot about the human condition, perhaps more than my own clinical literature. We are both still fanatic readers, reading brings us spiritual wealth and stimulating discussions. Of course, there have been difficult times, as well. Marilyn took care of our family for the most part, while I was busy with my career and away often. But in those days, you didn’t just get divorced when times got rough.
What do you think makes life meaningful?
I love to talk and write about the ripples we cause in other people’s lives. By giving our children, friends and patients genuine attention and not being afraid of intimacy or vulnerability. By showing who we are. This requires courage, but it creates valuable relationships in which the other person feels appreciated. If you have this experience, you can pass it on to others. Everyone creates ripples in the lives of people around them, often unknowingly. They have an effect even after we’ve gone. I’ve had many teachers who influenced my work and I think that I’ll ‘ripple on’ in the lives of my students, readers and clients. I get lots of letters from readers who feel comforted and inspired by my books. That is meaningful to me. But of course, I ‘ripple’ in my kids’ and grandkids’ lives. Feeling love for people and knowing you’re loved is the most important thing in our lives.
In an interview, you said you prefer not to work with clients who are in love. Why is that?
Because people in love are starstruck. They can’t think clearly. When you’re in love, it’s hard to think about anything else than your object of affection. You don’t see them for who they really are. Psychotherapy and love are fundamentally incompatible. A good therapist looks for enlightenment in the darkness, while romantic love flourishes with mystery and crumbles when you take a good look at it. Alain de Botton wrote a beautiful book about that. In ‘The course of love’, he describes accurately how we will always marry the wrong person, because we project unrealistic expectations on our loved ones. Disappointment is inevitable. I started giving the book to my patients.