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Perfect love, imperfect relationships (book review)

5 July 2020

Perfect love, imperfect relationships is a great book on relationship psychology. It’s written by John Welwood, a psychologist and author who tried to bring together psychological and spiritual ideas.

One of the central ideas in the book is that we expect too much of our partners and are invariably disappointed when they don’t match up with our expectations. According to Welwood, this is the human condition.

It’s definitely something that resonates with me as I often find myself resentful when I don’t feel understood or valued by my partner and then it can become about trying to somehow ‘get’ them to behave in the way I want. That rarely works, of course, because people usually don’t respond well to pressure or manipulation of that kind.

Welwood argues that we bring into our adult relationships an expectation to be perfectly loved, almost as if we were a child. We are usually not aware of this expectation because it is unconscious, but it is nevertheless very powerful. In the first flush of love this expectation is met, but inevitably as the honeymoon wears off we begin to notice that our partner does not seem to understand, or provide, exactly what we want.

Bringing our wounds

Essentially, we bring all our wounds from childhood to our adult relationships. Even if we  think we had a generally happy childhood there will have been times when we didn’t feel understood, times when parents didn’t have the time or the inclination to empathise with our feelings. Or we may have experienced that love and approval were dependent on our behaviour or performance 

We will sometimes experience great love with our partner but this is  always going to be interspersed with times when we don’t feel fully known or accepted by them. 

Rather than looking for this experience of consistent and perfect love from others, Welwood argues that we need to look inside of ourselves.

He says: “The problem is we are looking for [perfect love]  in the wrong places - outside ourselves, in our imperfect relationships with imperfect people who are wounded like we are.”


The book contains a number of visualisation exercises aimed at helping people access the part of themselves where there is an experience of universal love. This alternative source of love “flows directly into the heart from the ultimate source of all - whether we call that God, Tao or Buddha-nature.”

I really valued the emphasis of this book on how we can learn to experience a presence of love within us because I think this can help us take the pressure off our partner or other loved ones. If we can take the pressure off them to be perfect, we can then actually value what they do bring into our lives. We can accept them as imperfect people who are trying their best, in their own way.


Perfect love, imperfect relationships, John Welwood, 2006, Shambhala Publications, Boston.