‘Love has become an adulterated word – we don’t even know what it means anymore.’ Luciana Bellini meets Monica Berg, author of Rethink Love and an advocate of reframing our thinking to change our lives and relationships…
The first thing you need to know about Monica Berg is that she’s a self-professed ‘change junkie’. For the New York-based author, podcast host, and co-director and chief communications officer of The Kabbalah Centre, there is no greater power than learning how to embrace change and roll with the punches that life throws at us.
Change, she says, is inevitable and, more often than not, wholly out of our control. And that forms the basis of one of her most successful books, Rethink Love, which asks us to reframe everything we think we know about relationships to reach a more fulfilling, longer-lasting kind of love.
Accepting change was not something that came easily to Berg, but rather was the result of a major event: the second of her four children, Josh, was born with Down Syndrome. ‘Here’s the truth about change – we all crave it and we really don’t like it,’ she says. ‘It’s very uncomfortable and it takes us into that space of, “I don’t feel like I’m in control.” It’s the biggest illusion in life, because we are never in control. We just like to think that we are.
‘When Josh was born, I remember feeling completely out of control: very uncertain, very anxious, very scared. I had all kinds of strong, negative feelings.
And then I caught myself and I said, “This is the not the person I am. This will not be my experience of Josh.” So now I seek change in every day and I practice being flexible every day.’
Berg recalls missing a flight to a friend’s birthday party. Instead of getting angry or wallowing in disappointment, she and her husband decided to embrace the extra three hours until the next flight by having a date in the airport. ‘We reframed how we felt about the situation. Start to choose that every single day. Then, when a bigger thing happens, you’re going to be able to see the gift in it.’
This reframing is central to Rethink Love: 3 Steps to Being the One, Attracting the One and Becoming One, which she wrote after realising how many people struggle with their relationships: ‘I meet with a lot of people and counsel them through different “lifequake” situations. And this was the thing that kept coming up as their main dissatisfaction. Relationships can bring us a lot of joy or a lot of discontent.”
A practical guide for people looking to change their approach to love, the book has three sections. First and most important is ‘Me’, where the focus is on learning to love and accept yourself. The second – ‘Moving from Me to We’ – discusses how to stay true to yourself in a relationship. Finally, ‘We’ reveals how to navigate a successful relationship and keep growing your love together.
‘Love has become an adulterated word,’ Berg says. ‘We’ve really butchered it. People don’t even know what it means anymore. I’ve been married for twenty-five years and everything in the book is tried and true – based on science, psychology, Kabbalah and my personal experiences.’
One of the most important ways to rethink our attitude to relationships, Berg suggests, is to move away from ego-based love: ‘Nobody wants to admit it, but this is the type of love that most people fall for. It’s rooted in our five senses and it’s very much in the physical.’ Ego-based love looks at what the other person can give you, without examining what you offer in return. ‘For a relationship to thrive long-term, you have to ask, “Am I giving what I want to be receiving from my partner?” For that to happen, the ego needs to be diminished.’
Our focus, she says, should be on fostering ‘unconditional love’, which is based in the realm of things we cannot see or hear but on which we rely: ‘If we could go with that part of ourselves that is really the truest part – focusing on things like compassion, empathy, kindness or purpose – and have a relationship based on those characteristics instead of ego, we’d fare better.’
Berg credits her Kabbalah studies – which she began at seventeen – for influencing the way she thinks about love and relationships, saying they inform every area of her life: ‘Kabbalah helped me understand very profound things. The first was about consciousness – how to use your words and thoughts, and the power of that.’
She cites the fact that she never referred to her son as having Down Syndrome when he was growing up – ‘I don’t believe in labels’ – and mentions her newest book, The Gift of Being Different, which she cowrote with her nine-year-old daughter Abigail. The first in a series of ten children’s books, it charts Abigail’s coming to terms with a dyslexia diagnosis and reframing her learning difference as a superpower. ‘It’s a message for everyone: whatever you have shame about is really your uniqueness and your greatest asset.’
Kabbalah helped Berg understand how to find a sense of purpose: ‘It teaches you that you’re supposed to leave the world differently than how you came in. The goal is radical transformation. We can really only do that through acts of sharing and removing our desire to receive for the self alone.’
Putting in work to make a relationship thrive, Berg says, is unavoidable: ‘For me, the real love story starts after the “happily ever after”. I almost didn’t call my book Rethink Love, because no one wants to put work in! But, really, it’s about putting energy in, giving it time, and creating space.’
She has a point. We devote enormous energy and commitment into raising a child or developing a business. We work on our roles and aim to grow. We understand the concept in every other area of our lives, so why not in relationships? ‘Really,’ she says, ‘they’re the things we take for granted the most.’
As we come to the end of our conversation, Berg reflects for a moment. Relationships are supposed to be a source of amazing fulfilment, she says, and a couple should bring out the best in one another. ‘It’s completely possible,’ she declares, ‘but it takes effort and awareness and desire. If you don’t have those things, have an honest conversation with yourself about why you don’t. But don’t just settle.’