“Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results,” is a lousy way to change anything. It’s the very definition of insanity. It’s also one of the first realizations singles, couples and families typically face in marriage and relationship education classes. Yet more often than not, a large part of the world religiously follows that strategy as the days and potential of our lives disappear in a fleeting blink of the eye.

What keeps us clinging to ways of living and loving repeatedly proven to be a sure path to sadness, pain, distance, the surrender of the real chance for cherished dreams, and, perhaps most tragic, lives that often end before they ever truly began?

It’s not love that keeps us stuck.

Real love offers the strength to be committed, courageous, curious, and open to change in behalf of new depths of understanding, compassion and acceptance.

No, it’s not love at all. Most often, it’s fear.

It’s a fear similar to the one that leads us to illuminate a room before stepping inside. Deep down, even strong, brave, competent, capable grown-ups can be quite scared of the dark.

And for good reason.

Abbas Bibi Therapy

Definition of insanity or the best, worst option? (S. Eisenberg illustration.)

It can be frightening to step into the unknown; so scary that many spend decades or more suffering lives of silent desperation rather than risk fumbling, perhaps even falling, in the dark.

Something terrible could happen, we fear, giving little heed to the truly terrible, awful, very much no good tragedy of lost days, nights and entire lives never to be reclaimed.

Yet, for many, there’s a logic to this insanity; a distinction that often determines the potential of our lives and connections to those closest.

Doing things different, taking a chance on the potential for a different future, pursuing dreams connected to the depths of our values, vision and spirit — all of that takes a partner with whom it’s safe to be vulnerable.

In homes and societies where it’s safe to be vulnerable, people typically experience lives in which they can grow, learn, stumble and develop as they pursue the promise and potential of their lives. When it’s not safe to be vulnerable, doing the same thing over and again and living with the painful consequences may be the safest — perhaps the only — option.

From local, national and global politics to nurturing marriages, children, and friendships, creating an environment in which it’s safe to be vulnerable is not optional; it’s the prerequisite to any dialogue and plan based even remotely on trust and the anticipation of good will.

There are terms for those who turn vulnerabilities into weapons to hurt us rather than new understandings and seeds to build upon. It’s called abuse, and more personally, domestic violence. No one with any knowledge of how abusers use the vulnerabilities of others to dominate and control physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially or through a combination of tactics would encourage someone they care about to be vulnerable with a known or likely abuser.

When it’s safe to be vulnerable, couples, families, societies and nations can try different ways of living and loving when our current ways aren’t helping our dreams come true.

When it’s not, we continue to struggle, strive and suffer in a world in which insanity is too often the norm, paid in full with the potential of our children’s lives, our own, and generations to come.