Enticing Love to Stay
Falling in love is easy, but staying in love isn't. A life without sharing love is considered by most to be an incomplete life. With a divorce rate hovering near the fifty percent mark, the truth is revealed that many of us are not very good at loving. Getting clear on love, an essential aspect of life and relationship, may help more partners keep their relationships positive, satisfying and long-lasting. Subtle and hard to pin down, I define love as: efforts and actions which encourage the well-being, nourishment and growth of another or one self while also protecting him or her from harm. Successfully sharing such efforts produces the warm feeling that people commonly confuse with love, and hope to preserve in their relationships.
Love is always pure and perfect while we are not. Love is like gold, which no matter how tarnished it appears, may always be returned to its pure state. Love always wants us to grow towards perfection...we will never be perfect, but our capacity to love or be loved may be. Many stay away from love because it first activates our wounds to heal them, a painful process. Love demands that we maintain a vulnerable state of openness, which feels unsafe and uncomfortable. Love represents an ideal that serves as a distant beacon guiding us in the right direction to grow toward completeness, a destination at which few will ever arrive.
Why is it so hard to love another? Because we struggle to love our wounded, imperfect selves. Most of us are conscious of perfection, compare ourselves to it, and find ourselves shamefully lacking. Unwittingly, loving another is the practice of looking in the mirror. Most find their reflection unflattering. Conflicts with the partner is actually shadow boxing with one self. Loving well our fallible partner, faults and all, is good practice to perfect our ability to love. Loving in a relationship is a balancing act of simultaneously nourishing ourself and the partner. When one direction of loving dominates the other, trouble is sure to rise. If our partner is hurtful or self-destructive, then loving ourself may mean ending the relationship out of self-love, if a partner refuses to grow. In a relationship, if either partner refuses to grow the essential spark of life and love will die.
Our relationships are love's practice grounds, the place where we stretch to get love right. But just like the kindergartener who is just getting familiar with the alphabet, being a poor reader and making mistakes are normal and expected part of the learning process. As lovers work to get love right, mistakes cause inevitable hurts. Trying to love another is also difficult because the human love that we receive often feels insufficient and dissatisfying; we suffer for its incomplete nature. Most lovers hunger for the nourishment of complete love.
Some of the human weaknesses that block love and damage relationships are: being closed due to fear, causing hurt due to poor impulse control, not loving oneself and as a result being unreceptive, low self-awareness causing limited ability to share. Couples who have not yet succeeded at loving effectively fall prey to the swinging pendulum of hurts; an alternating rhythm of angry blame and recrimination. Some couples tend towards a cold and silent style of reacting to hurts, one which is equally ineffective at resolving problems. The partners who succeed have learned the secret of remaining emotionally open to each other while also possessing a willingness to adjust while quickly and compassionately fixing problems when hurts occur.
A lot is demanded of romantic partners for love to remain between them. Love can't stay when negativity, tension and conflict are present. Like the way silence scatters when noise erupts. Partners who avoid the mistake of mutually punishing each other when love is not given effectively, and instead teach each the right way to love are on the right road to enticing love to stay. Andrew Aaron, LICSW is a relationship and sex therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.