Love is a powerful force. It has spawned many a poem, love song, and romantic novel. There are whole movie genres devoted to it. Our culture eats it up. After all, who doesn’t love that feeling we get when we experience the first pangs of romance? We are in love with being in love. As a result we soak up that literature as if they are the very air we breath.
Love is intoxicating. We idolize so much about it. In reality, much of what we idolize about love is not truly love. It is infatuation. Infatuation is a great thing. Infatuation brings people together and helps create a bond of connection. Unfortunately, the ideas of infatuation are often taken too far. We end up forming dysfunctional attachments. The media reinforces the notions of infatuation so much, that it becomes easy to justify when our attachments have crossed the line and have become dysfunctional.
A lengthy discussion about relationship dysfunctions will not be the topic of this post. That will be discussed elsewhere at a later date. Instead, this post will discuss what love is, and what it isn’t.
We have all heard the quote, “When you love someone, you set them free.” This means more than it sounds on the surface. Most people believe it means allowing a relationship to end when it is clear it has outlived its life cycle. Setting someone free means a lot more than that. It means setting personal boundaries for yourself and them, allowing them to be equal partners, owning personal power, yours and theirs. It means allowing them to flourish to become the best person they can be even if it means they are moving in a direction away from you.
True freedom is being allowed to make choices. These choices are not only about your mate, but about EVERYTHING. One must allow themselves and their mate their own individuality. It means to experience oneness while simultaneously allowing separateness from your partner. Friendships outside the relationship should never be seen as a threat. Relationships with others should be encouraged because healthy people need to have close friendships.
Love is also about respect, trust, compassion, transparency and forgiveness. These components are the vital building blocks in a relationship and without them, your relationship is built on a foundation of sand.
Respect: A healthy relationship commands respect. Respect is about treating your partner kindly, even when you are furious with them. When you respect your partner, you try to resolve your differences in a constructive way. Respect asks you to take responsibility for your part in a dispute.
Trust: When you trust your partner, you allow them the autonomy of being an individual first, and your partner second. You have gained their trust when they can confidently rely on your character, strengths and abilities. In order to establish trust, you must be willing to expose your true self. You must be willing to share things that we may hesitate to admit to others out of fear of disapproval. When you are reluctant to expose yourself, you undercut a healthy relationship. When you hide this part of yourself out of fear that you won’t be loved for your true self, you create barriers for achieving true intimacy. You must be willing to be vulnerable even after your trust has been broken.
Compassion: In order to be compassionate you have to have a deep interest in others. That interest allows us to connect with others and lessen suffering. When we create a safe atmosphere for others to be vulnerable with us, we strengthen bonds and allow emotional intimacy to enter into our relationship. That intimacy is what differentiates our relationship with our partner, hence making it special. When compassion is absent, your partner won’t trust or feel comfortable enough to be authentic and transparent with you.
Transparency: When we are transparent, we are able to be present and authentic in our relationship. Transparency involves honest communication and feeling safe to share unpleasant truths without fear of being battered for doing so. Transparency doesn’t mean the absence of privacy. It also knows that some thoughts can destroy a relationship and should thereby should remain private. Often the concept of transparency is misused as a means to manipulate and control your partner which is neither transparency or love. Transparency is unassuming and non-judgmental.
Forgiveness: Acceptance goes hand-in-hand with transparency and that often means forgiveness. To accept your partner doesn’t mean you automatically agree with them. What it means is that you allow your partner the freedom to be authentic with you, free from judgment and condemnation, even if what you learn may be unpleasant for you. It is accepting your partner as they are, not how you want them to be. That is where forgiveness begins. It is impossible to accept but not to forgive. Without forgiveness, a relationship is doomed to stagnate and eventually die.
These four components are vital to a healthy relationship. People in relationships need to be open to change and evolve both as individuals and in the relationship. A healthy relationship invites your partner to grow and bring out their best qualities. Hopefully it also empowers one to minimize or eliminate short-comings. True love allows freedom to honestly ask for and express our needs and desires.
Adults should never feel they need each other in order to feel whole or complete. That feeling is dependency. It is not love. Love should never define who you are. When you attempt to be that perfect person for your mate, you are seeking to define yourself by your relationship. If you find that you are a chameleon in your relationships, then you aren’t bringing your true self into the relationship. This means you aren’t participating in the relationship and you are dooming it to fail.
True love is simple. It is the desire to spend time together, and be emotionally vulnerable with each other. True love, brings out the best in you. It encourages self-sufficiency and individuation. It doesn’t try to control or change the other person. It accepts that we are flawed and have limitations. It allows us to care for our partner rationally and with detachment. True love never requires us to feel responsible for the feelings and actions of others. True love has conditions. It demands to be treated with dignity. True love has boundaries and deal-breakers. Only dysfunctional love has no conditions. True love, is not what you see in the movies.