So many of us grow up dreaming of all the wonderful feelings of being romantically in love and waiting anxiously to fall deeply in love with the person we want to spend our life with. Love songs and movies also play a role in stirring up that strong longing in us. Many people who are in love seem so alive and joyful and we yearn for that in our lives as well. How can you define love?
What is love?
We should take a moment to consider our own experiences of this feeling. We all experience strong feelings of attraction, these feelings tend to go up and down, here this moment and gone the very next! This can seem painful and confusing. And so, often we find ourselves asking some common questions like:
Is this true love?
Could I love someone I do not really know so well?
Have we fallen right out of love?
I love my spouse and care for them, why am I not as excited about her/him now?
Am I falling out of love?
There are so many questions when it comes to finding love, the answers tend to be scary so many times that we try to shut out these thoughts. Even if we plan to do that, there may remain a sense of sadness lingering, more as if something is missing. The missing element here perhaps is the accurate understanding of what love is, actually.
How does love grow in a marriage?
That’s the magic potion in long-term relationships: Love grows from knowing and sharing with our partners. For example, if a husband and wife go out for a cup of coffee, they may not necessarily feel an intense emotional reaction as they experienced in the ‘in love’ or passionate love stage. Instead, they may enjoy the time spent in togetherness and develop deeper emotional or intellectual intimacy by getting to know more about their partner through their conversation.
Couples get together because they believe in the idea of happiness. Couples stay together because they still believe they can achieve it. People in relationships pretty much want the same things: love, security, trust.
I believe there is a way to create a great relationship, but there’s no way to build one unless you fully understand your deeper feelings and those of your partner. You might be saying to yourself, “Of course I understand my wife. She won’t let me forget what I need to know about her.” You may think this is understanding, but I call it avoiding something you are tired of hearing. Understanding is something very different.
Many of us have grown up dreaming of the wonderful feelings of romantic love and wait expectantly to fall in love. Movies and love songs have a way of stirring up that longing in us. People in love seem so joyful and alive and we yearn for that in our lives too.
Those of us who are in relationships or marriages for a couple of years now, do have partners or spouses in our lives that we love and care for deeply. So where are those magical heady feelings of love?
That’s the first shocker – contrary to all the stories we’ve seen – love is not just a feeling. Many of us mistake love to be only a feeling. Let’s take a moment to think about our own experience of feelings. We’ve all experienced feelings of attraction – these feelings go up and down – here one moment, gone the next! Which can be confusing and painful. If we confuse love with a feeling, we may find ourselves asking questions such as:
“How could I love someone I didn’t really know so well?”
“I love and care about my partner so much, how come I don’t feel that kind of excitement around him / her anymore?”
“Is this love?”
“Have we fallen out of love?”
The questions are many and the answers can be scary so at times we attempt to shut out these thoughts. But even if we do that, there could remain a sense of lingering sadness – of something missing. What is missing perhaps is an accurate understanding of what love is.
The reason partners complain to each other is because they are not getting their needs met. What are these needs? They vary with each person. One partner may feel disconnected from her mate and may want to feel like she matters to him. If her partner knew this he would probably be willing to say something to help her feel better.
It doesn’t take much to fill what’s needed as long as you know what’s needed. That is understanding. Unfortunately, when people are unhappy it usually comes out sounding like, “Hey, you didn’t pick up the dinner plates. Why don’t you ever take out the trash?” These criticisms may give us a clue about the feelings underneath. She may feel ignored and become sad and then angry, and all those feelings come out in complaints about the dinner plates or the garbage.
Most of us aren’t taught to examine the feelings inside us–the ones that make us get cross with our mates. Instead we just take the sadness and the disappointment and turn it into a criticism hoping that at least we can get something in return. But the return action is often worse. No one likes to be criticized, and no one responds well to judgment. It hurts. What we get in many relationships is hurt feelings on top of hurt feelings. One person says something cross, the other replies and takes it up a notch. Both people feel cheated and misunderstood. This could even become a pattern that couples end up living with. “It’s not that bad” they might rationalize, but it isn’t that good either.
Some couples learn how to resolve hurt feelings with an apology. It might go something like this, “I’m sorry I was harsh and said that to you,” This works in getting the couple back on even footing, until the next bit of misunderstanding, but most couples don’t really know how to talk about what they want from their partner so they end up feeling frustrated.
It might be helpful to learn what is going on inside the person before the attack begins. This is where the need for understanding plays a role. If she knew that she needed to feel important and valued by her mate, she might be able to ask for it. I know this is not how people talk in real life, but I assure you it feels amazing to ask for what you need and have your partner give it to you. It requires feeling secure enough to be vulnerable, and that’s a place some couples have a hard time getting to. That’s where counseling really helps.
If couples could learn what their partner needs, wants, or desires in that moment, they would probably be happy to give it to him or her. People in relationships want to see their partners happy. Couples who want a good relationship do not want to see their mates suffer. The hard part, and what I spend the most time concentrating on in counseling, is teaching people to understand themselves and each other so they can feel happy. When couples nail this, everything else is easy to figure out.
In summary, if you are in a relationship and you feel stressed and misunderstood, I encourage you to take your first step toward understanding. Try to become aware of your partner. What does he want, need, or desire? When you learn this, you will be well on your way to a better relationship; one with love, security, and ,above all, understanding.
Throughout our lives we fall in and out of love–it’s human nature. Sometimes, love lasts and grows stronger as time goes on. Other times, it fades or changes–sometimes in ways we never imagined it would. But as time and feelings change, people often try to make others change. We think, “If only he or she were more …” Plug in any adjective you’d like here–understanding, compassionate, handsome, romantic–the list can go on and on. We’ve all done it. We’ve all tried to change someone to fit the mold of what we’re looking for, whether it’s an emotional need or a physical one.
But changing someone never works. People don’t change because they are forced into it. They change because something inside of them lights up and says, “It’s time.” The person or people you love may never change. They may never fit the mold of what you “want them to be.” And that is okay. They are not meant to fit a mold. They are just as they are supposed to be.
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Understanding can overcome any situation, however mysterious or insurmountable it may appear to be. and not compare or complain.
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. They are cultivated with understanding.
“Relationships don’t always make sense. Especially from the outside.” “The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.” “When the heart is won, the understanding is easily convinced.”
“He never listens to me”, says the wife. “She doesn’t see what I do for her”, says the husband. Understanding is believing that not everybody is like us and that’s simply okay. It is to understand
Can we all be better versions of ourselves? Sure. We can be more understanding. We can let our partners know how we’re feeling. And we can be more patient. But it is not your job to change someone at their core. That is individual work.
Instead, follow the beautiful words, “Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”