We don’t fall in love – we grow in love

Words are easy, but you need hard work to keep a loving relationship strong. — 123rf.com

This week, I had an illuminating conversation with one of my dearest friends about relationships and what makes them thrive. We often hear about the “hard work” involved, but what does that mean? What do we need to understand before we roll up our sleeves?

She summed it up nicely by saying “It’s about being patient with each other and consciously choosing to love every day”.

Love isn’t something that’s a given or is “meant” – it’s something we choose to give to others.

We might say, “Every day I choose you”, “Always and forever”, and “I love you”. Words are easy, especially when the relationship is sunny. What counts is how we show up, whatever the weather.

As the renowned existential psychologist Irvin Yalom says, love is “a way of being, a ‘giving to’, not a ‘falling for’; a mode of relating at large, not an act limited to a single person”.

We don’t fall in love: we grow in love. Love is in the choice we make every day to show up for each other; it’s found in patience and understanding, and in the acceptance of each other’s quirks and foibles.

There were a lot of insights my friend shared, and what she had to say – and how both she and her other half work together – affirmed for me that there is no “meant to be”. A relationship thrives or dies depending on our willingness to consistently nurture it.

I felt grateful to take away several lessons from our conversation, and the few I’ll share here are perhaps more at home within romantic relationships. However, as the ancient Greeks showed us, there are many forms of love and ways of relating to others, and so these points for reflection can apply to all kinds of meaningful connections.

> A healthy relationship is built over time, there’s no fairytale happy ever after. Just like our physical and mental health (or a well-tended garden), relationships need regular nurturing.

This includes the understanding that problems and challenges will arise, and having the commitment to work together to get through difficult times. We also need to take the time to appreciate each other and remind ourselves of the pleasures we enjoy within a friendship or relationship, just as we stop to admire the garden after putting in some work.

> The road is often bumpy along the way. If we expect otherwise, the relationship will be in trouble. We all have our faults and all relationships have their problems. A healthy relationship isn’t one absent of difficult thoughts, unpleasant feelings and situations. Rather, it’s one that recognises these things are inevitable and provides enough love, safety, and connection to work through tough times together.

> Trust, patience, and doing your best to learn from (and teach) each other are key to a successful relationship. Just as we all have our faults, we also have our blind spots and stubborn points. Strong relationships are able to bring out the best in each other because the people involved are willing to accept influence and guidance from each other. They understand and welcome the idea of alternating between guiding and being led.

Another valuable insight from the conversation with my friend is that nobody is a mind reader and that trust and connection are dependent on clearly communicating our needs and struggles within the relationship. We might expect the other person to automatically know our mind, which is ambitious since we often don’t know our own mind as well as we think.

Having had the privilege of seeing how my friend and her partner interact, I’m awed by how much space they give each other to express exactly what they’re feeling or wrestling with. What I find most awesome is that they listen so well to each other even if what’s being shared is difficult. There’s a genuine desire to accept the relationship exactly as it is rather than wishing for it to always be wonderful and easy.

The Bible has a lovely verse, often cited at weddings, advising us that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

I’m also reminded of the advice given to me by a Buddhist monk after telling him about some of the suttas (Buddhist teachings) I enjoy reading. He pointed out that words alone are useless and if all we do is read them, it’s like reading the contents of a medicine bottle without actually taking the medicine.

Perhaps the key ingredient that maintains healthy relationships is being mindful about acting on communication and guidance. Sentiments can be helpful and pleasing, but it’s in rolling up our sleeves and doing the work for and with each other that keeps a loving connection strong.

Sunny Side Up columnist Sandy Clarke has long held an interest in emotions, mental health, mindfulness and meditation. He believes the more we understand ourselves and each other, the better societies we can create. If you have any questions or comments, email lifestyle@thestar.com.my. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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psychology , romance , relationships


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