It feels so good to say and to hear the words “I love you,” but what do they really mean? In order to talk about what makes a relationship successful, it is crucial to have a working definition of love. This is something you can remind yourself, and each other, of during the inevitable ebb and flow of any long term relationship. Defining love is not an easy task. Poets, philosophers, neuroscientists, therapists and just about everyone else have tirelessly tried to answer this question. Our working definition of love comes from what we have seen work for the couples in our practice as sex and intimacy therapists.
Of all of the couples we see in our practice, the couples who have the most successful relationships know, or learn, that intimacy grows and is sustained not just in moments of connection, but in moments of tension. Moments of connection, such as touching, looking at one another, having an enjoyable shared experience, talking or having sex are all part of the glue that keeps relationships together. Likewise, moments of tension including differing desires, disagreements, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and anger, if done well, can also be part of the glue that holds your relationship together. When you come to conflict with the intention of sharing difficult feelings and deepening empathy and understanding of one another, and you learn to repair breaks in connection, you begin to build a sense of trust for one another that you can make it through challenges. Since every relationship has tension, knowing that you can make it through challenging moments is also part of the glue that holds relationships together. Doing both connection and tension well are essential to sustainable love.
Most relationships start out with a feeling of attraction and then move into two somewhat distinct phases. The first is the experience of falling in love (the “honeymoon period”), and the second is the experience of long-term loving. Not every relationship moves from the first phase into the second, and the ones that do so successfully are able to experience a love that is not narrowly defined. In our upcoming book, Making Love Real, we explore what love means. Articulating what we mean by love helps us to understand why we choose the people we choose to love (even when it does not feel like a choice). In this blog series we will explore why we love who we love and how to sustain it.
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