Love is an action verb with a specific skill set that is developmental – which means that we can learn it, practice it and get better at it.

That said, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the efforts of keeping our loving relationships vital, and to lose sight of the many emotional and physical benefits we experience from loving over time. It requires a lot more focused attention and energy than the cascading hormonal reactions that drive our experience of falling in love. Because this kind of energized biologically driven experience of love is at once so coveted and memorable, we believe that these feelings capture the height of our love.

Those highly charged, falling-in-love moments of love lift and inspire us to our fullest emotional highs and lows, but they are also the heart-opening experiences that prepare us for the maturing process that happens as we love over time. Whereas the beginning stages of falling in love are easy, addictive even, the task of love over time is complex. First and foremost, because we are human. We bring into our relationships all that is unresolved, unspoken, and often unseen in our heart.

No one escapes the wounds of our humanity that are part and parcel of growing up and growing old. So it is no surprise that when we combine our invisible, unmet needs with that of another’s we create both opportunities for healing growth and the frustrating, painful experience of not knowing how to keep loving.

Tragically this misconception of love initiates the point of premature death for far too many worthy relationships. In part, this is because we are continuously comparing what was at the beginning with where we currently find ourselves. Instead of focusing on the sometimes trying efforts to find moments of connection that are now available, we long for a time that no longer exists – that only ever exists at the initial moments of recognizing a lover.

And for good reason, our biology could not sustain the torrent of hormonal influences which have been compared to a drug high when we fall in love. Eventually, the body must revert to a more normalized state of hormonal production that demands the couple to establish a stable, ongoing attachment. What most people don’t realize is that the heavy investment of the passionate beginning is ready fuel for the hard work of discovering how to love over time. While it feels different from the “falling”, “staying” in love is where the real prize of love exists.

Loving over time isn’t something that happens to you like the free ride of falling in love, which is what makes it so easy and desirable. Instead, you make lasting love happen, creating it a moment at time with intention, patience, and courage. Sometimes you get a glimpse of the falling in love time as attachment, and intimacy grows deeper and wider the more you work at it.

So before you let go of a love that has gone from easy to challenging, dig in and rely on the huge investments of attention that your early falling in love gave you. Listen better, judge less, and pull the weeds out of your growing garden of love.

The work of making our loving relationships both resilient and sustainable over time is our highest calling and greatest reward.