“The art of love… is largely the art of persistence.” ~Albert Ellis
If we could learn just two things about love that might just cure us of our broken relationships and dissatisfying sex it is this- that love does not come made to order and that we must be willing to ask for what we want. These two misunderstandings about the limits of relationships wreak havoc in the development and maturity of many long-term partnerships. Maybe it is all the romantic comedies or being brought up in a Disney culture of happily ever after, but the sad and happy truth of real and lasting loving relationships is that we don’t have control over how other people love us. Combined with the other persistent and unhelpful belief that other people should know what we feel or want from love without our telling them, and suddenly, the brokenness of our collective love lives comes clear. So here are three fixes for this useless cycle of love breakdowns that will cure your Valentine’s Day blues and carry you into a fertile new cycle of love this spring.
Stop comparing love with falling in love
This is the most deadly of all the misconceptions that we bring to our relationships. On a certain level, it is understandable that we malign the long-term work of loving someone after we experience the euphoric stage of falling in love. Anyone who has walked through the magical and mysterious wonderland induced by biochemically balanced hormonal attractions is convinced that they have found the real thing… There is nothing better than the immediacy and profound connection of perfectly matched lovers in their early discovery of each other. There is no drug that can induce the lasting feeling of well being that comes from feeling deeply loveable and loving. As this space fades to the reality of learning to love we are confused, forlorn that we have to wrestle with the other aspects of love, which can feel a lot more like work than the heightened and extrasensory moments when we fall. The problem is that we are continuously comparing these two places and striving to get back to the euphoric in-love place rather than being willing to dive into the heavy lifting of accepting the love that is present. Giving up the longing for what is past frees up a lot of energy to accomplish the loving work of both giving and receiving.
Learn to hold what is loveable and annoying together
We have this weird split personality about what we like and what we don’t. Embracing the ancient Eastern view that both dark and light live simultaneously inside us helps us learn the mature skill of love. This recognition allows us to discover how our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. This is as true for you as it is for your partner and helps to put into perspective how the parts of us that were once so attractive can also be at times, over the top annoying.
Thus begins the work of loving. Holding what we like and don’t like side by side creates more spaciousness in the relationship, which is the opposite of what happens when we fixate on behaviors that we don’t like. It makes your heart bigger and more capable of other more mature forms of love, like compassion and deep listening. This mature capacity of love creates the space to let other people be who they are and even more importantly allows you to see their efforts at loving you more truly.
Ask for what you want
The last misunderstanding about working at love is the erroneous idea that your partner should already know it and that if you have to ask for what you want then it is somehow less worthy then getting it by magic. This is a primary killer of many otherwise potentially healthy sex lives. It begins by getting stuck in comparing your current sex life to what it was in the early falling-in-love phase. It isn’t that an equal dose of passion is not available deeper into the relationship, it is that the work between you generates the sparks, rather than having them emerge from the biochemical drive to reproduce. Asking for the kind of intimacy you want is courageous and sexy. It gives your partner permission to be sexy in a whole new way. The best book I ever read about this by my friend Tammy Nelson, called Getting the Sex You Want demonstrates the profound trust it takes to know what you want and express it to the person you love. Mirroring back these revelations to each other creates a dynamic and escalating passion that is only available to people who know each other intimately. Asking for what you want emotionally is equally transformative. The relationship grows exponentially because people aren’t parenting each other and expecting the other to fix something. Learning to say what feels like love to you is the most evolved way of loving yourself; it gives your relationship the room to become better than you could have hoped for.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. May it be a love-filled celebration of life.