Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.
Valentine’s Day is about idealizing romantic love.
Learning to love however, is the most important growth experience this life offers.
Romantic love can lead to learning to love – but it’s a path we each have to choose.
Romantic love starts as a perfect storm of timing, chemistry, family history, experience, mythology and mystery. It floods the brain with cravings and pleasure as strong as any drug and dramatically impacts motivation, elation and focused attention. This chemically altered state of consciousness can last somewhere between a few months and as long as four years. It’s the pursuit of this temporary state of romantic love that shows up in some people who move from one relationship to another.
Romantic love is an illusion that refuses to see us as we really are and as such, it depends on agreement and tolerates differences poorly, if at all. It’s like a blob that absorbs all who enter and then spits out the empty shell.
The transition from romantic to sustaining love begins when you take the risk of wanting more than needing your partner.
Sustaining love is love that is devoted to learning to love – your partner, your kids, your parents, your siblings – all of the most important people in your life. Sustaining love is the net we need to catch us when the altered state of romantic love beings to fade.
Learning to love should be the commitment we make when we marry.
I choose you to be the endless mystery in my life. In your eyes, I will discover me – the one I am, the one I long to be, and the one I don’t want to be. In your heart, I will be more content and lonelier than anywhere else on earth. In your mind, your thoughts will shape my thoughts. The more I study to learn who you are, the more I will learn who I am. In your presence, I will know me.
- Is not self-centered or other focused
- Comes from genuine acceptance and respect for you – the way you are – and for your partner – the way he is.
- Is humble – it’s pride that keeps you from expressing your most tender, vulnerable emotions; it’s pride that says, “I will if you will.”
- Does not weigh what it gives in terms of what it gets
- Looks for agreement when possible, but allows, expects, and encourages disagreement
- Is not defensive, reactive, or argumentative
- Can differ on principle
- Involves giving to others AND receiving from others
- Knows that love is unlimited, but the time to give that love is limited
- Listens without interrupting, does not read minds, is not judgmental
- Believes in you and believes in your partner
- Holds onto the commitment, knowing that ups and downs come and go
- Wants more than needs your partner
- Comes from suffering, life experience, hard work and determination
- In sustaining love, good humor laughs at one’s own mistakes
- Places tenderness – being delicate, vulnerable, sensitive, gentle, and considerate – before sex
- Sustaining love is reliable, friendly, and not heavy
Sustaining love motivates us to work toward creating a climate of love -one that is calm, reasonable ,and respectful. Respecting our separateness is the foundation of human connectedness. Without respect, closeness is impossible.
Respect is defined as not trying directly or indirectly to change anyone. We know we are being respectful when we refuse to tell others what to do.
Learning to love leads to a growing acceptance of my limitations, my inability to change others, and with that comes satisfaction in simply doing my part, the best I can. I learn to accept that love is a risky business that deeply invests my tenderness and emotional vulnerabilities in my partner. The end of sustaining love is always painful – because one will die and leave the other.
When we live fully alive in our marriage, we don’t look away from that reality – we make the best of love and we let love make the best of us.