In this month when we celebrate love, I wonder what we are celebrating and what love is all about. Love…what’s love? That is the question. A word that causes the biggest happiness but can also cause the biggest misery in our lives, especially when we don’t know what it means, misuse it to achieve personal goals, or to cover up personal deficiencies. I see that everyday when people come to my office justifying their abusive, comfortable or unconscious behavior in the name of LOVE.

Providing a definition for love is most difficult. Experts have spent decades trying to provide an answer to the question of love; and the discussion continues. “Love is an emotion,” is the most common definition and, even though nobody can argue it, we believe love is more than that. A mystical emotion opened to a universal definition, says Susan Johnson, international expert in attachment and relationships.

Expert in relationships and founder of Imago therapy, Harville Hendrix states that love is a decision. Why? Because there are two types of love according to him: Romantic love and conscious love. Romantic love is the glue that initially bonds two people together but it is supposed to end. When reality sets in, conflict and defects come to the surface and then the stage of power struggles begins. Most couples get so caught up during this period that they either end the relationship or become miserable finding themselves trapped and not understanding why they stay in such a terrible situation. The typical answer: because they are in love. Reality: because they have childhood wounds they need to heal and the relationship represents an opportunity for them (if willing) to look at old wounds, heal and, finally find the healthy relationship that everybody wants and deserves. The problem is that we can find all types of rationalizations to stay in a relationship, to flee or to rebound into another relationship right away just to repeat the same pattern. All of these mechanisms impede us to do the work that we need individually and/or as a couple to move forward. This requires a conscious decision and conscious work. Regardless of what we may believe, relationships are not born of love, but of need; real love is born in relationships, as a result of understanding what they are about and doing what is necessary to have them.

Now more than ever, we can’t afford to continue thinking love can not be defined or to continue our unhealthy patterns in its name. “Therefore it is imperative that we comprehend what love is, how to make it, and how to make it last.”(Johnson, 2008).
Love is the most powerful compelling survival mechanism of the human species, not because of reproduction since we can manage to do that without love, but because of the bond/attachment that it produces. Love brings us the nourishment and security that we all need in order to feel alive and to face the world everyday. The need to be loved is wired into our genes and our bodies. It is as basic to life, health and happiness as food, shelter, and sex are. We need to be emotionally attached to others to be physically and emotionally healthy, and to survive.

Therefore, we need to be more conscious and do what we need to do to experience the love we are talking about and achieve happy adult relationships and marriages. Here are some first steps:

o Awareness: Take some time for yourself—alone—to examine what your relational patterns might be. Make a list of your last few relationships and determine what you always do.
o Start by looking into and at yourself vs. focusing and obsessing about your partner. Learn about your relationship with your parents. That is the origin of your unconscious behaviors in the present.
o Learning more effective coping mechanisms than crying, anger withdrawal, or other defensive behaviors which have become very habitual.
o Forget what makes sense or what is logical according to YOU. In relationships there is no such thing as common sense because it is usually going to be what makes sense to YOU ONLY. Try to change your focus and give your partner what he/she needs, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how much it goes against the grain of our personality and temperament. We stretch to become the person our partner needs us to be in order to heal. This is not easy, but it works. This is a radical idea. Conventional wisdom says that people don't change, that we should simply learn to accept each other as we are. But without change, there is no growth; we are confined to a fate, to remaining stuck in our unhappiness.
o Use the information that your partner gives you to re-channel behavior into effective strategies for loving and caring for each other, as well as for meeting personal needs.
o Dismantle inappropriate beliefs from childhood and replace inappropriate behaviors and defense strategies. If the way you respond to conflict or to your partner’s request keeps you both sad and alone, try something different.
o Work on your communication style. Use “I” statements, express your feelings and listen actively to the other’s point of view. Don’t avoid talking about issues. If when you try, you end up mostly in a big fight or feeling uncomfortable, look for professional help. Avoidance is one of the major cause of divorce. Clear communication is a window into the world of your partner; truly being heard is a powerful aphrodisiac.
o Give up blame and criticism. A major weapon in the power struggle, criticism is adult crying; it is not an effective way to get the love you want. Just as you seek safety in your relationship, you must cease being an object of enmity and fear for your partner.
o Create a Relationship Vision, in which you and your partner imagine the marriage you would like to have; this co-created vision will be a daily reminder to you of your goals. Sit down and write it down and post it on a visible place in your house.
o To remind you of the love you once felt for each other, re-romanticize your relationship, giving each other special loving behaviors--with no strings attached, and regardless of your current feelings about your partner--on a daily basis. These are target specific behaviors that are exactly what your partner needs to feel loved and appreciated not what you want to give. So listen actively for what he/she wants.

Remember that change is the catalyst for healing. In changing to give our partners what they need, we heal our own wounds. Our own behavior was born in response to our particular deprivations; it is our adaptation to loss. In giving our partners what is hardest for us to give, we have to bring our hidden selves out into the light, owning traits we've repressed (rather than projecting them onto our partners), and enlivening atrophied parts of ourselves. When we change our behavior in response to our mate, we heal our partner and ourselves. The capacity and willingness to make that decision is what love is (Imago Relationships International, 1992)

Author's Bio: 

Isabel Kirk is a bilingual mental health counselor psychotherapist offering individual and group services in the Washington DC metropolitan area and distance counseling (online and phone).

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