Healthy Love: 5 Key Ingredients
What does it mean to love and be loved? What does romantic love look like and should romantic love be the focus when wanting to get married? How responsible are we to keep the flame alive and how much responsibility do we place on our partner? Ultimately, is all fair in love and war?
These are questions we may have asked ourselves at some point in our lives and some of these questions come up for my clients throughout their sessions. Let’s face it, love can be complicated.
Love has been a muse for poets, musicians, and artists for many years all over the world. Although love is a universal concept, people’s definitions vary. When I ask a client “what’s your definition of love?” they tilt their head back and take a deep breath. Over time it has become apparent to me that when asked this question, people begin to think about people they have loved, how they loved them, and how they needed to be loved back until they finally muster up a subjective definition. When it comes to love, our definitions vary because unlike sadness, happiness, and fear which are examples of universal emotions, romantic love is a drive. Asking someone if they feel they are in love is quite like asking someone if they feel they are hungry or full; they both play a role in the reward pathway of the brain and once we get a taste, we crave more.
We are not born knowing how to love, we learn through our caregivers, through observation and of course, experience; however, there are some key ingredients necessary for a healthy romantic love:
Before the relationship takes its romantic course, is there a friendship? Do you spend time together because you want to? Are you silly and playful? Do you want to be around one another in social settings? Do you share secrets with one another? Do you enjoy laughing with each other? Do you like completing mundane tasks together? To be able to view your partner as your significant other as well as your best friend is special and crucial to the foundation of a healthy relationship. With this mindset, you are more likely to get through difficult situations because you genuinely feel like someone is on your side. You also have a good sense of who your partner is at their core, which builds trust.
As you build a strong friendship, your trust in one another grows. Everyone makes mistakes, but with a solid friendship foundation, you are looking through a lens that says “I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. We can overcome any disagreement and/or obstacle because I know who you are at your core, and you would never intentionally harm me”.
One of the key ingredients to a healthy romantic relationship is vulnerability. Many people find that being vulnerable is difficult and frightening, even with the love of their life. What I have come to find is that if you wear a shield protecting you from being vulnerable, you are not only guarding yourself from feeling negative emotions such as rejection, fear, inferiority, or judgement but you are also hindering yourself from experiencing the utmost acceptance and the pinnacle of love and security within your relationship.
Openness and Positivity
Staying open and positive in your outlook with your partner creates optimism and hope for your love together. It promotes space for both of you to come to one another and honestly share your thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or how the other person might react. Negative life experiences can shape the way we interpret words and behaviors. Focusing on the positive perspective encourages questions, curiosity, and dialogue rather than accusations and emotional withdrawal.
Although this is last, always remember that healthy love begins from within. By loving yourself you are setting an example for whoever enters your world. By loving yourself, you are taking responsibility and accountability for your happiness and your life. As a result, you are telling your partner “you make me happier, but I can be happy on my own too” and that is powerful.
Ultimately, we all acquire pieces of ourselves that we don’t necessarily like. We try to hide those pieces from ourselves and the world. How beautiful is it when we feel secure enough with ourselves and with the one we love to share all of our pieces and be loved and accepted for them.
Written by: Y.M., MA, LMFT-Associate, CST-Candidate