Everyone wants to be loved. Our desire is understandable, for love gives meaning to life and lightens our burdens. The path of love is circular and begins with our parents or caretakers:
1. They love us, thereby teaching us that we are worthy of love. 2. The feeling of worthiness enables us to love ourselves. 3. Because we have loving parents, we learn that others are worthy of being loved. 4. We then learn to love others, and they in turn love us. 5. Their love of us reinforces our sense of worthiness.
Some of us were raised in dysfunctional families and were denied experiencing the circle of love. Those who feel unloved, cease to love themselves. However, as adults we can heal ourselves if necessary. We begin by acknowledging all human beings are worthy of love. Next, we look within, recognizing our good points and our value to society. Finally, we learn to love ourselves. Once we do so, we are ready to love others and the circle of love can begin.
The three pillars of romantic love
The high divorce rate is a signal that many do not understand the nature of love, which rests on the three pillars of attitude, knowledge and understanding.
What is the right ATTITUDE? It’s the awareness that marriage is meant to last until death. Therefore, the choice of a partner is taken seriously. And when problems arise, they are worked out together. An example of the wrong attitude toward love and marriage is when someone asks their “sweetheart” to sign a prenuptial agreement. Or when a couple lives together in a “trial marriage.” In either case at least one of the partners lacks confidence in the relationship. Marriage is not an experiment, but a serious commitment. If you need surgery, would you pick a surgeon that was willing to conduct a “trial operation” or would you want one that was absolutely committed to your complete recovery?
Do you love the country of Bhutan? Not if you’ve never been there and know nothing about it. You can love only a country, or person, that you know. That’s what I mean by saying love is based on KNOWLEDGE. How can one claim to be in love with someone they’ve just met? It is only over time (generally, at least a year) that we can get to know someone. It is also important to become acquainted with as many people as possible so we have a basis for comparison when choosing a mate. If someone tells you that they fell in love at first sight, tell them “Nothing beats love at first sight except love with insight.” When someone is involved in a destructive relationship, we may say that “love is blind.” However, love is never blind. It is enlightened and based on insight and knowledge. It is infatuation, lust, and “puppy love” that are blind. If a relationship is built on the sand of infatuation, why are we surprised when it falls apart?
UNDERSTANDING is the third pillar that supports love. It starts with an understanding that we are all the same. We share the same hopes and fears. Or, as Alexander Smith wrote, “Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.” We also understand that people cannot be changed and they are imperfect. This understanding allows us to accept the “shortcomings” of our mate. In return, our partner accepts our weaknesses. It is not a matter of forgiving each other, but of understanding each other. Benjamin Franklin also believed in the importance of knowledge and understanding, for he wrote, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half-shut afterwards.”
When you are loved, you will be treated with kindness, respect, admiration, and devotion. It is impossible to express love with a clenched fist. Abuse and love cannot coexist. If someone is in an abusive relationship they should seek counseling and learn whether the relationship can be rescued. If it is to succeed, your relationship must be built on mutual admiration.
Some young people say, “I want to meet an attractive person, someone with their own transportation, and a good job.” They don’t yet realize that love is not about WANTING, but GIVING. Love is the gift of yourself to another. “Immature love says,” according to Erich Fromm, “‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says, ‘I need you because I love you.’”
Partners in a loving relationship trust each other, so they live free from fear. Also, they understand the most important thing parents can do for their children is to love each other. “Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb.” says Barbara De Angelis, “It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day. The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make — not just on your wedding day, but over and over again — and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.”
FOOTNOTE: “The three pillars of love” is based on personal experience, which have served my wife and I well for 40 years. Perhaps these simple principles can help others to discover a lifetime of love.