When I was 24 years old I fell madly in love. I was madly in love for three weeks, and then spent the next 30 years struggling to regain and maintain that wonderful feeling. In the course of my long marriage and in the many years I've been counseling individuals and couples, I've learned what it takes to keep love alive, and what diminishes the feelings and experience of love.
The concept of what it takes to keep love alive is really quite simple, but not so easy to do. The simple answer is this: love flows between two people whose hearts are open to learning and to sharing love. The challenging part is keeping your heart open.
Before I go more deeply into what does keep love alive, I want to focus on what doesn't work to keep love alive. The bottom line of what diminishes or even eventually kills loving feelings is controlling behavior.
There are two major forms of controlling behavior that always result in closing the heart and dampening loving feelings:
Overt control such as anger, blame, criticism and judgment, defensiveness, lecturing, teaching, righteousness, physical violence, and so on.
- Covert control such as withdrawal, withholding truth, compliance, giving oneself up, resistance, denial, and so on.
None of us like to be controlled. Most people, in the face of controlling behavior, react with their own controlling behavior. Controlling behavior diminishes love because the focus is on changing the other person rather than on changing yourself. When the intention of your behavior is to change your partner's feelings or behavior, your behavior may be experienced by your partner as manipulative or rejecting. Trying to change how someone feels about you or treats you with overt forms of control, feels manipulative and rejecting to your partner, while covert forms of control such a compliance or "niceness," feels manipulative and inauthentic to the other person.
The good news is that love CAN be kept alive, even in long-term relationships. Love is kept alive when each person is more devoted to learning about being loving to themselves and to each other, than to getting love. The moment the intention is to get love, controlling behavior takes over. In any given moment, we either want to be loving and share love, or to get love. Trying to get love closes the heart and diminishes love. Being loving and sharing love opens the heart and keeps love alive. Being loving and sharing love means: