Transitions are always opportunities for growth and healing. Sometimes we need to heal ways of being in the world that are no longer serving us – like my clients who realize, through the wedding planning, that they’re suffering from the disease to please and that they need to learn how to put themselves first. Sometimes transitions provide opportunities to expand our internal resources – like the new mother who thinks she doesn’t have enough patience to handle the needs of her newborn and yet, through time and the immensity of her love, her patience grows. And sometimes transitions require that we redefine an entire belief system that has governed our way of viewing the world and relationships – like the majority of my clients who realize during their engagement that a large portion of their anxiety is caused by their unhealthy and false beliefs about the nature of love.
If you’ve grown up in Western culture, you’ve been inundated from the time you were born with images and beliefs about love. Most, if not all, of these images are predicated on the archaic paradigm of Romantic Love. Romantic love is not real love. Romantic Love is, most simply put, infatuation. It’s based on the model of longing for someone that you can never completely have, and it’s this longing that then becomes mistaken for real love. Being in a state of longing is a dramatic and fully alive experience. It creates butterflies in your belly and light-headedness in your mind. If not understood properly, the one in the longing position can easily believe that she or he is “in love.”
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If the object of the longing, often called “the beloved”, does reciprocate, “the lover” often runs the other way. And so begins an all-too familiar game of chase with each participant alternating between the pursuer or distancer roles. The game is emotionally intense but ultimately unsatisfying. The bottom line is that real intimacy never occurs. It’s dramatic but safe. It’s temporarily painful but there’s no long-term risk involved. And it certainly isn’t a healthy model on which to base a marriage!
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Real love, on the other hand, requires that both people show up for each other in the same place at the same time. There is no game-playing, which creates more consistent stability in terms of the intensity of emotion; gone are the ecstatic highs and despairing lows that defined the unhealthy relationships of the past. As such, real love requires that both people risk their hearts to form a bond of true intimacy.
One of my clients recently asked me to define real love. I rattled off a list and later thought it might benefit others to write about it here. So here is my list of the beliefs, attributes, and precepts that define real love (with the caveat that I’m not sure that anyone understands love in its totality!):