As a girl, I grew up with a plethora of romantic comedies. In every one, boy meets girl, there are misunderstandings and obstacles, boy loses girl, girl comes to her senses or boy clears up the misunderstanding, a grand gesture is made, boy gets girl. Over and over and over.
Later, in my early adulthood, romance and romantic comedy movies matured a little. Sometimes it was girl gets boy, there are misunderstandings and obstacles, girl loses boy, boy comes to his senses or girl clears up the misunderstanding, there’s a grand gesture by someone, girl gets boy. Over and over and over.
Or it can be girl gets girl, or boy gets boy. The narrative arc is the same.
Today, while most romantic comedies still end with a happily ever after, movies and shows about romance are more realistic. Sometimes the protagonists don’t end up together. But, somewhere along the way, they experience some type of true love.
How do they know it’s true love? How do we know? Is it the grand gesture? I’ve always wanted one. But would that guarantee true love?
a therapist, I wish I knew all the answers. I might then be happily married, but even if not, I could write best-sellers about love. As it is, I limp along like the rest of us. Except, I do have some observations from my own relationships, and doing couples’ counseling for over twenty years.First, chemistry does not herald true love. We wish it did because it’s so mesmerizing and impossible to deny. Explosive chemistry? Fireworks and thunderbolts? Sizzling touches? What stronger sign is there? If only it were true.
Many of us have had the most intense chemistry with people we had no business being with. Everything else said, “run away,” but the chemistry made that nearly impossible. Or is it just me?
Then there’s compatibility. In the early stages, we often mistake common interests as compatibility.
We often exaggerate our compatibility during the getting acquainted stage. We might swear we like metal when our actual music preference is reggae. Why do we do it? Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe we will learn to like their music. Or if I say I like your music, I can get you to like mine. We say we like long walks, but neglect to say not in temperatures above 75 or below 65. We pretend to enjoy movies with explosions when we prefer small, artful dramas.
Faking compatibility in the hopes of swaying a partner to our likes and dislikes is a mistake. The idea that we can change someone is the death knell of true love. Do we actually love someone if most of our thoughts about them are how to change them? You can’t change grown folks. And you for sure can’t control them. You shouldn’t even want to try. The need to control and change another is a sure sign it isn’t true love. It’s a sign we aren’t even ready for true love.
Why do we try? Attachment and abandonment issues are the main reason. We couldn’t change our caretakers when we were helpless children, so we are subconsciously driven to change people we choose as partners or determined to turn them into idealized caretakers, as adults. Harville Hendricks and his wife Helen address this subconscious behavior in their book, “Getting the Love You Want.” They also outline and provide exercises to take the relationship beyond these primal needs.
Not trying to change a partner doesn’t mean we can’t request and agree to certain changes. Accommodating someone else’s needs and desires is a factor in true love. Therapy can bring about healthy changes in communication, awareness, and personal growth. Even with couple’s therapy, we can only change things about ourselves. Changing someone else’s essential nature is a fool’s errand.
There is a predictor of compatibility, however. Communication. In a study at the University of Texas in Austin, published in Psychological Science, James Pennebaker and Molly Ireland found that 80% of couples whose writing styles matched were still together after three months. Maybe we single writers should start looking for true love on our writing platforms. Any takers?
So, if it isn’t the narratives of romantic comedies or chemistry, or turning yourself inside out for the other, that indicates true love, what is it? According to the Hendricks’ book, it’s the desire and commitment to help your partner heal, while they also commit to your healing.
It’s so simple and so basic. We are all wounded creatures. We’ve endured trauma, narcissistic wounds, and fear in childhood. We’ve translated that into failed relationships which make us even more fearful of future ones. We choose people we subconsciously hope will heal our trauma and wounds. When they don’t, we are enraged, and one of us ends the relationship.
What if, instead, we made conscious agreements with our partners to help each other heal? What if we are specific about our needs, and they are specific about theirs? In turn, we can be honest about our abilities to help and our difficulties in doing so.
Beyond that, true love is recognizable when each partner wants the other to be fulfilled, satisfied, happy. That can be part of healing. Emotional support is offered and accepted freely. Your needs are not more important than your partner’s, except during certain specific times, such as pregnancy and childbirth. Or during a career change. Or an illness. Or the death of a parent. If we can’t see that, in those times, our partner’s needs are more important than ours, it isn’t true love.
Sound harsh? It isn’t. There can’t be true love without some degree of selflessness. There can’t be true love where there is one-sided selfishness. One-sided selflessness is just as toxic. That’s codependency.
How do you know if it’s true love? You communicate. If your communication styles match, all the better. If they don’t, work on understanding each other and each other’s needs. Not just casual wants, although providing those helps love grow, too, but real needs. Healing from childhood and past relationship needs. You know it’s true love when you want what is best for your partner. Even on days you can’t stand to be around them. Especially on those days.
You know it’s true love when you let your partner help you when you need help. Yes, you. Being vulnerable, whether you’re comfortable with it or not. If you’re not, check your own fears, and your trust in and trustworthiness of your partner. Vulnerability is part of true love.
You know it’s true love when you are willing to help your partner when they need it. Even if everybody is tired. Especially when everybody is tired, and help is really needed.
You know it’s true love when you are as happy for their successes as you are for your own. When you see them as a grown-ass adult you can’t change or infantilize, but instead, as someone who can stand toe-to-toe with you as respectfully and helpfully as they stand side-by-side with you. And you with them.
And if there’s chemistry too, along with the caring, selflessness, good wishes, positive intent, and deep communication? Well, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Check out more by Carol Lennox on Medium!
This post was previously published on psiloveyou.xyz.
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