Falling in love can feel like a heist — adrenalizing and urgent. It’s all high-risk. You have no idea what will happen: if opening the deepest vault of yourself will end in triumph or devastation, if your sweetheart will allow you the same unguarded entry. Half the time you may not know who may have conquered whom and what that conquering may mean.
As a teen and early 20-something, I would have called myself a hopeless romantic, which might have explained why I attempted to leap from relationship to relationship. I could have called myself a serial monogamist too, maybe, but that would mean I’d have to be entirely monogamous, right? I can’t ignore that there may have been some overlap in some of my relationships. The men I lined up by casually asking, “If I was single, would you date me?”
I didn’t care if someone was better than my previous partner. I left good men for terrible men because I wasn’t dating them for their character. I wanted the novelty of their infatuation. I loved falling in love, and I chased that ephemeral sensation.
Falling in love happens differently for all of us, but we never keep falling. Eventually we have to grow to stay or be in love with that partner or leave them.
This, Elizabeth Gilbert, writer of Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, tells us is the hard part:
“Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partner’s faults honestly and say, ‘I can work around that. I can make something out of it.’? Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it’s always going to be pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you.”
Canadian psychologist John Alan Lee describes six styles of love, in his book Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving. The style for the heady falling in love I described above? Mania.
He uses the Greek word pragma to describe a mature kind of love, the staying-in-love kind of love.
Some traits of a pragma love are:
- Believing a relationship that is loving is desirable for a happy life
- Expecting reciprocation of feelings
- Creating a mutually beneficial and future-thinking partnership
Pragma is about cooperation or symbiosis. It is about practicality and the needs of the couple along with the needs of each individual. Pragmatic, which is derived from pragma, means “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.” This defines it best.
Pragma is not a sexy love. It is not a soul-possessing, fiery kind of love. It is not a love that takes hostages or subsumes one partner’s needs for the other. It may start that way, but it can’t continue that way.
It is a love that doesn’t burn out, a love based on communication and action. It is a lifelong love.
With about 45% of marriages ending in divorce, we should think about trying to have a pragma type of love. Here are the ways you can do that:
1. You work on yourself.
Having a mature relationship means that each of you are separate, but whole people, consciously remaining unique, consciously working on being the best person you can be. A relationship is only as healthy as its unhealthiest partner, and you know that whatever you do to improve yourself also actually improves the overall health of your relationship.
2. You forgive each other.
Blaming can kill love. You know that your partner’s views must be respected and honored, especially and if they are different from your own. You strive to understand your partner. This doesn’t mean you will always agree, but you know that every connection and every disconnection must be the responsibility of both of you. It is a “we do this to each other,” and never, “This is your fault because you’re obviously the problem here.”
3. You give to your partner.
This isn’t about giving something up. You aren’t sacrificing your needs or desires to assuage someone else. You give without feeling obligated to. You give because you want to. In the act of giving, you know you are improving your relationship. You also know that, because of the mutual respect you both carry for each other, you are not the only one giving. You receive as much as you give.
4. You work together to achieve your individual and shared goals and aspirations.
Being yourself in a relationship means that you are going to set your own goals and aspirations, like being a president for a Fortune 500 company or selling your first novel. You will also have goals and aspirations for you as a couple, like paying off a house or having a certain number of children.
Your individual goals need to be balanced with your shared goals. If your goal is to sell your first novel, but your partner isn’t able to watch the kids more often, you may need to come to some kind of compromise to help make things happen.
5. You make your partner a priority.
You listen to them. You value and respect them. You flirt with them instead of your new co-worker. You know that your partner has a choice every day whether to be with you or not, and you make a concerted effort to make them choose you.
The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that love isn’t a feeling, but a practice. We have to pay attention to our behaviors to nurture a long-lasting love. We can’t expect just the quickburn of falling in love to carry us through the tough times.
Pragma is far from scandalous or scintilating; it’s the well-loved, but warm and comfy sweatpants of love, and what do we want to change into at the end of a hard day? Definitely those sweatpants.
Previously published on psiloveyou
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Photo credit: by Steshka Willems