Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson on how Love is profound interest.
Do you remember how you behaved when you were first falling in love?
In all likelihood, you listened intently to what your partner had to say, found something magical in the most mundane biographical details, missed each other, and were eager to be together whenever you were apart.
You probably went out of your way not only to listen to this new person in your life but also to do things to make that person happy – anything from very grand, romantic gestures to small acts of consideration, and you in turn received similar gestures with gratitude.
If you are in a relationship, you aren’t in that elevated state right now, and are like most people, chances are your way of interacting has changed considerably, and you’re less thoughtful, less focused on your partner, and less appreciative. You have the power to change this and recreate some of what it was like during the early stages of the relationship. And in reality, it doesn’t take an enormous effort to do so.
People generally think of love and hate as polar opposites, and this is reasonable; intuitively, the feelings seem antithetical, but in some respects they are more similar than they are different. They are both intense. They both demand substantial emotional and mental energy. Most people devote more attention to those they love and those they despise than to those about whom they feel neutral. Thus, in a very significant way, it is more accurate to say that indifference, not hate (or fear), is the opposite of love.
The inspiration for this understanding comes from our Tantra teacher’s teacher, Swami Gitananda Giri. He defined love as, “profound interest.” This observation not only illustrates our perspective on love and indifference; it also points to a practical method for keeping love and passion alive. All you have to do is actively maintain an interest in your partner.
How do you begin? The first step is to cultivate the ability to pay attention. As any experienced meditator knows, the capacity for sustained attention will fluctuate; similarly, your capacity to be profoundly interested in your partner will vary from time to time and situation to situation. It would be impossible, and undesirable, to be profoundly interested in your partner all the time and during every interaction. As with meditation, the fluctuations are to be expected; the value lies in making the effort and communicating your interest as best you can.
To frame this concept in somewhat more conventional – and clinical – terms, the couples therapist John Gottman uses the phrase, “turning toward.” According to Gottman, you should, “ . . .be aware of bids for connection and turn toward them. The small moments of everyday life are the building blocks of relationship.”
Every effort to display profound interest in your partner is at once a bid for connection and an act of turning toward. This can be as simple as taking a few minutes to listen to something your beloved is saying, even if you’d rather be doing something else. Consistently turning toward each other, and receiving and acknowledging the bids for connection whenever possible, will create a positive feedback loop that reinforces the mutuality of your profound interest.
When it comes to lovemaking, keeping profound interest in mind can be crucial. It is an important component in the process of developing sexual self-knowledge as a couple. If you aren’t deeply interested in your partner’s sexuality, you won’t be able to gain much insight into your sexual life together, even if you know yourself and your body.
If this is true in the broad sense of developing knowledge of your sexual life together, it is perhaps even more important in the context of any given sexual encounter. Good lovers need to cultivate the ability to tune in and notice what’s happening internally, while simultaneously observing the way a partner is responding. Being able to focus intently on your beloved’s state (without losing track of your own) is the key to giving pleasure.
While many people think that love means your partner will anticipate your every need, this ability is really the product of repeated checking in – both verbally and non-verbally – of building a body of knowledge that’s based on profound interest.