Never be afraid when your love changes, because changing love is healthy love.
Writing about love is hard for me, damned hard.
I mostly stumble around the topic and make a mess of things. It’s not that I don’t need love. I need my family and my close friends to love me, I just find it difficult to express it. Many men are comfortable expressing love, it just takes me a while to get there.
Love takes time to mature
Your love has to mature so that your relationship can mature. It’s taken me a while to figure it out, but I have realized that in marriage, your love has to grow up or else you become stuck. It’s no fun being married to a 17 year old when you are 45. Just ask my wife.
My wife and I have been together for 18 years and our love has changed more times than I can count. That is because love is alive and will experience cycles of growth and cycles of contraction. The contractions can be painful, but it helps to know that they are part of a healthy relationship.
I have found at least six different kinds of love that relationships cycle through. After I describe each kind of love, I have included a question or two that will help you move to the next cycle in your relationship. The six loves are not stages that build on each other. You may return over and over to one or another of the loves. That is normal, it just means that you have more to learn.
The six loves that create lasting love
1.Intense partner love – This is romantic love and attraction: Tru Luv! Otherwise known as Top 40 Love, love that is worthy of poetry, flowers and chocolate.
It is fun to lose ourselves in attraction. Loving and being in love can feel like a drug. The high that we get from young love can be one of the best ways to avoid looking at the flaws in a relationship.
Most couple relationships begin with this kind of love, although arranged marriages and low-romance marriages can be successful. Romantic love creates the fire that provides heat that we need to forge lasting, real love.
- The question that will help us move to a more satisfying love: Do you love me for who I am, not just who you want me to be?
2.Denial love – This love is closely linked with romantic love. Denial can be benign (kind hearted denial) or systemic and unhealthy.
- Benign denial is where we Luv the other person so much that we look past the snoring, picking of the nose, irritating choices of music, or other things that bug us.
- Unhealthy denial can take the form of intentionally ignoring abusive, addictive or neglectful behaviors. It can include ignoring behavior patterns that undermine the relationship. Unhealthy denial can eat away at the foundation of a relationship.
After years of denial, a relationship will be based on lies and empty words. At the core, we are afraid to confront the other person, for fear of losing the little love that we have or the security that we feel, even if it is unsatisfying.
- The question: Can you be honest with yourself and honest with your partner about your feelings?
3.Hohum love – Many relationships settle into this kind of love. This is the love that takes the least amount of work.
If we are honest, we see things in our partners or our family that we dislike. Sometimes we dislike single behaviors, like snoring, smelly breath or being late all of the time. Or we can begin to dislike entire patterns of behaviors that make us wonder what we saw in the person at all.
Hohum love is when you stay together but you are not too interested in working at your relationship. Years of hohum love creates distance and underground fractures that weaken the relationship.
- The question: Can you re-engage with me and be present, when things are boring, mundane or difficult? Will you participate and work to improve what we have together?
4.What the hell were we thinking love – Relationships in crisis will feel this very intense kind of love. And sometimes, it won’t feel like love at all. It will feel more like dislike, hate, and even repulsion. It’s hard to even be together when we question the other person’s sanity, and mostly our own, for being together.
When love feels like this, outside support or professional help is needed. Emotions can feel like battle zones and the landmines can be set up all around us.
My wife and I have faced this kind of love a few times. This love is a little like investing through a recession that feels like it has kicked you in the gut. You have to revise and stick with your plan, even when it hurts. This love asks you and I to continue to invest in the relationship even when things are confusing and difficult.
There are a lot of things to work through and some couples decide their relationship can’t work or that they are not willing to invest in it. This love can be intense and even excruciating. In my experience, you won’t make it unless you reach for the next kind of love – Hard Love.
- The question: Will you do more than just stay when things feel like they are falling apart? Are you willing to be present, mind, soul and body?
5.Hard love – This is the love born of choosing to love each other. It is love when emotion is not your friend, love when you’d rather scream, love when you want to walk, love when you feel unhappy.
Hard love is love that very well may lead us into danger (M. L’Engel, Walking on Water, p. 181).
Hard love is when you risk sharing and being rejected. You risk the anguish of pain, of loss, of disappointment and hurt. You cling to bonds rather than to security and you love even when what you get in return sometimes is unsatisfying. Most of all, it is loving ourselves, really loving ourselves, even when we don’t deserve it.
Hard love is what it takes to make relationships work for the long haul, because relationships are messy.
When flesh collides with flesh, love gets hard real fast. It takes more Hard love than one person can muster on their own. That’s when you need people who care, who listen, who pray and who won’t give you advice but who uphold you when you struggle.
- The question: Can you and will you step into the hard stuff and be real about yourself, about me and about us?
6.Healing love (aka Messy Love) – Love that gets deep and brings something real and compassionate into the soul.
First we learn to love ourselves and then we have the resources to love another.
“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love,” Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn (See reference section).
Healing love is one side of the coin, and Hard love is the other. Choosing to stay together, being intentional and working at your relationship, is only half of the story. The other side of the story is love that leads to healing and hope.
We find our way to healing love only through working through the tests and trials of a long term relationship. Being together, being present and being invested is what it takes.
Healing love is hard for me to define, because I am just finding my way into it. A description that comes close is what Actor and Producer Zachary Quinto said in an interview about the craft of stage acting (see reference section). He talked about being present and engaged for the life of a play, and how grueling it can be.
“In the doing is the joy and the discovery and the kinds of lessons that are the most powerful ones – the kind of lessons that take a long time to get to and a lot of devotion to ritual to get to because they are not easy lessons.”
Healing love is in the doing and takes a long time to get to because healing is not found in the easy lessons. Sorry, it just isn’t. If healing were easy, I don’t think it would be lasting.
- The question: Can you learn to love yourself?
The Good Men Project is a community for no matter what kind of love you find yourself in. Join our community and I hope to see you in the comments.
Keep it Real
Quote by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn from his short, potent meditation on how to love. As cited by Maria Popovich, Brain Pickings, Feb 29, 2016 “The Tragic Necessity of Human Life: Willa Cather on Relationships and How Our Formative Family Dynamics Imprint Us”
Zachary Quinto, as interviewed by Brian Koppleman on the podcast, The Moment (I highly recommend this one, you can find it in the US by clicking on this link. In Canada and other parts of the world, search iTunes for The Moment.)