We all want to be loved, so it is no surprise that so many articles, so much art, so many movies, plays and novels have been written or created about it. And no surprise that so many of us want to understand how to have a good relationship or keep love alive. When someone says to us, “I love you” or we say it to someone else, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.
When we feel loved, we can feel we have “made it.” We might feel not only that “life is good” but “I am good.” What we yearned for has been found.
We feel whole.
But to keep love alive it’s important to know how love is born. When we look within our self and study how the emotion is constructed, we see that love, like any emotion, is not just one overwhelming entity. It involves so much of who we are. It is feeling and sensation mixed with memory, thoughts and how we view the world and ourselves.
For example, when we fall for someone, we usually think it is the other person who fulfills us or makes us feel so alive and complete. But it is not the other person who completes us. It is our loving that completes us.
It is the way we relate to another person, by caring so deeply that we feel open, vulnerable, and yet strong enough to take whatever occurs. It is our ability to recognize another person is not the same as us, yet part of us, which completes us.
If we think of the other person as the source of our love, all kinds of craziness can ensue. We can think our happiness lies in someone else’s hands and we are powerless—or that this other being exists entirely for us. We can feel so overwhelmed by our attraction to the other person that there is little room left for the reality of that person.
This is why love can turn to anger, possessiveness, even violence. We come to see the other only in terms of how he or she fulfills our image of whom they should be, and we never see who they are. We focus on our needs instead of theirs. So there is always conflict. Whenever they exceed or divert from our expectation or the story we tell of them, we feel threatened.
The psychologist Carl Jung theorized that when we feel attracted to someone, we perceive in the other person elements of ourselves that we had lost or neglected while growing up. Our love is an attempt to recapture what was lost.
But once we actually begin a relationship, what must happen to that image that we projected onto the other person? The initial image led us to the other person’s doorstep. But will we open the door? Will we take it upon ourselves to rediscover and take responsibility for what was lost?
Once we find this person, we have to let go of our initial image of her in order to find the reality. In a similar way, if we think of the other person as the source of our loving, we never see, never truly feel, who we are. We give up our power over our own emotions and look for ourselves in the wrong places.
And we can’t correct this just once. We need to do this every day. It is so easy, after knowing someone for months, or living with someone for years, to develop a habitual way of relating, or habitually assume the person will be there for us forever. Sometimes, I imagine what I’d feel if my wife died or left me—and this wakes me up quickly. I do all I can to break through my distance from her.
I try to never leave home without saying goodbye. If we have an argument, when I calm down, I reflect on what happened and apologize for my own part in the dispute. A good relationship is not necessarily one where both parties do everything together. Instead, it is one where each gives the other plenty of space to do and be who they are. She gardens and does yoga. I write and meditate.
In the same way that I am more than she knows or can know, she is more than I know. One practice I like is when I come home, or see my wife after an absence, I take a moment to pause and just be there with her. I allow myself to feel not only what I feel for her, but that, right now, she is feeling something, possibly something that I don’t fully understand. And I try to take that in.
Each moment is a new moment.
The best moments are often after a meditation. I feel very present and can’t help but smile at her. She probably thinks I take a giggle pill.
After all, we share our lives and home. And this is how loving can transforms us. We go beyond childish egocentricity or the urge to control whomever or whatever we care for. We “keep love alive” by allowing ourselves to break out of our shell of ideas and feelings. We recognize and care about the inner life of another person and are more ready to recognize and care about the inner life of all those in the world around us.
This is especially important today, when so many of us feel stressed and rushed, and so much communication happens at a distance, electronically and not in person. But by being emotionally present with another person, all of life can become present and alive for us. By seeing and feeling others for who they are, we find ourselves.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Premium Community.