I write a lot about the importance of self-love, avoiding traps of codependency, and when to leave dysfunctional/abusive relationships. However, I haven’t written much about how to love someone well. In the beginning of a relationship when synchronicities abound, hormones rush through our veins, and our hearts are blown open with amazement at the beauty that can be shared by two people, unconditional love can flow effortlessly. Relationships don’t require much maintenance at this stage.
However, how do we keep our hearts open after a fight or a disappointment? Tom Robbins in Still Life With Woodpecker answers the question, “Who knows how to make love stay?” with a series of poetic reflections, basically letting readers know that any type of enduring love is a mystery. The world is a dance of chaos and change, and our hearts might be as well. We are wild beneath the moon and the stars, amazed by solar eclipses and comets, and awed by sunsets.
However, when there is a certain musical blending between personalities, a resonance of values and experiences, there is great hope for a lasting love. If you are spiritual, you might even be aware of a force greater than yourself drawing you to the person you love. You are thankful, grateful, and you feel lucky in love (maybe for the first time in your life). However, how do you make the most of a beautiful possibility?
Perhaps, you can take everything—negative and positive—and let these moments teach you how to be a wiser, calmer, more caring person. We certainly aren’t going to successfully make love stay, but there might be ways to create a fertile ground for love to continue to grow and deepen.
Focus on Positivity: Children like to have fun, and adults really aren’t that different. Most of us have seen the Debbie Downer clips from Saturday Night Live, and we intuitively know that no one enjoys being around someone who brings them down. It is fine to have a tough moment, experience stress, and go through difficult passages in life. However, try to make inconvenient situations easier for those around you. If you have a flat tire in a small, dusty town, find a place that serves ice cream, take pictures of a sunset, or simply hug your partner for a long while or make out. Find beauty in simply being alive, no matter what path you are traversing. We are all walking toward a destination that is not particularly easy, but it can be light-filled and glorious because of love. The greatest force of positivity is love in action. Find ways to demonstrate love in ways in a variety of situations.
Claim the Qualities That You Want to Exhibit: We are not computer programs stuck in a loop of re-traumatizing situations. If you have experienced disappointment in love, you are not destined to repeat these patterns. Negativity quickly becomes a well-worn groove in your mind, and that is the pattern you must disrupt.
For instance, complaining about people, situations, or the past can become a damaging habit. If you want a different future, you can train your mind to look for ways to create the future you desire. If you honestly believe something is possible, then its probability will increase. In other words, you must believe in your power to create the life that you want to live. We are not guaranteed outcomes or even tomorrow, but we can drive down a new superhighway in our brain and see where the road takes us.
You don’t create a new life through displays of ego or bragging. It takes a lot of humility to realize that you have much to learn about gratitude, responsibility, discretion, patience, selflessness, and faith. To create a beautiful future, you can’t stay in a space of blaming or judging others. Instead, you might examine yourself, take care of yourself, and identify and claim the virtues you want to see more of in this world.
Build Each Other Up: Words are powerful, and even if words of affirmation are not the most important love language to your partner, we all can benefit from having someone on our side who reminds us of our potential and creativity.
The Five Love Languages identified various areas of love that are important to people. Touch, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, and quality time are all important, but some people become despondent when they don’t receive the type of love that matters most to them. It helps to love someone in the way they want to be loved, not just in the way that you want to be loved. Knowing what makes your partner happy and doing that frequently is important. However, even if words of affirmation aren’t your partner’s love language, try saying more amazing things to the person you love. Tell this person about the romantic thoughts and dreams that travel through your head and your heart.
Work on Healthy Attachment: The book Attached by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller breaks people into categories of anxious, avoidant, and secure. The basic premise is that secure people can bring anxious or avoidant types into balance (with some patience, of course). Anxious people and avoidant people are often drawn to each other, but they tend to push each other away without a lot of work and understanding. The good news is that we all are wired for attachment, but the uncomfortable news is that attachment is easier for some than for others.
No one should be blamed for being anxious or avoidant, as most of these dynamics form in childhood. Abusive and narcissistic parents can leave scars, but education, counseling, and other forms of healing can help people learn new ways of being. The daughters and sons of narcissistic parents are often conditioned only to see their flaws. When someone loves them, they are either desperate to hold on to a love that they haven’t experienced before or they are terrified that this love will eventually cause pain. Many times, people who grow up in abusive environments also don’t have good boundaries or a barometer for what is unacceptable. It can take a while to understand that certain behaviors are always unacceptable.
The self-love that I talk about frequently is crucial for those who are anxious, avoidant, or even anxious-avoidant. Self-love makes you feel more secure and less concerned about receiving the love you need from another. You can, instead, focus on the love that you are able to give. When you get to that place in life, you are closer to secure than you might imagine.
More Traits: The more honest you are with someone the greater your levels of connection can be. A couple can weather more difficulties when they speak kindly and openly.
Sometimes, I observe students returning to college and their significant others fear this new change and even attempt to sabotage the one who is trying to move forward in life. You deserve the freedom to express yourself, improve yourself, chase your dreams, and even to become more successful than you were when you met your love. If someone is so insecure that they can’t support their partner’s dreams, that relationship will most likely fail.
Self-control does not mean that you lack passion. One of the most important things I have learned from relationships is how to not say anything. I’m not saying that I stuff my emotions and don’t address problems, but I do my best not to say negative things when I am fearful, angry, or agitated. It is a lot easier to NOT say something unkind than it is to ask for forgiveness later.
And let’s face it, after too many fights or negative moments, sometimes love does not return. John Gottman’s research made the 5:1 ratio famous. His research shows that couples need five positive moments or more for every negative interaction. If you find yourself in a situation where your interactions are negative more frequently, your psyche will quickly become worn down. You will most likely crave being alone rather than slogging through so many negative interactions with someone.
Like Tom Robbins, I don’t have an answer to how to make love stay, but I imagine love is like a beautiful bird. You can speak gently, set out food and water, never clip its wings, praise it, send it love, and provide a place for it to build a nest. You can hope that love will always return home, but you can’t force it to do anything. You can only smile in amazement at the way love flies. There is nothing like love—it makes your spirit soar even when your feet are on the ground.
You can also try not adjust too quickly to a new and beautiful normal. Don’t take amazing, wonderful love for granted.