What is Real Love?

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

Love — What is it? First, let me tell you what it isn’t. It’s not a something we fall in or out of. It’s not a dreamy, blissful state where all fears, doubts, and worries melt away as we merge into one flesh. And it’s not those glorious first moments of your first love when you were swept away in a wave of ecstasy. I know that’s what the music industry and Hollywood would like us to believe.

It’s interesting how we use language. Think about this – “we fall in love.” Fall means to stumble, trip, lose your balance and be out of control. And equally as mysteriously, we fall out of love. It’s as if we’re pushed down a long black tube into a loveless pit. Isn’t that kind of strange? How does this happen? It’s like taking an hallucinogenic. A person suddenly reaches a euphoric state and then just as quickly it wears off and, lo and behold, it’s reality as it was before – – dark and bleak. If this is what love is, then it’s not surprising that relationships have such trouble.

It’s just not possible to trip every single day of your life into a blissful fugue state. So, maybe we need to come up with a better definition of what love is, one which will give us an opportunity to understand what relationships are and how relationships can really succeed.

Love is not falling. It’s giving. Love is a verb, not a noun. You don’t fall into love, you create love. You act lovingly. In other words, you give to your partner. As a function of giving, we create love. The more of yourself you invest into anything or anybody, the more attached you feel to that other thing or other person. A house you build with your hands is a house you feel very attached to.

Love is the same way. Most of us wait passively to let love act upon us. It doesn’t work that way. We need to choose love and we need to act in ways that produce loving responses. In other words, love is about taking a quantum leap from being self-centered to other-centered. To quote the psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan, “Love is achieved when your partner’s needs become at least as important to you as your own.”

That may sound rather simple,
 but putting it into practice is something else. It takes time and work to finally accept the fact that marriage is not about getting all our needs and wants fulfilled. The great challenge for each of us is “to ask not what my partner can do for me but ask what I can do for my partner.” This is how we create genuine, deep love.

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