The Art of Staying in Love

W
hat is more exciting and exhilarating than falling in love? Is there anything? Sadly, though, many of us have learned that it's just as easy to fall out of love as it was to fall into it. And while finding love and affection is one of our greatest personal needs, why is it that so few seem to stay in love?

Falling in love can be the start of a loving relationship, but lasting relationships don't just happen; they grow. In many ways nurturing a relationship is like tending a garden. Neglect it and it dies. Constant care and cultivation—including the following suggestions—are needed to keep love alive and growing.

Love is being there. One of the chief ingredients of love is to give another person your presence. Without presence, as Dr. David Augsburger says, love receives an invitation to die.

Presence is not only spending physical time with another person but also giving him or her your undivided attention when you are with them. It includes being sensitive to his/her feelings and aware of his/her needs. It means not only hearing with your ears but, much more so, hearing with your heart.

For instance, recently I visited with a friend who spent the entire time talking about his interests and concerns. I tried to share some of my interests, too, but felt as if my words fell on deaf ears. There was no experiencing of mutual presence—the basis for all meaningful relationships including friendships.

Loving relationships don't
just happen: they grow.

Love is understanding. Most behavior is caused or motivated. Once we understand this, we can be much more accepting and loving. For example, one father I know was having difficulty with one of his two children. One was the "perfect" child, the other constantly rebelling."

Is one of your children a favorite?" I asked the father. With a tinge of embarrassment he admitted the "good" child was. "Do you think this could be the cause of your difficult son's negative behavior?" I asked again. The answer was obvious.

Much negative behavior in adults as well as children is caused by not feeling adequately loved. This may have its roots in present relationships or from unmet childhood needs. Either way, when people are acting negatively or yelling, they are hurting and, in a way, however clumsily, are yelling for help. If we can see this and take the time to understand the real cause behind their behavior instead of taking it personally and yelling back, we can go a long way in strengthening our love relationships.

Love is accepting responsibility. Most of us bring the excess baggage of unresolved issues from the past into our close relationships. For example, the man who didn't get along with his mother and is still angry at her, will inevitably take out his hostility on his wife and family. Or the woman who felt mistreated by her father or some other significant male and is distrustful of men will take out her hurt and anger on her husband, and so on.

If we desire to stay in love, it is imperative that each of us accepts the responsibility for resolving our inner conflicts that cause dissension in our present relationships. We were not responsible for our upbringing but we are now totally responsible for what we do about resolving any negative effects our past had on us.

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