Living Up to the Love You Want
Love comes in many forms to bind us together in community and family, but it is romantic love that fills us with a sense of hope and excitement. We dream of having a companion with whom we can grow, share our passions, and develop an abiding intimacy. We fantasize about "the one" and draw up lists of our preferred qualities. The blueprint for our relationships is written in our histories--we learned about love from our parents, our siblings, and our previous partners. We have a sense of what love can and should look like. And we are responsible for its cultivation. We are responsible for creating the kind of love we long for. We have to nurture it, show up for it, breathe life into it. We have to live up to it. But what does it mean to live up to the love you want?
Be humble in love.
Consider what it means to hold your partner's heart in your hands. You are entrusted with something precious and unique to your loved one. You get to see parts of them that they don't show to anyone but you. Think about how powerful that makes you, and how vulnerable that makes your partner. In this context, power refers to the choice you have to treat your partner's vulnerability with respect and tenderness. They know that by bearing themselves to you, they risk getting hurt, but they are willing to take that risk with you. Humble yourself to that privilege. Honor your partner's bravery and meet them with gratitude.
Be curious in love.
Maybe you've decided what you want out of a relationship. You know your boundaries and your preferences. But do you know your partner's? Sit down with your significant other to explore how they experience the relationship. Be open to hearing a perspective that differs from your own. Be interested in learning about your partner's needs and how they want to feel loved by you. You might be surprised to learn that what works for you doesn't necessarily work for them.
Be empathic in love.
Set your personal assumptions aside and accept your partner's experience for what it is. Let your partner know that you understand their thoughts and feelings and that they matter to you. Don't get caught up in whether you agree with what they're saying or what you want to say next. Stay present with what they're going through, so they can learn to trust that when they need you, you will be there.
Be honest in love.
Let's be real. You have an image in your head of what you want your relationship to look like. You have an idea of how you want love to feel. You probably have a set of expectations you hope your partner will fulfill. But what about your expectations for yourself? How is your behavior contributing to or taking away from the kind of relationship you want? Ask yourself the following:
- Do you exhibit the type of care and concern you want from your partner?
- Do you express your needs openly or expect your partner to read your mind?
- When things get hard--and even the healthiest relationships go through hard times--can you maintain connection?
- Do you seek to repair the hurt with your partner or do you avoid out of fear or anger?
- Do you wait for your partner to make the first move, deciding that you will only make an effort when they do?
- Can you take ownership of your part in the disconnection and seek forgiveness?
- Can you forgive?
Living up to the love you want means acting in accordance with the love you want. It means being brave enough to see yourself and your impact on your partner more clearly. It also means looking at the relationship you're in and recognizing when it's not right for you (but I'll say more about that in a future post!).
What was it like to ask yourself those questions? What is it like to hold up a mirror to your own thoughts, feelings, and actions? Being honest with yourself does not always feel comfortable or easy. And remember, honesty isn't just about recognizing your faults. Take a balanced approach to your self-inventory. Identify both the areas where you thrive, as well as the areas you can improve. At this point, you might be realizing that living up to the love you want takes a good deal of introspection and communication. We are not all born with the capacity to be this self-aware and open. You will need to practice these skills, and you might benefit from some guidance. If you are interested in learning more about yourself in relationships, please consider individual or couples therapy. You will also find a list of self-study resources down below.
One more thing to consider.
Your relationship with yourself is just as important as your relationship with your partner. One absolutely influences the other. So please apply the same humility, curiosity, and empathy toward yourself as you get to know yourself better. You're holding your own heart in your hands, and you deserve the same respect and compassion that anyone else does.