How many readers have wondered about love; what it is, how to know when it’s real, how to differentiate it from infatuation? It’s a common question with many answers.
Love is so complex, yet so simple. It comes in many forms; love between family members, friends, love for pets, foods or favorite things, romantic love that brings ecstasy and/or exquisite pain. Romantic love is the golden chalice most of us seek, hoping and believing it will bring us total happiness.
Unfortunately, for many of us, romantic love is elusive. The most perfect relationships seem to fall apart. Rarely do we see couples married more than 20 years who claim to be truly happy. Yet I have witnessed marriages that are strong, loving and passionate lasting longer than four to five decades, so the desire for lifelong romance need not be just a fantasy.
We learn how to love from our families. Love is passed on from generation to generation as surely as the color of our eyes and hair. We give what we received, in much the same manner it was bestowed upon us.
If we had warm, caring parents, we tend to pass the same warmth on to our children. If parents were cold or negligent, we may treat our children the same way. Children of abusive parents manifest a high rate of abuse toward their children. They also tend to find abusive mates. There are exceptions, however, in that a surprising number of individuals vow to never treat their children the way they were treated, or never to marry someone who abuses them. Those who are determined to make it different for themselves and/or their children succeed in breaking negative generational patterns.
Men and women who were deprived early in life of the love they needed may follow one of two opposing tracks; they might either avoid relationships or become involved too quickly and intensely. They fall in love too easily or too seldom, either finding almost anyone attractive or turned off by nearly everyone. Fear of not being loved is the driving force in both scenarios. To fall in love too easily leaves little time for discrimination or evaluation, whereas too seldom suggests that standards are so high they cannot be met. One will experience many disappointments; the other will cling desperately when the apparent beloved is finally found.
How can someone from a home where love was absent form a union that is loving, caring and considerate? Although it may be difficult, it can and does happen, through making good choices and the help of a little luck. For example, a woman who was physically abused as a child is prone to falling in love with potentially violent men. If she realizes this, she can learn how to screen the men she dates and refuse to become involved until she has reasonable assurances that a man really has the qualities she wants.
Successful romantic love has been described as half head and half heart. The best guarantee for finding fulfillment in romance is to proceed carefully, and as slowly as necessary, to complete a logical evaluation. Even before the search, one must be very clear about what is being sought. Anyone seeking a lifelong partner should identify, preferably in writing, the traits and characteristics they want. If the list is long, remember that no one is perfect, but don’t settle on the most important issues. Respect should be at the top of the list. Not until someone with the desired qualities comes along should one’s heart be surrendered; first the head, then the heart.
In our society, we tend to use the opposite approach. We fall blissfully in love and later, decide whether the person has the qualities we dreamed of. If not, we try to change them, and a power struggle begins. Disillusionment leads to divorce. Sometimes wisdom prevails, and couples are strongly enough connected and attracted to each other to find marital counseling. They may decide to try a better way, one that enhances personal and mutual growth. It becomes a case of heart first, head second, but better late than never!
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island, with 33 years experience as a therapist, both in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and the University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Stanton also is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Comments and questions may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or 394-2861.