Love is Not the Same as Loving. Here’s Why
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
Most people will be familiar with the idea of romantic love, even if they say they have no direct experience of it. How could we not be? Every day, we are bombarded with images of people in love in the media, on TV, and in movies. Songs celebrate romantic love - and tell of the pain of breaking up and separation if it is lost.
Our core vulnerabilities will present themselves, and the question will arise as to whether we can face them, first in ourselves, and then in our partners.
There is a common, narrative thread running through all of this. Love can take us to ecstatic, giddy heights, bringing two lives together, and giving each partner a felt sense that they have found their ‘happy ever after’. Little work is required to maintain this blissful state, so we are led to believe. Love happens, and when it does, our idealised views are projected on to the other.
In this state, perhaps with rose-tinted glasses still, we make big decisions about spending our lives together. Those idealised projections, based on sincere, heartfelt emotions, promise a life of joyous companionship, of loving stretching into the distant future. When minor disagreements crop up, we can quickly return to what feels like a natural choice – to love and be loved.
No wonder we end up feeling aggrieved when things don’t quite turn out like we expected. Our ‘perfect’ partner isn’t quite as perfect as we imagined in those early days. We find we can no longer rely on that feeling we will be immediately understood. We may get caught up in arguments that seem to be played out time and time again. Like watching a repeat on TV, we watch a little helplessly, knowing the lines, but finding ourselves unable to change the script.
Over time, the resentments tend to build up and communication becomes deadlocked. Partners may face an extended crisis in their relationship and its very survival may be at stake. For things to change, that romanticised notion of love must morph into something else. In essence, ‘love’ must become ‘loving’. But this is a vastly different proposition from the terms of engagement early on in a love affair.
We may find ourselves ill-equipped to handle all that authentic loving entails. New skills are required, ones that are not commonly acquired whilst growing up. We’ll need to listen more, empathically attune ourselves to our partners, and clarify those misunderstandings when they arise. We will also need to relinquish our entrenched views and positions, allowing feelings to surface freely.
Our core vulnerabilities will present themselves, and the question will arise as to whether we can face them, first in ourselves, and then in our partners. Will we allow this emotional intimacy a central place in our relationships? Or will we run for cover, vigorously defending ourselves knowing ourselves and our partners better?
The process of couple therapy can bring all of this to the fore. For those who would like to undertake that journey together, it holds great promise. Old wounds can truly be healed, with the effects being powerfully transformative. As a therapist, I have been fortunate enough to bear witness to this on many occasions. A strong therapeutic alliance can create the right environment for putting an end to long-standing feuds, misunderstandings, and all kinds of addictions.
All of this, of course, requires consistent effort and commitment – this is not just a key, underlying principle for effective couple therapy. Beyond that, it also indicates that ‘loving’ needs to be defined somewhat differently from ‘love’. Perhaps then, we should be asking ‘what is loving?’ more often than we ask ‘what is love?’ A strong relationship can embolden the human spirit in ways stretching far beyond the traditional notion of romantic love.