Love is a powerful shield against the inevitable bumps in the road of your life’s journey.
We all know the warm and fuzzy feeling we experience when we are in love.
But beyond that, research from various scientific fields has linked love to tremendous benefits in our emotional, mental, and physical health, our happiness and even our career and financial success.
Healthy lovers help each other recover faster from illness, reduce stress, depression and anxiety and grow brain regions involved with creativity, emotional intelligence and resilience. No wonder most of the movies we watch, songs we listen to, and commercials we see are all stories of love.
But why do so many of these stories talk about heartache?
For decades, researchers from all across the world have tried to answer that question.
The problem is, when our love life suffers, we lose our parachute that keeps us safe during the falls of life. Relationship distress leads to responses to threatening and stressful events that make things worse, reduces our immune function, and leads to depression. And it leads to us being too jaded to invest in love again.
The good news is that research has also opened the door to recognizing barriers to a healthy relationship and effective strategies we can employ to overcome them and harness the power of love.
In light of the highly-commercialized Valentine’s Day, which at least places love in the forefront of our mind where it should be, I wanted to share a handful of myths about love that we need to be mindful of in our quest to make love a positive aspect of our life.
I am hoping my insights will inspire you to assess your current perceptions and perhaps consider experimenting with these principles to enhance your own experience of love.
“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”
― Erich Fromm
Myths about love
1. We think Love is something we “fall into.”
We are constantly bombarded with an idealized version of what love is all about. According to movies, commercials, and songs, when we meet “the one” we will know it, bring out the best in one another, and walk into the sunset in eternal bliss.
This notion is flawed, as it sets us up for failure.
In reality, we cultivate love through committed actions and hard work to rise up to a disciplined way we choose to interact with another, so that together we can build a safe haven that makes us stronger in dealing beautifully with the ups and downs of life.
No matter how good our love relationship is, it is always a work-in-progress.
The work involves choosing to do all the little things daily that keep us attuned to our partner, reflect that we are there for them, and show that we will emotionally respond to them in good times and, especially, in bad.
Here are some tips from the experts to incorporate in your labor of love:
- It is the small things you do daily that allow you to strengthen your bond and build trust. Answering the question:“What does our relationship need from me?” is a great way to uncover what these daily small things your relationship needs to flourish.
- Increasing your tolerance for differences, and gentleness in how you approach your different points of view, allows you to feel more connected.
- Conflict is not the real problem as long as you are mindful of keeping the positive to negative interactions in a five to one ratio.
Once the foundation is set and we have done the hard work of planting our garden with all the right fruits and vegetables that we need, we then don’t have to work as hard anymore.
We can enjoy feeling more assured, assertive, and confident and view life in a more adventurous and expansive way.
“If you have a responsive love partner, you have a secure base in the chaos. If you are emotionally alone, you are in free fall.”
—Dr. Sue Johnson
2. We don’t give love the respect and priority it deerves.
We all want to be happy in love, but sometimes it seems that we don’t realize how sacred and powerful love is.
As a consequence, we often sacrifice love in the name of other important elements of our life, such as our career or our finances. Interestingly, the Grant study, Harvards longest study in human development researching the factors that contribute to life fulfillment, reveled that secure relationships were by far the biggest contributing factor to career and financial success!
What we don’t realize is that the bond we share with our primary mate, when nurtured adequately, gives us access to superpowers!
Research shows that healthy, attuned lovers are able to reduce each other’s stress response, heart rate, and trigger the release of a potent hormone called oxytocin, which actually turns off fear.
Fear prevents us from expressing our full potential in all areas of our life.
If we tend to play small in life, chances are, our primary attachment bonds in childhood did not arm us with the confidence to expect positive outcomes, so we are more fearful. Negative models from past experience create unconscious limiting beliefs and anticipatory responses that prevent us from being bold in life.
Love can actually reshape our brain and replace old wounds and limiting beliefs with confidence, courage, and grit.
And the well-documented way our brain activates to diminish threats that is associated with a secure attachment, leads to incredible physiological and psychological benefits.
So how do we harness the power of love in a more practical sense?
The next time you experience internal discomfort, remember that your partner is the solution and not the enemy. Instead of shutting down or turning away from him/her, reach out to them instead. Identifying our emotional needs and sharing them with our love allows them to respond to us and offer us the comfort and support we need.
“The power of love can help to free us from the trappings of past experiences and to live in the true sense of joyful wholeness.”
—James Van Praagh
3. We perceive depending on others as weakness.
We are hardwired in our core to meet our powerful need for intimacy. Yet, we experience great discord in life because we define dependence as a weakness.
Central to this issue is our fear of vulnerability and our confusion between healthy interdependence and co-dependency.
The critical difference of interdependence from unhealthy forms of dependence is how we show up in the relationship. When we have a solid sense of self and self-worthiness, we don’t engage in maladaptive behaviors, such as people pleasing, manipulating, or blaming. We instead balance our own needs with the needs of the relationship and work toward the beautiful balance of giving and receiving without fears of being abandoned or losing our identity.
We then feel free to be vulnerable and create true intimacy.
As we have learned from world renowned vulnerability expert, Dr. Brene Brown, there is immense power in creating wholehearted connections where we allow ourselves to be fully seen. This includes the courage to go out on an emotional limb to ask for help when we need it.
Far from the conventional view of this as weakness, being able to reach for our loved ones as a resource to calm and comfort us is a strength.
“It seems to me that if we, as a species, are to survive at all on this fragile blue and green planet, we have to learn to step past the illusion of separateness and grasp that we truly are mutually dependent. We learn this in our most intimate relationships.”
—Dr. Sue Johnson
4. We blame love—and our lover—for our suffering.
Every love affair begins with an incredible cloud nine, fairy tale sort of feeling. But sooner or later, pain shows up, right when the initial honeymoon phase ends. It is at that point that we tend to blame the relationship and the object of our affection for our suffering.
What is actually happening below the realm of our conscious awareness is that once we have allowed ourselves to get swept in by the strong force of love, our nervous system regurgitates our historical sensations of what happened in the past when we depended on another.
If our past did not leave a positive imprint on our neurobiology, our automatic response is to become fearful. We may be afraid of being rejected, losing our self, losing our independence, being abandoned, and the list goes on.
And then what happens is all the things we are afraid of saturate our body and our mind and in the process of fighting these old memories, we project them onto our love!
John Gottman’s 40-year research, which predicts divorce with 90% accuracy, has identified four hallmark behaviors that will absolutely drown even the best relationships. These are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stone-walling.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself any time you feel you are beginning to go down one of these poisonous reflex responses. (You can also receive a cheat sheet of these questions along with a feelings inventory in your inbox when you join the Myndzen community by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/JoinMyndZen)
—What am I feeling right now?
—What about this makes me feel this way?
—How much of it is true and how much of it is a story based on the past?
—What can I do differently that is within my control?
Reaching out to our love for comfort instead of blaming them for our suffering will not only help us reduce our internal negative arousal in the moment, but it will also strengthen our bond. They can then become a resource as we grow toward emotional intelligence.
“We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship .”
— Harville Hendrix
5. We expect love to complete us.
There is no bigger disappointment than the rude awakening of our beloved asking us to make a change in ourselves right after we believed this was the person for whom we could do no wrong. After all, this one was supposed to be “the one” who would bring out the best in us, right?
The relationship which protects us from all dangers and threats in life, which gives us the freedom to be ourselves, and supports our growth and our dreams does not work like that.
Rather, it requires two complete, whole individuals who are each committed to personal evolution.
That does not mean that the ones of us who experienced adversity in childhood, wounds, or traumas are destined to miss out.
We all have issues, some of us more and greater than others. However, the difference for our personal evolution is how we handle those issues and what we are committed to do toward our own individuation and self-actualization.
The path to our own healing may seem daunting and we may avoid it by simply changing partners in hopes that our issues will disappear by magic.
But the truth is, until we love ourselves wholeheartedly and commit to our own healing and growth, we will not be able to see the love of a partner and feel safe. This is true even if the archetype of our ideal partner falls in love with us.
After all, the greatest truth about love and heartache, is that until we find harmony within, we cannot create it with another.
Love is a powerful shield and a disciplined way we commit to interact with another to powerfully address the ups and downs of life and reach our full potential.
A healthy love relationship has a positive effect on our well-being, our happiness, and our life expectancy.
To be happy in love, we may want to revisit some current perspectives and default responses that are myths, and not true.
We can recognize and commit to the hard work that is required to rise to love.
We can embrace the power of love and actively engage in doing the “small things often” that will resist the conditioned ways of expressing our pain.
We can learn to speak a new language—the language of emotions—and strengthen our bond through exposing our vulnerabilities.
We can let love be the mirror of our soul and our guide down the path of our own personal development and healing.
Because the truth is, only when we heal ourselves, can we be happy in love.
Notes: The information in this article was informed by my personal review of studies, my participation in Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s “Art and Science of Love Workshop,” Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotional-Focused Therapy, and the application of this research in my own life. If you enjoyed this article, you might want to review an earlier article I wrote listing some of the most significant benefits of love. You can find it by clicking here.