With Valentines Day almost at hand, I find myself coming back to one idea--Love is not for the faint at heart. It can be frustrating, baffling, and unrequited, but when all the stars align and everything slips into place, it can be the most intoxicating drug there is.
I’ve been married for 26 years now, and to me, the phrase “I love you” often rings hollow because it never feels all-encompassing enough. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that the man my wife married almost three decades ago, is not the same man she lives with today. Whenever I’m asked how we’ve managed to stay together for so long, I inevitably say that the secret to any healthy relationship is the ability to trust in your partner, and allow him/her the space to grow, to change, and sometimes, to make mistakes.
The ancient Greeks were much more sophisticated when it came to their vocabulary for “love”—in fact, they identified six varieties of love. “Eros” referred to sexual passion, and this is where I believe many people who struggle with longevity in their relationships get stuck. This sexual passion will naturally wax and wane in any relationship, but the beautiful part is that the longer I am married to my wife, the more surprised I am by the intensity of this passion. “Philia”, or deep friendship, is the type of love that I find most fulfilling in our marriage. Whenever something incredible or devastating happens to me, the first person I want to share it with is my wife. I can’t imagine not being married to my best friend. “Ludus” is the playful love that encompasses all the teasing, flirting, and giggling that take place in a relationship. Whenever this type of love is at play in my interactions with my wife, I know that all our defences are down and we are both fully present in the moment—it’s magical.
“Agape”, is the word the Greeks used to describe the selfless love we extend to other people. In our egocentric modern world, this form of love often takes a back seat, but when it flows freely, a synergy of happiness is bound to ensue. “Philautia”, or self-love, can be a little tricky. There is a fine line between being self-obsessed and being self-aware. As a recovering addict, I learned very quickly that I needed to prioritize self-care before I could actively participate in a healthy relationship with my partner. This brings me back to the concept of “space” in a relationship. Allowing your partner space to regroup and nourish his/her soul, creates the possibility of a continual revitalization of your relationship. When I was working through the repercussions of some traumatic events from my childhood, my wife provided a safe place for me to come at these issues without feeling “smothered with love”. I've heard her say, “sometimes the best thing you can do for someone you love is to do nothing.”
The most mature love is “pragma”. Noted psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that as a society, we expend too much wasted energy on "falling in love”, when what we really need to learn is how to "stand in love.” This is what I’d refer to as the “long game” of love.—It’s all about patience and compromise. It’s easy to stick around when things are humming along beautifully in a relationship, but it takes fortitude and deep love to be there for a person when things get difficult. My advice to someone just entering a serious relationship would be: Don’t leave before the good part arrives. In her anniversary card to me last year, Mary-Anne wrote: “Who knew when we said ‘For better or worse’, that it would be our worst that made us better!”
A friend posted a picture on Facebook today with the following caption: “Life is a chance. Love is infinity. Grace is reality.” I don’t think I could paraphrase it any better than that. My marriage to Mary-Anne is like jumping out of a plane with no parachute, but you’re holding hands and you know that there is no ground below—might as well enjoy the ride! Love ya baby!