It wasn't love at first sight. In fact, we both had a negative reaction to each other when we met. But over time a friendship grew, and from there the seeds of a deeper relationship blossomed. Before I knew it, the man who would become my husband had spiraled into the center of my heart to the place of home, safety and poetry. It wasn't head-over-heels crazy in-loveness. It wasn't butterflies and rainbows. It was something much more enduring, like a river that curves into the earth and never stops flowing.
Now, in our second decade of marriage, I'm more in love with my husband than ever before. And when I say "in love" I don't mean the Hollywood version where we spotted each other across a smoky room and just knew that we were meant for each other; that wasn't our story.
I mean the reality version where we've seen each other's darkest moments, where we've closed our hearts and said words we didn't mean, where we've navigated the tricky terrain of parenting and crossed over many other thresholds of transitions together—marriage, job and career changes, moving—and through it all we have grown closer. The walls around our hearts have fallen away until we find ourselves in moments of such vulnerable intimacy, of such lightness of being, that we almost have to close our eyes.
Perhaps it's not quite accurate to say the walls around our hearts; the truth is that it was my heart that arrived hurt and guarded at the door of his soul. I met him with a well of pain inside me and the demons of fear trailing behind me. The pain and fear tried every trick in the book first to convince me to run, then to convince me to keep the guards up. It's not safe, they whispered in a variety of voices. And while some part of me believed them, the wiser part of me said, "These are lies. This man is your safe harbor. Work to soften the walls and you will live the dream of a passionate marriage."
The wise part of me was right; I am now living the dream. And as a direct result of my experiences, I've guided thousands of people through my counseling practice and e-courses toward love, teaching them how to address their fear effectively so that it didn't drive them away from the beautiful partner who stood before them. I've taught them what isn't taught in the mainstream lexicon, through Hollywood or Disney, or in school.
This is what I know to be true about love:
1. Love is action, not just feeling.
Most people are strongly fused to the belief that love is only a feeling and fail to recognize that one of the secret ingredients of a healthy relationship is to take loving action even when the feelings are diminished or absent. And here's the real secret: It's through taking specific and intentional loving actions that the feelings can be nourished and grown!
2. The feeling of love can be cultivated, even if it was never strong to begin with.
The most common phrase I hear from my clients is, "I love him or her but I don't know if I'm in love." If the foundation is solid, the feelings can be grown, even if you never experienced a honeymoon stage. If you know which seeds to plant and which weeds to pull, the garden of your love will flourish.
3. Love is a skill that can be learned.
There are specific Love Laws and Loving Actions that, when followed, help you open your heart so that you can have the relationship of your dreams. While many happily married couples follow these Laws and Actions naturally, very few people are able to articulate what they are so that others can walk in their footsteps.
4. Attraction isn't what we think it is.
We're told a colossal cultural lie when it comes to the topic of attraction in that we believe that it has to do with "type" or externals. While most people intuitively know that skin-deep attraction doesn't have a long shelf-life if it isn't supported by kindness, warmth, and connection, what we don't know is how to nourish the true attraction so that it can sustain a lifetime of loving.
5. When you orient your compass in the direction of opening your heart and have a roadmap to follow, your heart opens.
We're told that true love shouldn't have to be work; this is a lie. Love is work because there's this little counterpart to love known as fear, and it's only when you learn how to address fear that you can truly open to love.
In a few weeks, I'll be teaching my second group of passionate learners the Love Laws and Loving Actions that, when practiced, lead to an openhearted, loving relationship. If you're in a healthy relationship, but are longing to grow the feelings of love and attraction, I would love for you to join me in my program, Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner.
The dream is possible! It looks nothing like what we've seen on the big screen and glossy magazines. It may not come in the package that you thought it was supposed to come in. It may not look anything like you were told it was supposed to look. But when we disregard the dysfunctional mainstream messages and learn the specific laws and actions that help you open your heart, you become a pioneer among the next generation of couples that can truly model what it is to love and be loved for a lifetime.