I’ve done numerous interviews and talks about what makes for a successful relationship. I’ve been a marriage counselor for 35 years, and have also written extensively on the subject of love, most recently a book entitled Love Cycles, which looks at how the feeling of love comes in distinct cycles during romantic relationships. In other words, love is more complicated than we often believe.
With that, here are the 15 things I’ve observed over time to be the most essential and universal truths about love.
1. Love is a feeling.
And like any feeling, it can come and go — sometimes unexpectedly. Loving, however, is a skill set, and one you can develop.
2. At its beginning, romantic love is passionate and exciting — so enjoy the ride.
Keep in mind, though, that the depth of your passion early on is no indication that your lover is a good person for you to commit to. We need other (less exciting) information to select a partner wisely.
3. One of the main reasons relationships fail is that we don’t choose someone who is right for us to begin with.
This seems obvious, but accepting this truth will help you be more mindful and self-aware when it comes to determining the difference between love and lust.
4. We tend to commit to those we think are like us.
And we move into a power struggle dynamic soon thereafter because we find out they’re different. Then we try to change our lover into the person we thought they were — or should be. That is the cause of so, so many conflicts I see in relationships.
5. Nobody can change another person.
You may get compliance and agreement, but they won’t last. Learning to practice the art of acceptance is an effort far more worth your while.
6. We often look out and see what our partner is doing “wrong.”
But any change we seek has to come from within us. Relationships are an inside job.
7. Waiting for your partner to change isn't the same thing as patience.
To be actually patient (with yourself), learn to accept your partner. Rather than wait for him/her to decide to change, sometimes all it takes is to make a new move yourself.
8. To find the right person is to be the right person.
Feeling good in your own skin is the foundation of a healthy relationship, period.
9. All couples have some irresolvable issues.
The difference between couples that thrive and couples that dive is how successfully they manage their issues, because every couple has some.
10. Nourishing the relationship doesn't happen on its own.
In addition to developing the skills to manage conflict, you also need to commit to nourishing the relationship (even when you don't want to). As I said, loving is a skill set — so make sure to put in the work to have fun together, to try new activities and to allow miracles to happen!
11. To be able to nurture the other person and the relationship, we have to keep our own tank full.
Giving and giving without receiving is a recipe for burnout. Not only should there be mutual giving in the relationship, but make sure to give yourself love, too.
12. You can live a full life even if you don't commit to one person.
People used to need relationships to survive and to keep the species alive. Now, by contrast, we are with particular partners by choice. So honor the power of your choice.
13. The #1 complaint in couple’s therapy is "I’m not in love with my partner anymore.”
But once again: love is a feeling. It comes and it goes, and is never constant. Good relationships have bad seasons and also dull ones. Most often, the feeling returns — so don't be in despair if you feel the ebb and flow.
14. It’s normal for sex to slow down and sometimes seem to disappear in long-term relationships.
No matter how dull or dead our sex life feels, we can jump-start it into something passionate and hot all over again, if we’re willing.
15. To fall in love takes a moment.
To learn to love takes a long time and is the most valuable thing we can learn in our lifetime.
I’ve been with my husband for thirty years of a (mostly) terrific marriage. I attribute this to the commitment we each made to learn the skills (and practice them) which make love thrive and to almost create a series of mantras for ourselves out of these points. In some ways I feel my own life experience are my most important credentials.