Nine Essentials of True Love

How do I know this is True Love?

We come to this question from a million different directions. Maybe we think we’re in love for the first time and we have nothing to compare it to. Maybe we had no role models growing up. Maybe we even had a bad abusive, gaslighting experience. 

Text on photos of couple in love that says... "Nine Essentials of True Love"

Especially after a gaslighting relationship it can make us anxious when we’re asked to trust again. We are particularly vulnerable when it is a romantic relationship in which we were betrayed by psychological abuse. One of the horrible things about an abusive relationship is that it leaves scars, especially scars of self-doubt. How can we trust ourselves to make good decisions? How can we tell if a person is trustworthy? How can we allow ourselves to be vulnerable again?

How do you know they’re special when you thought that about the last person and it didn’t work out? Relationships don’t work out for many reasons. Sometimes it’s obvious, they were assholes. Sometimes it’s harder to know why, just that there’s a mismatch that misfired enough that you both knew it wasn’t going to work in the long term.

I fell in love many times before I found real, true love. Falling in love is seductive. All those hormones, pheromones and sexual energy is humming. It can be wild and crazy, romantic and sexy intense feelings, like being drunk all the time. How can something that feels that good not be true love?

By the time I was almost thirty I thought for sure it was time to settle. The current boyfriend was as good as I was going to get. He was smart, made me feel OK, and the sex got the job done. It made me a little sad and depressed to think that maybe people were right and I had unrealistic expectations. Maybe “this is all there is”, but better than nothing, right?

Then I met John.

If John had come into my life when I was younger I wonder if I would have appreciated him? One hundred percent introverted nerd before it was considered sexy, he was so sweet, I wonder if I would have passed him by because he was “too nice”? Would I have appreciated his kindness? His thoughtfulness? His way of naturally holding comfy, contented, companionable silence? His adorable excitement when he talked about science that was way over my head? The way he just looked at me like I was a marvel from another planet? I like to think I would have, but I’m not so sure. 

Phase One of True Love

Falling in Love. Falling in love is awesome. It’s like being high all the time with your favorite person. The problem lies in when we buy the myth that our society, media, novels and movies sell to us. They tend to equate “True Love” with the big bang of sexual excitement, the Hollywood rom/com meet cute, the seduction of endorphin filled not knowing where you end and the other person begins. 

Don’t get me wrong, we all deserve that mind-blowing first phase. The thing is, it is a phase. If the relationship is true and sustainable, it will evolve into something even better: Two unique individuals who see each other as individuals, love what they see and are ready to devote themselves to being the best partner to the other that they can be.

Phase Two of True Love

Not all relationships make it through to this second phase. Many experience disappointment when cracks appear in the perfect facade, “Oh, he’s not perfect. He snores. Doesn’t pick up his used towels. He isn’t Bills fan! I am a separate person with separate ideas, thoughts, beliefs.” This is when the lack of perfection in each other shows up. This is where the struggle to see if you care about each other enough to work out the differences to be good partners to each other happens. 

Dr, Harville Hendrix writes about this in his classic “Getting the Love You Want”. He describes well how negotiating the transition from the Burning Hot unsustainable first phase to the Warm Glow of the sustainable second phase, is often when people break up. And that’s too bad, but it may not be anyone’s fault.

Sometimes relationships just don’t work out. There are a million reasons why but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of love or can’t be in a future relationship full of love.

Nine Essentials of True Love

Thanks to Dr. Mira Kirshenbaum we have nine clues.

In her book, Women & Love, Finding True Love While Being True To Yourself, Dr. Kirschenbaum supplied markers to measure whether or not a relationship had True Love potential. 

  • “It’s not just how you feel about him. It’s about how he makes you feel about yourself. Does he make you feel good about yourself? Does he reflect your best self back to you, with words, gestures and how he looks at you? 
  • It’s not about losing yourself in him. It’s about becoming true to yourself with him.” Does he support you when you need to make a hard decision, not make the decision for you? When you have an idea does he get excited with you? Does he want to hear more? If you ask him to help you, does he listen, only offering guidance that you are free to take or not when you ask for it?
  • “It’s not about how great he is. It’s about how great you can become alongside him. “The longer you are together the more your lives intertwine. Does he invite you to actualize your ambitions and dreams? Does he refrain from making your success somehow a diminishment of his ego? Do you feel your opinions are seriously considered the way you consider his when you make plans for your future large and small?
  • It’s not about how much you love him. It’s about how much he helps you love yourself.” You love him, that’s good. Do you love how he sees qualities in you that are wonderful and he makes sure you see them, too?
  • It’s not about his finding room in his heart for you. It’s about him finding room in his life for your energy, drive, ambition, passions and interests.” Is he your biggest cheerleader? Does he encourage and love your big-laugh-out loud self? Or, when you are your big-out-loud self, does he get uncomfortable and cause you to dim your light to help him feel better?
  • It’s not just about how good he is deep down. It’s about how you experience goodness as you live your life together.” Is he kind, not just to you, but others as well? Is he thoughtful? Does he express empathy when you feel down, compassion when you are hurt? Is he able to sincerely apologize when he inevitably makes a mistake or whole-heartedly accept an apology from you when you’re the one who messed up?
  • It’s not about how he makes you hungry to be with him. It’s about how much he makes you feel at home when you are with him.” Are you emotionally safe with him? Can you completely relax, like a puppy showing her belly? Can you think out loud without fear of judgment? Make mistakes without fear of never hearing the end of it? Emotional safety may be one of the most important elements of True Love.
  • It’s not about the love you share. It’s about your ability to fully, equally, deeply share your life together.” Of course it’s about the love you share. But it’s more important in the course of a lifetime to be able to love all elements of the life you share, the hard with the easy. In fact, it’s making it through the hard parts, faced shoulder to shoulder, together, that forge a True Love relationship and makes it stronger than ever.

It’s about falling in like

When your partner in life is primarily your most important friend, “Like” is home base. “Like” doesn’t precede love, it’s an essential element of True Love that lasts a lifetime. Like lives alongside trust, respect, accountability and intimacy to build a long lasting happy relationship.

Via Women & Love, Finding True Love While Staying True To Yourself, by Mira Kirschenbaum

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