Thursday

Is It Fantasy We Seek, Or Is It Love?

For many of us, love begins with deep passion, romance, and hot steamy sex. This is what I call the first stage of love, the euphoric stage. You are together all the time, love everything about each other, see no faults in one another, and cannot seem to keep your hands off each other. As time goes by, you get to know one another. The party manners disappear, and you begin to see that your loved one is not so perfect, after all. This is the point where, if you are expecting perfection in another person, you will become disenchanted, and the relationship will end. You cannot expect perfection in anyone, including yourself. If you do, you are living your life in fantasy, and always will be disappointed.

Contemplate this for a moment: you have just met the person of your dreams. You are attracted to this person physically; he or she has a great sense of humor, is affectionate, romantic, and a fabulous lover. Your new partner does all the right things, pushes all the right buttons, and you have -- and I hate this phrase -- fallen head over heels in love. One day, your perfect, remarkable partner begins to irritate you. You may discover that this person is a slob. All of a sudden, you cannot stand being in his or her place because it's such a pig pen. One day you notice that your once-flawless love, who has run out of clean underwear, goes to the laundry hamper to retrieve a slightly less soiled pair. You go into the bathroom to find it flooded with water from the shower, his razor stubble, or her make-up and toothpaste, lining the sink. To top it all off, if it is a man in question, he left the lid up or did not flush the toilet. So do you dump this person? Based on my experiences in life, I do not think you should.

This is an extreme example, but it could happen. Love will reach a stage where you will begin to notice your partner's shortcomings -- things that you may have overlooked before. So what do you do?

Do you give up?

Relationships end for many at this point, because the fantasy has been shattered.

He or she is not that perfect, after all. When you come to this point, you have graduated to the next stage of relationship. It's a challenge, an invitation, to achieve a new level of intimacy with your partner. Many of us choose, at this point, not to communicate our needs or feelings, but rather to detour into anger. Out of fear, some of us repress our feelings. In many cases, we just plain run as fast as we can. These are all just normal human reactions, when faced with this awakening. Should you choose to be angry, or if you choose to repress your feelings or to run, you are missing the opportunity to rise to the next level of intimacy.

Euphoric love ends for a reason: it is a time when your brain starts having more input than your hormones. When euphoric love ends, you have come to a stage in the relationship where you are thinking seriously about a future with your partner. Questions come to mind, such as: "Can I live with this person, the way he/she is right now?";

"Would I want to have children with this person?"; "Do I want to share the rest of my life with this person?" These are big questions, and they tend to elicit fear. The fear is totally normal, but it catches many of us off guard. Many of us take this fear as a sign that the relationship is not meant to be. In reality, this fear is a reflection of how important your relationship is becoming. When we start to consider a future that includes our partner, we tend to look at them more critically. While this is natural, it's important not to forget the positives that brought you together in the first place. Celebrate this stage in your relationship: it's a sign of growth, a love relationship on the rise. Remember, the art of loving is a lifelong commitment. It is the further development of learning to love ourselves, our partner, and all those around us.

If you and your partner decide to commit to the further development of your relationship, you need to know that this is when the real work begins. Love cannot sustain itself. As Erich Fromm wrote in The Art of Loving, published in 1956, "The art of loving is like any craft. It requires patience, confidence, discipline, concentration, faith, and practice daily." These are words to remember. Relationships change continually. As relationships grow, the level of commitment increases and the love matures. Mature love does not occur overnight. It develops over time, and requires that you give of yourself. Examine your priorities: it all starts with loving yourself first, then loving your partner, and, finally, loving your family. Mature, committed love is the most powerful experience imaginable. It is the foundation of your relationship; without it, there really is no relationship.

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