Monday, May 7, 2012

Real Love Is Only What You Give

This article/blog is written by Sheryl Paul.

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her Home Study Programs and her websites. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at
I don't recall how I first stumbled upon Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty, but most likely it came from a recommendation from a member of the Conscious Weddings message board. I remember intially feeling put-off by the title as anything that contains the word "perfect", especially in connection to weddings or marriage, produces an immediate allergic reaction in my psyche. But because I trust my wise and thoughtful audience, I purchased the book and was stunned to find the words that I espouse to my clients every day transposed into a rich and meaningful novel.
I recently re-read the book to make sure that it has withstood my ever-evolving understanding of real love and marriage. My 2011 review: it's nothing short of brilliant. It's the only novel I'm aware of that presents an authentic, realistic window into what it means to love and be loved. It's the antidote to every romantic novel and film you've ever ingested -- from Wuthering Heights to Jerry Maguire ("you complete me") -- and is a must-read for anyone struggling with doubts, questions, and concerns about their partner.
Its passages, like the following, can help you evolve your understanding of love and help you open your heart to the good man or woman that stands before you:
"What my marriage taught me is that real love is only what you give. That's all. Love is not "out there," waiting for you. It is in you. In your own heart, in what you are willing to give of it. We are all capable of love, but few of us have the courage to do it properly. You can take a person's love and waste it. But you are the fool. When you give love, it grows and flowers inside you like a carefully pruned rose. Love is joy. Those who love, no matter what indignities, what burdens they carry, are always full of joy." - from Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, p. 281
When people find my work it's often because they're on the threshold of leaving a great relationship. They're about to get engaged or married and are consumed with the question of, "Do I love him/her enough?" They've exhausted the Internet searching for an answer to their anxiety-provoking question and when they dare broach the topic with friends or family they're usually met with, "Doubt means don't." Since they intuitively know that this is faulty advice, they keep searching until they find their way, sleep-deprived, malnourished, and barely functioning, to my virtual doorstep.
Their stories follow those of the characters in Recipes of a Perfect Marriage: They're engaged to a wonderful man (or woman) but the feeling of love has withered. In its place they find themselves dreaming of passionate exes and wondering if they're making a mistake. While they're consumed with finding an answer to their question ("Is this the right choice?"), the relationship trudges along, held up by a steadfast partner who isn't bedraggled by the same anxiety. "This shouldn't be so hard," I hear daily. "If I was with the right person, it would be easier than this." An understandable argument, but not one that holds water in my office.
What's happening here? We're seeing the effects of someone raised in a culture that is addicted to love. We chase after it with the same misguided impulse that creates addictions to alcohol, drugs, caffeine, cigarettes, sugar, television, the Internet, and spending: as a way to avoid taking responsibility for our wholeness and as a temporary way to fill the emptiness.
In the early stages of a relationship, you may experience a rush of love. We call this feeling being in love, but it's really more of an adolescent state of infatuation. The love-drug may last two months or, in rare cases, two years, but eventually it wears off. It's at this point that the task of learning about real love begins. But it's also at this point that most people, brainwashed by our dysfunctional cultural conditioning, mistakenly assume that because the love feeling has dissipated, this means they don't love their partner anymore. They often leave only to find themselves in the exact same boat with the next partner.
All of this is predicated on the belief that love is something you get from another person: a feeling, an experience, a transfusion of aliveness and joy. Our culture transmits the insidious rescue fantasy that says, "If you find the right person (also known as The One or your soulmate), your pain will disappear and you'll live happily ever after." To put it bluntly, our culture encourages you to be love-addicted. We may have waged a war on drugs but we havent even begun to dismantle the rampant addiction to love that seeps into every crack of mainstream culture.
The antidote? Learning to become the source of your own aliveness and committing to taking 100 percent responsibility for your pain and joy. It's about learning to fill yourself up through your creative expression, your connection to Spirit and your commitment to giving to others.
For today, I invite you to set your intention to give: give to yourself first. Sit with yourself and, with an intention to accept and embrace, attend to the grief, loneliness, anxiety, fear, heartache, joy, and excitement that may be coursing through you. Imagine that you have a young child sitting beside you, desperately needing your undivided, devoted attention. Trust that you have everything is takes to fill her up, that, in fact, you're the only one who can fill her up. And from that place of wholeness, give from the fullness of your heart, give without strings attached, give for the pure and fulfilling pleasure of giving. Give even when fear is telling you to run. See what it feels like to make the choice to swing open the doors of your heart as wide as they will open without restriction, fear or judgement, and let the love pour out and into the one who has been waiting, steady and with patience, to receive you.

What is Love?

We live under a massive cultural delusion about the nature of real love. Propagated by mainstream media, from the time you're born you're inundated with the belief that love is a feeling and that when you find "the one" you'll sense it in your gut and be overcome by an undeniable sense of knowing. When the feeling and corresponding knowing fade (for the knowing is intimately linked to the feeling) and the work of learning about real love begins, most people take the diminished feeling as a sign that they're in the wrong relationship and walk away. And then they start over again, only to find that the now-familiar knowing and feeling fade again... and again... and again.
If love isn't a feeling, what is it?
Love is action. Love is tolerance. Love is learning your partner's love language and then expressing love in a way that he can receive. Love is giving. Love is receiving. Love is plodding through the slow eddies of a relationship without jumping ship into another's churning rapids. Love is recognizing that it's not your partner's job to make you feel alive, fulfilled, or complete; that's your job. And it's only when you learn to become the source of your own aliveness and are living your life connected to the spark of genius that is everyone's birthright can you fully love another.
Although it's nearly impossible to capture this elusive word into a single definition, M. Scott Peck says it poignantly in The Road Less Traveled:
Love is as love does. Love is an act of will -- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love. By stating that it is when a couple falls out of love that they may begin to really love I am also implying that real love does not have its roots in a feeling of love. To the contrary, real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking, when we act lovingly despite the fact that we don't feel loving.
And as my favorite fiction writer on real love, Kate Kerrigan (author of a must-read for every engaged and newlywed couple, "Recipes for a Perfect Marriage"), writes in her fabulous essay, Marriage Myths:
You don't have to encourage it, or welcome it, but you better learn to suck it up from time to time. We have mythologized love to such an extent that people are no longer prepared for the realities of long-term relationships. We are taught that it is good not to compromise, not to put up with anything we don't like, not to sacrifice our own beliefs for anyone or anything. Yet compromise and sacrifice are the cornerstones of marital love. No matter what way you dress it up, the best thing you can bring to a marriage is not the feeling of 'being in love', but romance's poor relation: tolerance. Add to that enough maturity to be able to fulfil your own needs and you have some hope. Optimism and chemistry, which seem to be the bedrock of the modern marriage, just don't cut it, folks. And while I am pontificating, one more tip for the ladies: Try to find a man who has that most underrated of qualities: character. I did and so far my Oscar hasn't bothered him. Although I am still waiting for my cooked breakfast...
Sound pessimistic? It's reality, not a welcome word in a culture addicted to fantasy. But here's the good news: when the initial infatuation feeling fades and you do the real work of learning how to love and be loved, something infinitely richer and sustaining than flimsy infatuation flowers in the garden of your marriage. Over time, these plants grow roots that are sturdy and strong. They are nourished by soil that is well-worked as you've sat beside each other and yanked out the weeds of intolerance, impatience, frustration, and fear. It's work that can and must be cultivated over a lifetime, and yet we expect to enter marriage with a perfect, rose-filled garden. Again, this is the fantasy that our culture propagates and throws many young people into despair when their fledging relationship fails to measure up to these unrealistic and damaging expectations.
If you're in a fulfilling, long-term marriage, you know what I mean and I'm preaching to the choir. But for the women and men who I work with every day in counseling, it's a crushing moment when the infatuation drug wears off and they're left to begin the real work of loving. And it's even more devastating when this happens during their engagement, a time our culture hammers into their head as the happiest in their life. It's time to send a different message to young people about the difference between infatuation and love. If we're going to restore marriage to a place of honor and respect, we must teach that the role of one's partner is not to save you from yourself and make you feel alive, fulfilled, and complete; only you can do that. It's time to teach a different message. Let's begin the conversation here.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her Home Study Programs and her websites. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at