Love is a choice you make from moment to moment. –Barbara De Angelis
If love is so healing why does it hurt so much? This is a good question with difficult answers. Love the verb is a constant practice of feeling compassion, giving the benefit of the doubt and struggling to feed our goals and desires, as well as those of whom we love. This aspiration is a juggle even in the most functional of relationships; and the score rarely comes up 50-50.
Approaching our intimate relationships with the intent of an action verb is realistic, if not a bit daunting. The romantic version of the verb, the measure we use for our love relationships, reflects the illusion of love as a vacation. We sit side by side in some beautiful natural location and the only action required is offered by the love that we feel, washing over us, filling us, just as easily as the nearby waterfall washes over and fills the streambed. Physical intimacy carries the potential to generate this experience; flush with heightened hormones and released tension; lovemaking seems to encompass all of what is love.
These peaks of love are profoundly healing and sustaining. However it is unrealistic to expect that these experiences should encompass all that is love. When we are unable to show up for those we love, the feelings that we bear are the polar opposite of what we feel when we succeed in these relationships. It doesn’t matter if the slight is intended or a consequence of life’s competing demands. Generating the love sometimes is our work alone. This past week, in the midst of my own personal swine flu epidemic as one kid after the next fell to the illness, my resources were spread extremely thin. Giving up lesser priorities in the face of illness always seems so clear in retrospect, but not always easy to discern in the moment.
More often than not, there is no malice intended in most of love’s disappointments. Life frequently tests our ability to forgive the intrusions to our peace of mind and to sustain the pain and longing of someone we love and cannot show up for. We must be willing to balance the hardships, bear the ache in our heart and in our relationships if we expect to experience the vacation of love working for us. If we are unwilling to sustain the work of love, all we ever get is a brief glimpse of a paradise, fading fast enough that it is easy to dismiss.
Illness is as much a part of our human condition as is wellness. Most of what we do in life can be traced back to the basic human drive to be happy and well. The times that we feel most fragile are made more bearable when held in love. Unfortunately, the courage and intention to sustain each other during the daily annoyances is sadly often more than we can bear. The number of people who report feelings of relief at the end of their long-term relationships continues to amaze me. Loving each other is the hardest work we do and what we do with that work defines our life in health and illness. Although I feel bad about not being the mother I want to be this weekend, I hope that I return to the work with more resolve to stay with it.
Wendy Strgar is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. She helps couples tackle the questions and concerns of intimacy and relationships, providing honest answers and innovative advice. Wendy lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, a psychiatrist, and their four children ages 11-20.