Last night on Facebook I asked the question about what makes and maintains love and happiness? There were many different ideas that came out of the dialogue with people, from giving birth to transcendent experiences. It came down to making connections, living intensely and finding oneself through activity. Yet these ideas are seemingly not the whole story.
Leo Tolstoy said that everything he knew was because he loved. Elenaor Roosevelt said that happiness was the by-product of activity. The Dalai Lama said that it was about being compassionate toward others and ourselves. We know so much about who we are when we love deeply, if we care to listen. Love and happiness do go together. If we feel loved, we are happier than if we don't. Does love make us happy all the time? I think we know the answer to that question. Nothing makes us happy all the time. If we get a new car, we are happy for a period of time and then it's just a car. If we fall in love we are happy for some period of time and then we find ourselves back in the same mood and feeling that we have always had. So what does it? What makes us happy and what causes us to love someone for our whole lives? Clearly, not an easy question to answer.
From being married for almost 20 years I have learned a few things about what makes our relationship happy and how to maintain that loving feeling. As I believe I am fundamentally like everyone else I feel free to use my own experience as a model for couples who are trying to make it. Being a therapist does not make me immune to the everyday difficulties of life and loving my wife.
I know that there are certain absolutes in relationships that must be met if a relationship is to survive. We have to find our mate attractive, intelligent enough and feel that they are basically a good person if we want to feel happy and trusting toward them. Trust is essential because we need to feel we can talk to our partner without criticism, judgment or anger. We also fundamentally need to know that our mate can stop, take a look at themselves and if necessary, even apologize. If our partner will not look at themselves, and will not take responsibility for their part in a problem, intimacy, love and happiness will not survive. No one wants to feel like every problem is always their fault. We also need a decent sense of humor, some ability to laugh at ourselves, and see the humor in situations. Humor is a function of and a response to love and happiness.
Love over a period of time occurs as a response to our loving connection with our partner. We can do this in several ways. If we practice compassion, understanding, respect and empathy, or when we solve a problem together, when we see something in the same way, or by doing something together that is mutually enjoyable. Love and happiness is also about feeling like our partner is on our side, that they have our back, and there when it counts. If they listen and will take the time to do those things that are important to us it makes us love them even more. Many small things go into daily loving.
Love and happiness also are dependent on our relationship to ourselves. If we are self-critical we will criticize our partner, if we are depressed we will have a depressed relationship, and if we are afraid we will not allow ourselves to be known we lose our precious sense of intimacy.
Love and happiness are active processes, and creating love is a daily activity. We make love happen with loving kindness, caring about what they think, making time for our relationship, doing things together, and making our relationship our highest priority. All these activities create love and happiness, and there are more if you think about your personal wants and needs.
Lastly, when there are children we should understand that the family is the relationship and children are additional members of our family. Keep the family strong and the rest will take care of itself.
Don't forget that a cuddle a day takes the pain away.