What Is Love?

By Denise Sautters

November 2, 2007 4 min read

WHAT IS LOVE?

Path from passion to compassion isn't an easy one

By Denise Sautters

Copley News Service

Do you remember the first boy or girl who stole your heart? Can you recall the first person to break it?

If love is a many-splendored thing, then why is the road leading to it so difficult to navigate?

It's because we all have an ideal of what love is in our minds, say experts.

"Love often feels difficult because of our unrealistic expectations and misunderstanding of what true love is," said Janet Westhoefer, a psychologist in Jackson Township, Ohio. "The love portrayed by popular songs, novels and movies is typically the initial chemistry or physical attraction that two people feel for each other."

Cynthia Rudick, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Canton, Ohio, said she believes it has to do with the idealism we grow up with. "We are raised with all these ideals and we think love should go down according to plan."

But, it doesn't, she said.

"I think relationships are incredible opportunities for growth, but we don't look at them like that. We look at what we can get from the relationship. We are looking to fulfill ourselves from something outside ourselves." There are many myths concerning love, from "your relationship is in trouble if passionate love declines" to "if my partner really loves me, he or she will know what I need."

WHAT LOVE IS

"It is important to dispel these notions about love and relationships. Once we do, I think we will see that we all have very common concerns and challenges regarding love and relationships," said Terri Orbuch, a nationally known research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, psychologist, and Oakland University professor. She is known as the Love Doctor in the Detroit area.

"There are two kinds of love," she said. "There is passionate love and companionate love."

Orbuch explained that passionate love is the love at the beginning of a relationship when everything is new and exciting.

"It is the love where you just can't get enough of your partner or the relationship," said Orbuch, noting the only problem is, is it doesn't last.

"Passionate love declines inevitably in all romantic relationships after about 18 months. Companionate love is the love of friendship, intimacy and support," she said. "It is the love that keeps people together over the long haul. It is also the love that grows over time in a relationship."

LOVE ISN'T EASY

Lasting love takes time, said Westhoefer, because once reality breaks through the illusion of romantic love, the people involved in the relationship begin to see their partners in a different light and begin developing numerous expectations for the other person, which up until this point, have not been expressed.

"This is when the work necessary to build a lasting relationship, or companionate love, begins," she said. "Making the necessary adjustments to move from a state of near euphoria to understanding differences and resolving conflicts can be difficult, especially if the partners were expecting the romantic love to last forever."

Achieving lasting love becomes more possible if you understand yourself before you seek love from another individual, said Rudick.

"Believe in love and work really hard to find it, but become aware of who you are before you enter into a relationship with somebody else," she said, noting that if you can answer the hard questions. "If you can answer the questions, 'Who am I?', 'What do I want?', or 'Do I have the courage to really be honest with somebody else?', it would save a lot of work in making the relationship work because, before you can, you have to be able to feel comfortable with yourself."

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