I write this column as Valentine's Day approaches; everything I read seems to be devoted to love. The word itself connotes all types of images, feelings and reactions.
Most of what is written focuses on what love is, how to fall in and prevent from falling out of love, all its trials and tribulations, and the pitfalls that test couples in love.
However, I must point out that love not only makes life fuller but also has miraculous healing properties related to longevity and well-being. And it does not discriminate with age. In fact, love's powerful effects can be observed in many older adults who, after many years of experiences, recognize their lives have been made stronger and more meaningful by the presence of their beloved.
I am frequently almost overwhelmed when I meet or see couples as patients, who after 50 or more years of marriage, remain truly in love. Recently, I saw a woman whose husband at age 90 was totally devoted to her and found her as exciting now as he did when he was a teenager. Being together was truly a joyful experience, and they both admitted that the best part was the presence of each other. They kissed, hugged and understood each other's needs as much at age 80 as they did in their early 20s. Although they had had their share of difficulties, and arguments and stresses, they had learned how to truly communicate, compromise and yes, cherish each other.
What is their secret? The key aspect in relating love to longevity is to be in a loving, trusting and, most importantly, intimate relationship. Married couples' life expectancies average 10 years longer than single men's. Even women fare better: Long-standing intimate relationships prolong their lives by three years.
If there is a problem that afflicts most relationships, it is the inability of couples to bare vulnerabilities, and truly share and understand each other. There are many relationships in which people live together but don't really know each other: They keep each other at an emotional distance, become bored and easily irritated, and argue over everything, taking their partner for granted and living separate lives. How sad.
Sharing and cherishing your partner, being truly trusting, understanding each other's needs, being tender and loving, as expressed by holding hands and kissing, and staying close and proud of each other's inner and outer beauty are essential elements of a loving relationship that will make you a healthier and better person.
It is important to state, however, that love's powerful healing is equally applicable to those who do not have or have not found a soul mate for whatever reason. Love can be expressed and received in many ways. It can be felt between close friends, parents and children, teachers and their students, and physicians and their patients. In other words, love is showing compassion and deeply caring for another's well-being, and, in turn, being open to receiving care from others. True intimacy, in whatever its form, requires understanding, compassion, trust and empathy. In its purest form, it means entering into the life of another and discovering the richness and uniqueness that exists within each person, and together making life even brighter than it was before.
Fortunately for those who have difficulty communicating and are in unhappy relationships, there is help available. Therapy can help understanding, improve insights, bring people closer, resolve difficulties and rekindle the love that is so sustaining and healing.
As we celebrate Valentine's Day, let us remember that true love not only heals but transforms lives, no matter what age or stage of life. As St. Paul famously wrote: "There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure ... There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love."
Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is available at: DrDavidHealth.com.