THE BLOG
01/29/2012 12:17 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2012

Real Love Is Only What You Give

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.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.