Wise Women: On Love

02/16/2016 03:31 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

With the hype of Valentine's Day behind us, can we talk about real love now? Not the overly romanticized, sanitized version of it, but the real world experience.

That is not to say, as the song goes, "love is a battlefield." And though I admit to having thoroughly enjoyed singing and dancing along to it, I often wonder how many of us approach our relationships with this theme as our anthem.

Somewhere between the extremes of Cinderella and strife lies the truth about this thing called love. And far more interesting than the usual discussion around the pursuit and "acquisition" of love, this month's Wise Women explores how our most intimate relationships shape us.

These six women were asked, "What have your intimate relationships taught you about yourself?" Their candid, heartfelt responses may just shift what you thought you already knew.

Nursing my infant son, I marveled at the depth of tenderness possible in this heart. Reading the letter from my ex-husband's attorney, I was shocked at my rage, at the compulsion to seek vengeance. The dance with loved ones has exposed the shadow, as well as a loving awareness that is the very source of our being.

Two heart practices have allowed me to live increasingly from loving awareness. One is learning to see the vulnerability--my own, others--that drives painful behaviors. This arouses a healing compassion.

The other is pausing and purposefully looking toward the goodness--the awareness, care, humor and wisdom--that shines through each of us. This awakens the loving that carries us home.

Tara Brach, Ph.D.
Author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge

My intimate relationships have taught me how hard it is to stay rooted within myself when I am in relationship with another. When I say rooted, I mean rooted: staying with me, no matter what, while also learning how it is to be inter-related.

This isn't the same as being uncompromising. There are some things I know we compromise on when in relationship. But staying with self, with one's sovereignty, one's own knowing, and who one needs to be while also intimate and inter-related has been the hardest thing for me to live. Yet, the more awake I become, the more natural it becomes to stay with me.

Julie M. Daley
HuffPo Blogger, Founder of UnabashedlyFemale

Being adopted by my grandparents at an early age as a foster child who experienced trauma has significantly shaped the way in which I carry myself and interact with others in intimate relationships. How could I be loved after being given up at birth from relationships in which I had no choice in forming?

That question is the ever-present constant reminder questioning the validity of my existence. My adult relationships are now based on choice and the vulnerability of my own agency.

This allows me to root out feelings of abandonment while simultaneously curating and nurturing my own healing, and safety. For this reason I am inspired to uplift resilience, celebrate human diversity and use my voice to empower marginalized populations to be seen and heard.

Precious Davis
Assistant Director of Diversity Recruitment Initiatives- Columbia College, Chicago

Growing up in a close-knit family of women, my first example of unconditional love was reserved for my relatives. But this type of love didn't translate to my romantic relationships.

I would love my partner deeply only if he acted in a way that deserved my love. It was only after a very ugly infidelity that rocked me to the core was I able to learn what unconditional love really is. I embarked on an extensive quest for self-discovery where I found my self-worth.

I was able to decipher my own true desires from what I thought was expected of me. I cultivated a deep sense of profound love for myself. Forgiving all of my perceived wrong doings and only then could I do the same for him. Only then did I realize that everyone deserves to give and receive love without condition.

Yvonna Kopacz-Wright
Actress and Writer

I strongly believe at our essence we all are love. It has been through the intensity of personal love relationships that have taught me that I can either expand into and embody the greatest expression of myself as Love or that I can contract into smallness.

I feel it is not Love alone, but each person's willingness to be open to expressing and receiving love, working with their own barriers to love (self and other), and our individual readiness to answer the call Love offers. And that can mean being Love, embodying Love, without expecting a certain outcome or response from the other.

AnaLisa Rutstein, MA, CHC, CHP
Angelic Healer, Holistic Mystic, & Channel of Divine Love

"For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning."
Often through the years, heartsick over a break-up, I have curled up with these words of Kahlil Gibran desperate for a comfort I was certain at the time I'd never know again.

My relationships have been beautiful horrors. My best teachers. Adored. Then resented. Eventually celebrated for the significant work they have done of prying open the fortress of my mind and manhandling the destructive beliefs that have held my heart captive.

Every failed relationship has been an invitation to unclothe the fantasy of romantic love; an opportunity to practice believing that each person I've encountered was divinely appointed in order that we might provide an important piece to the other's attempt toward wholeness. With every goodbye, I have crashed into a lurking sense of "unloveableness" and learned where I am most in need of my own love.

k. Neycha Herford
Instigator of Personal Revolutions
Curator of Hope at The ReMixed Life, LLC

This is the power of love. Each experience shifting our trajectories with or without our awareness of it. Looking back at your own history, what's your love story? How has it shaped the woman you've become?