A few years back I bought a fountain for my office -- something to add to the ambiance in the room where I spend my days listening to patients. For a while I thought of the fountain only as decor, but it has more and more begun to enter into my sessions with patients as a symbol.
A woman once told me that, after her series of affairs, her husband wanted her to get God back in her life, to get back to church. She said, “I’m doing all of that, but I’m not really sure I even believe in God.”
I took two rocks from the collection of them I have strewn on the carpet at the base of the fountain. “Let’s assume one rock is you and one is your husband and the fountain over there is God,” I said. As she held the two rocks in her hands, I continued: “Now if these two rocks sit over here on this couch and beg that flowing fountain over there for help, is that not less empowering than these rocks actually living immersed in the fountain?” We went over and plopped the rocks in the gurgling water.
I wanted her to see that there is a way to look at all of love, including its joys and difficulties, as what we are in when we are in love. We want being in love to be an emotion, but in a committed relationship it’s an immersion in life with another person.
What does looking at love as an immersion rather than an emotion do for those of us attempting lifelong commitment to another person? It allows us to realize that the difficult parts of relationship are not the opposite of love; rather, they are the invitations to deeper love. This is true of love’s ordinary difficulties, but it does not apply to problems like abuse, repeated infidelity, or refusal to seek help for serious addictions.
The deepest energies of love are not passion and romance. They are the same energies celebrated in the world’s great spiritual traditions: compassion, acceptance and forgiveness. These qualities do not show up in long-term love as a nice little bonus with “happily ever after.” We only grow in these qualities if we experience the difficulties inherent in loving another person.
Sometimes we hear “I want it all!” as a statement of a person’s goals in life. The thing is, we all have it all already. We all have laughter and tears, joy and pain, good times and bad. I believe living soulfully ever after is a more worthy and achievable goal than living happily ever after. There is no perfect soulmate for any of us; we can, however, become faithful soul companions who are willing to be present to one another in celebrating life’s joys and work through life’s difficulties.
There’s nothing wrong with the emotion of falling in love, but it’s only the first tank of gas for a long journey. Being in love, really in love, means being immersed in life together, like two boulders side-by-side in a flowing mountain stream.
Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, and public speaker in the Toledo, Ohio area. He can be reached at KevinEAnderson7@gmail.com