How to get past your own defenses and learn to build a real relationship.

While many of us may have sensed it intuitively, there is now science behind the statement that “Love is all you need.” A 75-year longitudinal study by Harvard researchers suggests that love is indeed key to a happy and fulfilling life.

While love seems to be a universally valued attribute, defining it in behavioral terms can be a challenge. As the Harvard study’s lead researcher, Dr. George Vaillant, wrote of his team’s findings, two essential ingredients are proven to correlate with a happy existence: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

While many of us believe we would like to be in love, we face many hurdles in taking the actions that allow love to flow freely throughout our lives and relationships. We have many ways of defending ourselves against love and can struggle to give and receive love with ease, openness and vulnerability.

With love being so closely connected to meaning and fulfillment, it’s valuable for each of us to define love as an action or series of actions we can take to bring us closer to the people we value. In a romantic context, some essential characteristics that fit the description of a loving relationship include:

  • Expressions of affection, both physical and emotional.
  • A wish to offer pleasure and satisfaction to another.
  • Tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to the needs of the other.
  • A desire for shared activities and pursuits.
  • An appropriate level of sharing of possessions.
  • An ongoing, honest exchange of personal feelings.
  • The process of offering concern, comfort, and outward assistance for the loved one’s aspirations.

Love includes feeling for the other that goes beyond any selfishness or self-interest on the part of the loved one. As such, love nurtures and has a positive effect on each person’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Love never involves deception, because misleading another person fractures his or her sense of reality.

So how well do we meet these standards for being loving? When we think about a relationship that is meaningful to us, we have to ask:

  • Do we both behave in ways that nurture each other?
  • Do we take actions to make the other person feel good?
  • Do we consider what lights that person up, separate from our own interests?
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