Love changes. The love you have today is not the same love you will feel in a few years or even next month. It’s up to you to ensure your love becomes stronger. We all know it can go either way. There is no such thing as a stable relationship; they are either growing or declining.
How does that make you feel? For some, that statement can elicit fear. Others find it invigorating because change means growth, and without growth, relationships deteriorate over time. When we grow in a relationship, we learn how to really give and receive love, how to show up. Growth is necessary, not only for a relationship to strengthen but for each person to reach their full potential in this lifetime. Our responsibility is not just to each other—when we grow as a couple, the power of that relationship impacts all of us. This is the profound importance of love.
Saturday is the kabbalistic holiday of love, Tu B’Av. It is also the day I married my soulmate, Michael. Everyone knows how much I love talking and writing about love, and being in love, so this day checks off quite a few boxes for me.
Tu B’Av presents all of us with a window of time in which we can plant seeds for strengthening our bonds of love and friendship in the coming year. Most couples desire deep connection but are confused about how to make that happen. Many couples early on in their relationships can’t even imagine fighting with each other or feeling disconnected, while some couples barely remember a time when they ever felt connected. The message is the same for both: the marriages that work are the marriages you work on. For the young couples certain of their love, now is the time to commit to learning about each other and sharing vulnerably. In fact, that’s the same advice I’d give a couple who is struggling.
The love and connection we all crave can’t happen without vulnerability.
Yet, isn’t it funny how much we are attracted to the archetype of the mysterious rebel, the impossibly aloof characters like J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, and Batman and the loveable rogues like Neal Caffrey in White Collar, Eric Northman in True Blood, remember Sawyer, from Lost? Let’s not forget the allure of the femme fatales like Winona Ryder in Heathers, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.
No one thinks to themselves that they ultimately desire a partner who is mysterious. Intrigue may spark desire as we get to know someone. But when we encounter challenges in life, we aren’t going to turn to the person who is an enigma because mystery in a relationship translates to unavailable.
Unconditional love means being ready to give when your partner is in need and knowing that they will offer the same when the person in need is you. We understand this in theory. When a couple weds, they make a sacred promise in front of witnesses to be there for the other. However, it isn’t until a couple experiences life challenges that they have the opportunity to really evolve and grow. I learned this about seven years into our marriage. When our son Josh was born and diagnosed with Downs Syndrome, I began to question so many things about who I was as a woman, as a mother, and as a person. It was a very difficult time, and allowing myself to be truly seen by Michael was hard.
But I realized it was foolish to try and hide aspects of myself from someone who loves me unconditionally. When I let myself be seen, that’s when our relationship began to grow exponentially. Of course, we already loved each other deeply. Yet, it was the act of opening up and sharing our raw feelings with each other that made our love and our relationship stronger. This is incredibly difficult to do because it requires vulnerability, and most of us learned through negative experiences to equate vulnerability with risk.
At the start of a new relationship, people often want to show the best sides of themselves and hide their less-than-perfect selves. That may be a common aspect of modern dating, but as I healed from a traumatic birth experience, I learned that is simply not sustainable.
What if we start from a place of honesty? What if we decide to be vulnerable from the start? What if we commit to growth even when life rolls along smoothly? The more willing we are to be our true selves, the stronger the foundation we have on which to build a long-term relationship. Tu B’Av gives us a chance to stop and be real with our partners, shed the veils we use to hide ourselves, and hold space for them to do the same.
Ask yourself how you can be truly present so your partner feels safe and ready to be vulnerable with you.
Be curious. Discovering the ways we can be available to our partners fosters kindness and empathy. Over time, this becomes your default response to challenge—to immediately ask yourself what the other person needs. And when I say “need,” I don’t mean what you think they need. Ask yourself what they actually need. This is what it means to truly show up.
One year, in an anniversary card Michael wrote,
“I don’t know where we’re going to be in a year or five years or ten years, but my hope is that we’re not where we are today. Not that today isn’t a thousand times more connected and more in love than we were on the day we got married, but I know that if we do our work correctly, then the love that we will feel next year and the love that we will feel in five years will make what we feel today pale in comparison.”
He wrote that almost a decade ago. I marvel at the work we had done up to that point. I had no idea how much growth still awaited us. And now, on our 24th anniversary, I know that so much more lies ahead of us.