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What is love? The foundations of a lasting connection

30 June 2023 16:00

Author of The Lasting Connection Michaela Thomas explains what elements make up a ‘good’ relationship and why love on its own isn’t enough for a lasting connection – we need compassion too.

What makes a relationship last?

Being satisfied and happy in a relationship isn’t about finding someone without a journey of pain and hardship. It’s about owning your own story and having the desire to understand theirs. We don’t find a lasting connection, we build it. Relationships take effort and the satisfaction waxes and wanes like the tides of the ocean.

Being happy in your relationship isn’t about always being massively ‘in love’. Love is necessary, but not enough on its own. When you really love someone, you care for them and want them to be well rather than in pain or suffering, but this requires compassion: the foun­dation of a lasting connection.

The first core element of compassion in relationships is having a caring commitment towards your partner, wanting them to be well and safe. When you start to behave badly towards your partner, you’ve lost touch with your caring commitment. You’re not acting in line with the values you might have around being supportive, loving, respectful or caring.

The second core element of compassion in relationships is clarity and wisdom. When you’re ‘drunk in love’, you’re neither clear nor wise. Infatuation clouds your judgement, giving you tunnel vision, and so you fill in the gaps of what you know with what you want to see in your partner. You might replicate old patterns from previous relation­ships without understanding why.

The third key element of compassion in relationships is courage, the strength to do difficult things for the sake of the relationship with your partner. Perhaps it’s opening up to your partner, being vulnerable about feeling scared, lonely or abandoned. Maybe it’s tolerating your own negative thoughts and feelings, like feeling hurt or jealous. Perhaps it’s working on something challenging for you, from arriving punctually for your dates to controlling your angry outbursts. It takes strength to reliably show up for your partner when they need you, even if you’ve had a difficult day yourself.

Only love is not enough for a lasting connection – you also need the care, clarity and courage of compassion.


Truly, madly, deeply – how love changes

Over time it’s normal for romantic love to become less ecstatic and more comfortable, but that’s not how love is often portrayed in films, poetry and love songs. In reality we go from experiencing fleeting moments of intense surges of lust and infatuation in the early stages, to a steadier flow of romantic and affiliative love as the companionship develops. We settle into a rhythm of deeper, meaningful love and connection: a lasting connection to be nurtured over time. If you can accept that this change is normal and to be anticipated, instead of seeing it as a failure, you’ll take some of the pressure off the relationship.

The fact that your love changes over the course of your relationship doesn’t mean that it is doomed to be boring and unrewarding after a couple of years. We can keep breathing life into our long-term relationships. You can have fun and laugh together until death actually does you part, but it takes effort and intention.

Imagine that your relationship is like a garden: you can’t just weed it once and think that’s it. Soon the grass will be long, and the weeds, flowers and bushes will be fighting for space. It might be that you’re happy with your garden being messy and overgrown, but if you want your garden to be a certain way, you have to cultivate it. Most of us forget about our gardens at times, taking the beautiful outdoor space for granted and neglecting it when we’re busy with other things in life.

The same happens in relationships. Left on its own, a relationship will grow in all sorts of ways – some great, others not so. Choose to look after what you’ve got, and it can last a long time. Choosing our partner and acting with love towards them is a conscious choice. The good news is that your feelings will often follow your behaviour – if you act with love, kindness and compassion towards your partner, your brain will also want to follow that path.