True Love: How Can I Find It and Keep It?

Dr. Hurd’s recent conversation with a member of the media went like this:

— Many studies have shown that people who are in loving relationships are physically healthier than people who are not. What are some of the ways in which love can boost our well-being?

I define mental health as a state of serenity. By “serenity” I mean few or no emotions of unnecessary anxiety and inner conflict. A loving relationship undoubtedly contributes to this. People in good relationships and marriages feel psychologically visible. They feel important and special, to at least one person in the world. Nothing else in life offers this pleasure. You can achieve and accomplish a lot of things in life. That’s a wonderful thing, but none of it can do precisely what the visibility and connection that a positive relationship does.

We’re all aware that mind and body interact. Studies consistently show, as you remind us, that people live longer if they’re in loving relationships. I know from hearing people’s personal experiences, psychologically and emotionally, that they do better when they’re in love with someone with whom they truly feel compatible.

— Conversely, what are some of the effects that being in negative relationships can have on our well-being?

Being comfortable and single is better than being in an unhappy or destructive relationship. Bad relationships are as unhealthy for the  body as good ones are healthy for it. In order to have a good relationship, you have to be comfortable with yourself first. A good relationship is one, paradoxically enough, which you know you could live without if you had to — because you are content enough with your own company, and know how to maintain friendships. You prefer to be in the good relationship, but it’s not because you lack a sense of self. There’s passion there, but not desperation.

— What are some of the steps individuals who want to be a loving relationship can take to achieve that goal?

Live life fully and leave room for a relationship. Take care of yourself and learn to love yourself in a healthy way. I’m not talking about narcissism or neurotic self-centeredness. Those are unfortunate byproducts of not having a way of really cherishing and respecting your own life.

It sounds paradoxical, but the people who cherish their own lives tend to be the best lovers. They have the most to give because they have given the most to themselves. The most important thing in selecting a partner is to find someone who loves you as you are and does not want to  change you. Likewise, find someone you don’t want to change. If you ask me, this is absolutely the #1 cause (by a landslide) of most divorces.

At the same time, each partner should be willing to accept continuing personal growth and change throughout life. There aren’t “steps” per se to finding the right partner. The challenge is more to make yourself the person you want to be, by having the kind of life you want to have — and always leaving room for a relationship, when you find the right one.

— Is it possible to mend a broken heart? If so, how?

You cannot actively “mend” it. You have to let it heal. But there are things to do to help it heal. It’s no different than any other kind of loss — such as grief, after death. Get counseling, if it helps. And give counseling a chance to help, because it usually will. Pursue or reconnect with all the other things that are still important to you. Find meaning and purpose in those activities.

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you will never love again. You will never love that same person again, and you’ll never love in the exact same way. But there are different kinds of love and each can be just as important in its own way. If someone broke your heart, there are probably good reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t love that way again. Maybe what you FELT was good for you wasn’t so good for you, after all. Some loves are right for their time, but not for all time. Give your mind and your psyche time to absorb all this, and talk it all out with someone who can be a sounding board to help you through it.

— Any advice for couples who want to keep romance alive over the long haul?

Adapt with the times. Nothing stays new forever. But there’s a different kind of excitement and passion which builds over time. Staying with someone over a long time is its own kind of romance. Not the kind you see in most movies, but a quieter and in some ways more passionate kind.

This is especially true if you’re staying together out of continuing love and attachment, not out of duty or resentment. Think about it: “This person loves me enough to stay with me through everything.” That’s pretty exciting and romantic. Take steps to stay connected as a couple. Make sure you always do things that are just about the two of you. No excuses! Work and kids, as important as these are, are no excuse to deny yourself the intimate time a relationship has to offer. I’m using “intimate” in the broadest sense here, inclusive of but not limited to sex. Anything a couple enjoys sharing together is intimate. Have your own identities too, as individuals, but always make time to be a couple.