Photo Credit: Mandy von Stahl, Unsplash.com

I was hooked the moment I saw him.

It wasn’t the thunderclap or jolt of electricity I’d expected to experience when I fell in love. It was as though something finally shifted into place–something I didn’t even know was missing.

I’ve always enjoyed telling the story of how my husband and I first met and fell in love. Now I also like to share how our relationship is anything but picture perfect (and I wouldn’t have it any other way).

Love isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always feel loving. After the initial “honeymoon” phase where we’re in a near-constant state of excitement and desire, love begins to feel very different.

We fight more, want more independence, give our affection less freely, and notice how the little things we used to think were endearing, are now just plain annoying. It’s in this second phase that we can discover the real power of love. Love isn’t just an automatic feeling, but a choice that we make.

Over the years my husband and I have experienced some fantastic, loving moments. We have also shared some horrible, heartbreaking moments.

Through it all, we’ve learned how to continue to choose love–even when it feels like the hardest choice to make. My greatest hope now is that by sharing some of our discoveries, you’ll feel inspired to choose love and to choose it often.

Teach them how to love you.

Wanting our intimate partners to be mind readers is both a natural and unrealistic expectation.

We enter into a relationship assuming that this other person will know exactly how we experience and receive love. We also expect that however we’ve learned to show love will be warmly and openly accepted by them.

The experience of love’s unique to each of us. If we aren’t willing to explore what causes us to feel love, and what causes our partner to feel love, then we’ll never be fully satisfied.

Take some time to discover your own, and your partner’s, unique love preferences. There are so many resources available to help you if you feel stuck getting started.

My husband and I enjoyed The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It gave us a jumping off point and helped us realize how similar we are, as well as how subtle shifts can make a world of difference.

Plan growth opportunities together.

Feeling as though you’re at a different place in life than your partner can be a considerable source of tension in a relationship.

The most helpful solution I’ve found for this challenge is to plan growth opportunities together. Sharing our individual experiences is an enjoyable way to connect and bond, but it doesn’t always provide the more profound sense of connection that we hope to share with our partners.

In addition to your personal development, invest in growth opportunities with your partner: learn a new language, travel the world, climb a mountain, learn to cook, start an exercise routine, have them teach you something, try something that scares you, etc.

The experience of living it together, rather than just sharing a story after the fact, fuels a much more profound bond.

If you react badly, pause, and choose again.

If you say or do something unloving towards your partner, pause and choose again.

We don’t have to agree to think, feel, and act lovingly. We’re human. We make mistakes, and we learn best by trying, seeing what result we get, then choosing how we want to move forward. How might your relationship be different, if when you do or say something unloving, you pause, rephrase, and start again?

I used to hate saying “I’m sorry” to my husband. It felt like I was admitting that he was right and I was wrong. I’ve learned over the years, that saying “I’m sorry” can mean that I’m sorry for how I behaved and I want to try again.

When we’re angry, we don’t always make the best judgments or take the best action. We react from a place of protection and survival, rather than a place of openness and love.

Have compassion for yourself; you’re doing the best you can at every moment, and give yourself the opportunity to choose again.

Recognize that all mistakes can be learning opportunities.

What do you do when you make a mistake? What does your partner do? When I feel like I’ve made a mistake with my husband, my first instinct used to be to retreat. I would pull back and wait for the unpleasant feelings to pass. My husband often did this as well. Choosing retreat led us to make the same mistakes again and again.

Now, we’re learning to lean into the mistakes and see what we can learn from them. What boundaries, values, feelings, or beliefs did we not know about and accidentally neglect?

Mistakes are fantastic opportunities to discover something new about our partners, as well as something new about ourselves. Sometimes we can get lost living on autopilot, so our mistakes serve as a wake-up call. They give us an opportunity to redirect our choices and choose again with intention.

Live in the present.

Anxiety lives in the past. Worry lives in the future. Love lives in the present.

Living in the present would probably be my husband’s favorite suggestion for me because I have the hardest time letting things go (both things that have happened and things I imagine will happen).

This is where we can lose so much energy in our relationship. We can’t let go of our past and we fear the worst for our future. If you think about it enough, it’s more likely to come true.

Would you prefer to bring your worries to life, or create your best, most beautiful life? Not to mention the fact that you’ll be so preoccupied with worry that you’ll miss all of the great things happening around you.

A practice that I’ve been using is to shift my focus away from my thoughts and into my senses. What, at this moment, can I see, touch, smell, hear, and taste?

Refocusing your attention to your sensations, rather than letting your thoughts run away with you, helps to ground you in the here and now. And the world looks like a much more beautiful place when we replace worry and anxiety with feeling present and grounded.

Choosing love may seem like such a hard thing to do, especially if you have wounds you’re tending, but the great news is that it is just like any other habit.

All you need to do is to choose and choose it often.

Photo Credit: Mandy von Stahl, Unsplash.com