Dying to be Loved or Living to Love?


When we’re first discovering romantic love, we frequently look for someone to love us. We spend time asking ourselves if the other person is good enough for us, by which we mean does he or she reflect back positively on us.  What would my parents think?  What would my friends or boss think?  If we get a positive answer, we’re thrilled!  Finally I’m loved by someone good enough to love me.  No longer am a single.  Now I’m a couple.  At last I’m going to get all of my emotional needs met.  I always knew I was good enough to be loved even when I didn’t, and now he or she is living proof that I’ve arrived.  It’s a little bit like the game of musical chairs where having a partner means we have a seat at the table.

But no sooner are we seated then we go on to worry about the quality of love we’re getting.  Is she beautiful enough, cool enough, popular enough, smart enough for me?  Is he fixated enough on me?  Is she really proud of me?  Would he only flirt with me?  Just watch an old Seinfeld episode and you’ll see how Elaine, Jerry, and especially George are always wondering if they’re good enough to be loved .  They’re dying to be loved.

If we get married and start a family, many of us still have a self-centered preoccupation with the love we’re getting.  Is she spending too much time with work?  Does he still find me sexy?  Is she keeping herself up?  Is she losing her figure?  Is he paying enough attention to me and the family?

While this is pretty natural for us in the early stages of love and marriage, it makes us so dependent.  We are miserable when we think that we aren’t getting the love that marriage promised.  We are looking at our partner trying to get more love and our partner’s not offering it.  Then the problem becomes how to get our partner to change, to pay us more attention, to be more affectionate, or the reverse: to stop being so needy.  We sometimes don’t even realize that we’ve been putting ourselves in the second class position in our own love story waiting, arguing, fighting to be loved by our partner.  All we know is that we feel miserable.

But at some point on our journey toward great love the focus begins to shift.  It is certainly wonderful to be loved.  In fact, we need to be loved or at least liked and respected in order to feel that we matter.  But we start to realize that our real power  comes when we love, when we live to love, when we make someone else’s welfare as important as ours.  I care about my advancement, but I care just as much for your advancement.  In fact, I’m even willing to put my wants second to your needs.  If the situation is serious enough such as when my partner faces illness or there’s a death in the family, love may require that I put even my routine and my needs second.  Parents who have stayed up all night nursing their sick children know a thing or two about how love may ask that we sacrifice ourselves.  The message is: I can’t be truly happy if my loved ones are not also happy.

Unfortunately this often is confused with co-dependency.  The difference is that co-dependency is really another form of “Will you love me?”  It’s just disguised as self-sacrifice and a preoccupation with the other.

The love I’m talking about requires that the partners be strong individuals capable of standing on their own feet, capable even of living on their own and refusing the relationship if it doesn’t work, say, in the case of alcoholism or abuse.  But when two strong individuals who like and respect each other embark on the journey of love, each’s focus is not on “am I loved” but rather on “am I loving”.  You’ll know you’ve found real love when you enter into a virtuous cycle in which my love for you inspires you to become more loving, and vice versa, when dying to be loved is not as important as  living to love!

Love is a Misunderstanding Between Two Fools

I would bet that the unknown author of this maxim had never experienced a lasting love, perhaps not even from his parents. The same for those who look for the catch in every act of goodness. Its cynicism is based on the misconception that we should be the passive recipients of love instead of its initiator. If I want love in the world it will start with me. I will give love and in the process the world itself will know more love. As Gandhi said, we must be the goodness (and love) that we want to see in the world.

Nowhere is this more true than in our marriages. The purpose of marriage is not to get the love we want, but to give the love we could. I am married to my wife not for the love she gives me, but for the love I give her. By loving her I discover my confidence, my self-esteem, and my essential goodness. I also discover that each year I go deeper into the mystery and wonder of love. Without my wife to love, I’m like a tennis player practicing for the tournament without anyone on the other side! I will always be mediocre to poor. Then, I’ll become like the cynical author above. I will say that love is for fools.

But what if I give all the love I have and get back nothing? What if I have a partner who is the cynical one expecting me to do all the loving? The questions imply that in a subtle way I’m still oriented around receiving love, this time after I’ve given it. “All right”, I say, “I’ll go first. But my partner must follow me or else I’ll stop loving”.

The misunderstanding here is that love depletes me as I give it away and that the recipient must quickly love me back so I can be full again. But love isn’t a zero-sum game. I don’t lose anything by loving. In fact, I gain everything even if my spouse doesn’t reciprocate. We are the direct and primary beneficiaries of the love we give every bit as much as our partners. When our loving hearts are open and tender, life flows through us more abundantly because love and the life force are the same. When we see another’s need and generously meet it, we discover our fullness of spirit. When we are willing to sacrifice a want, a privilege, or a comfort for the wellbeing of the beloved, we find an inner strength and confidence that can’t be experienced otherwise. We then contribute our goodness to the goodness of life itself. We merge with it becoming both a source for it and its reflection within a broader world. Forget all the negative news and the tweet wars. When our loving nature causes us to feel the goodness of life all around us and within us, what is there to fear?

But what if we really are with someone who cannot return love? Someone who’s abusive, addicted, narcissistic, or dishonest about life? Does love mean we stay in a hopeless marriage? No, it doesn’t. Sacrificing our wants, privileges, and comforts is not the same as sacrificing our need for respect, honesty, and loving support from our intimates. Staying under conditions where we are abused, living with an addictive partner, donating our lives to feed the emptiness of a narcissist, or witnessing our partner living from values we cannot respect would be foolish self-denial. But even here we have the choice to leave a bad marriage with or without hate and cynicism. Perhaps here the only form love can take is to go without harboring hate, especially where there are children involved.

But there’s an interesting fact about love. If we are genuinely learning about life as we love, we find ourselves drawn more to other lovers than to the me-first takers of love. We discover that character is worth more than charisma, that love tends to deepen our values, and that as compelling as infatuation is, it’s the worst condition under which to make a permanent decision. We also learn that while sex and love can go together, they can just as well run on entirely different tracks leading to completely different stations. In other words, love is self-correcting as the heart becomes both wiser and purer.

Love could be a misunderstanding between two fools, two immature people who are waiting for their delivery of love. Or it could be the deep happiness of two people who love loving each other.

Is Your Marriage on Your Calendar?


Some marriages aren’t important enough to show up on their own calendars. Here couples fill their schedules with work and child activities until the husband and wife become relay runners passing the baton back and forth but never crossing the finishing line together. It’s a marriage by default in which everything else is certain to get scheduled except the time for the husband and wife to reconnect and renew their love and friendship. In the smart-phone age it’s a snap to book up our days and nights whether with teacher meetings, soccer, gymnastics, and swim meets; or with work conferencing, power lunches, business dinners, and exhausted evenings. The overbooking happens seamlessly, instantly, unconsciously. One moment we have blank space somewhere on the calendar 2 and 3 weeks out, next moment we stare at today clear through the weekend with no time for each other. Without realizing it, there’s no time in our schedules for our own marriage.

Even in marriages where the children are grown up and out of the house, or both husband and wife are retired, our calendars can still fill up fast… with separate activities. Marriage offers us our greatest potential for happiness, but only if we give it the time it merits. When a husband and wife make time together important, especially if they make it very important, their calendars reflect it. Show someone our calendar and we reveal whether or not we have a great marriage.

So if we want a great marriage, we need to put it on the calendar! Don’t let the outside world and its busyness take control of our calendars. Instead, follow the four “C’s” of calendaring: 1) Commit, 2) Communicate, 3) Coordinate, and 4) Connect.

Commit to Scheduling Time Together: Of course our work and professional lives are important. Of course our precious children matter so much to us. But without a great marriage, work and children will never fill the empty spot inside that only a great marriage can. Without a great marriage, even our work and our children will suffer. And the opposite is just as true. With a great marriage, our work will automatically improve and our children grow up happier. So we need to put first things first. If our marriage is second or third on the list, our marriage will deteriorate into mediocrity and even, eventually, divorce.

So commit to making your marriage great by getting it on the calendar. Commit to giving it the time all living things require to grow and be healthy. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we are adults and that we don’t have needs, that, of course, our partner knows that we love each other, that we should just “suck it up” and put work and kids first. But while that might be needed short term, long term it’s disastrous for marriage. Let us take our marriages off a starvation diet and onto one rich in attention, affection, and love. Let us commit to putting plenty of time on our calendar for our marriage. The center of the home isn’t work. Nor is it the children. It’s the marriage! A great marriage is like a fountain which flows, nurtures, and refreshes all downstream, be it work or our children. Where there’s a great marriage, there’ll be less work-stress. Where there’s a great marriage, there’ll be happy children, each growing into the personality and character God intends for them. To make your marriage great, commit to putting it on the calendar.

Communicate: It’s amazing that, in an age where communication is on the tip of both our tongue and finger, couples don’t talk about their schedules until the last minute when commitments are already locked in. Of course in a busy life communication becomes that extra step we sometimes feel too busy to take. But here its dividends make that extra step worth it. When you and I can talk about upcoming events in plenty of time, we buy flexibility to make our marriage a higher priority, sometimes the highest priority. When I’m asked to make an appointment outside work hours, it’s almost always tentative until I can communicate that particular request for my time and attention with my wife. Or when I can look at my partner’s calendar synced into the calendar in my smart phone, I can spot the logjams that will make being together impossible. And I can actively schedule time together BEFORE other activities become more important than our marriage.

Coordinate: Coordination is important for a happy marriage. Happy couples coordinate their lives to allow for the sharing that we need emotionally. Well, I know your schedule, and you know mine. Now what? If I make a tentative agreement for meeting with a friend on a Saturday, and you want to go to the movies with me that evening, coordination means that we talk over how we balance our need to have friendships with our need to spend time together. Perhaps I see how much you’ve been counting on going to movies with me and this causes me to change my plans with my friend to the next day. Or, vice versa. I meet with my friend as I had tentatively arranged, and you and I go to the movies the next day. But either way we’re coordinating.

There are usually different ways that a schedule conflict can be resolved. But what makes this much harder than it needs to be is the false belief that coordinating our lives means somehow giving up our independence. It’s sort of like I’m going to you for permission: “Mommy/Daddy may I go be with my friend next Friday evening.” Of course no adult wants to ask for permission from a spouse. But coordination is not control. It’s simply measuring out what you want and need next to what I want and need to find the best way we both can get what we want and need. If the activity and its day and time are the important factor, then we can always trade one day and time for another. Sometimes one of us is not that attached to the activity itself and so yields to other rather easily. Sometimes there’s a third alternative that neither of us would have thought about if we hadn’t talked. But no matter how we resolve the issue, it will take coordination rather than avoidance or control to find it. It’s not “do I have your permission.” It’s let’s coordinate for maximum happiness AND freedom.

Connect: Connection is the feeling we get when we know that someone really cares about us. The most natural way to show how much we care is by the gift of our time and attention. Whether we naturally fall into patterns of time for each other, or need to formally calendar it into our busy lives, time together reaffirming to each other that we are loved and valued makes our marriage stronger. It’s like making deposits into an account so that there’s always plenty of good will available for the times when our lives and marriages are stressed. In my own marriage, when my wife and I have a conflict, the one thing I’d bet my life on is that she would never deliberately hurt me, manipulate me, or otherwise have her way at my expense. But then, we’ve connected so often and so richly over things large and small that I don’t just have the promise that this is true. I have the proof that comes from day after day of connection.

If we follow the 4 C’s we’ll discover a happy surprise. The more we connect, the more we’ll want to commit to calendaring our marriage into our lives. And the more we commit, the more we connect, a virtuous cycle.

In my own marriage, my wife and I share breakfast together even if it means one of us gets up a little earlier.  We also talk most every night in our garden if it’s summer, or by our fireplace if it’s winter. We may talk about the important events of our day, the large and small things that make up our lives, our gratitude for each other, the pleasure we take in our children and grandchildren, politics, art, and all around silliness that makes us laugh at what no one else would consider funny. But it’s a ritual that gives rhythm and meaning to our marriage. Another ritual we have is breakfast or dinner out on weekends. These are the rituals of togetherness that build for us expectation and fulfillment for our need to care and share our lives. Here we find a wonderful paradox: the more we share as a couple, the more individuality we have. It’s as if when we care and share our lives in a deeply personal manner, the more grows what is unique and personal to each of us as separate persons.

If you haven’t yet scheduled your time together, get it on the calendar, now!

Spiritual Values: Part 2, Great Love Requires Great Character.

Every wedding is the culmination of a love story in which the prince and princess are finally united forever. But if forever is to last, the wedding is only the beginning of another story, this one far more daring and interesting than the first. Newlyweds step from the altar and into an adventure fit only for heroes. Because marriage is a crucible in which all parts of ourselves brush up against all parts of our partners, the intimacy we hungered for could become an interminable friction we think we don’t deserve, an intrusive affront to our privacy, or the greatest growth opportunity life ever gives us. This growth is a spiritual path, and those who walk it gradually develop great character. Great love is available only to those with great character seasoned over a lifetime of commitment to what that love requires.

Take courage. We need emotional courage to face the challenges of a great marriage. It takes emotional courage to talk through issues such as childrearing, work division, how to spend money, and when we are and are not available for each other. If I’m lazy, self-deceitful, unrealistic, or self-centered, will I have the courage to face these character tendencies within me? Or when I think I’m unfairly treated by my partner, will I have the courage to talk the issue through with respect, openness, and resolution?

Or take delayed gratification. An old-fashioned term, delayed gratification is simply a fact of life in or out of fashion. Life is not an ATM machine with on-demand payoffs, but more like a long-term investment which may or may not always yield dividends. This is especially true for husbands with young children who suddenly must share their wife’s attention. Or wives who must later learn that their children are not the center of the family. The marriage is. It may also happen that a husband and wife have an ongoing conflict that will not solve immediately. Do they have the persistence and discipline to be patient as they work it through? Do they have the wisdom to seek help?

Or take empathy. Am I willing to understand and share the feelings of my partner even when we are in conflict? Am I willing to see that my partner has a point of view different from mine, but just as worthy of respect? Or am I still held back by the foolish need to be right or to win at any cost?

Lastly, take humility. Humility is not to be confused with its evil twin humiliation. Humility is a word in disgrace today because we think we are seeing humiliation. Humility is the realistic acceptance of our common humanity, especially between a husband and wife. Humility means I will let you teach me when I’m ignorant, guide me when I’m foolish, and balance me by your example of good attitude, good faith, and good will. With humility we will dedicate our marriage to becoming better persons, to allowing each other to be our teachers, to inspire and be inspired by each other’s acts of grace, honesty, and pure love.

If this seems too much to ask of marriage, you’ve just discovered the adventure that each married couple embarks on when they step from the altar. But we must start to see ourselves as embodiments of love. The greater the embodiment, the greater the love. To know great love, we must grow in our ability to embody it. This is character.

Spiritual Values: The Great Predictor of Marital Happiness

When couples fall in love they are certain they have much in common.  If that certainty persists, they will go on to share a life together by getting married.  No one  tells their best friend that they have fallen in love with the most wonderful person in the world…but there’s nothing they have in common.  All new lovers believe that they much in common.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

If we’re in high school, we’ll think that something in common is that we like the same music.  But if we are more mature, we realize that there’s much more to having something in common than music, books, and movies.  But what things in common really matter?

The most important thing to have in common is spiritual, that is, what we believe life is about and what our values and character are.  Spiritual values include whether we both believe in God, whether we share the same religion and attend services regularly, and whether we agree on what faith tradition our children should be raised in.

As obvious as these spiritual values are, there are others that run deeper with more serious effect.  The most important spiritual value a couple can share is what they think really matters in life.  Is it money and life style?  Is it making something of yourself and becoming self-actualizing in whatever way that might be?  Is it intelligence?  Or wisdom?  Or street smarts and savvy?   Is it a strong work ethic or taking life as it comes with plenty of time for friends, laughter, and light-heartedness?  Is it political involvement, social justice, and creating a better world?

And what about the more abstract values such as compassion and forgiveness, pragmatism and common sense, or self-reliance and personal responsibility, not to mention intimacy or independence.

Of course many would say that most of these values are important.  But the essential question is which of the many reasons for getting up in the morning are the most important one or two for the husband and wife.  The more the couple can say that they hold the same one or two most important values, the likely they are to have a great marriage.

I know of a married couple, an artist and a business man, who, at first, thought they had a marriage made in heaven.  The husband was proud that his wife would spend much of her time painting in the home-studio that his money provided.  The wife never felt freer to be creative now that the struggle for money was over.  Later their grand bargain turned sour because the husband could no longer stand his wife’s bohemian friends, while the wife felt embarrassed by her husband’s plodding pragmatism and lack of sophistication.  They finally divorced after realizing their terrible mismatch in what they thought really mattered in life.

But another couple were wiser.  For both, a great family was most important for a meaningful life. They began to organize their lives around this central spiritual value.  For awhile it meant that both parents worked and saved their money for a downpayment on a house.  During this period both shared household responsibilities equally.  When their first baby came, it was the father who continued to work while the mother stayed at home to raise their newborn. He converted to her faith and began to attend worship ceremonies together.  Here there was no ongoing argument and resentment about what their marriage and lives should be about.  Nor was there the sense that one or the other was living a life without great meaning.

A difference in spiritual values and in what the couple believes life is about almost always spells disaster down the road.  If you’ve ever wondered why some married couples act like they are repulsed by each other, look at their spiritual values, look for what each seems to be living for, and you will almost always find that these values run in opposite directions with little chance for reconciliation.  Conversely, whenever you see a great marriage you will notice that their spiritual values are closely aligned.  The central organizing values of their lives are the same.

If you are recently fallen in love, make sure to have conversations about what your partner thinks is most important about life.  Then watch to see that the actions match with what he or she said is most important.  If you don’t agree with these values or notice a mismatch between values and actions, your relationship might be doomed from the start.

If you are already married and feel a tension as if you and your partner can’t agree on where to take the marriage, seek help from someone who is wise and experienced to help you find a more common path.

In our next blog, we’ll carry this conversation one step farther by talking about the other half of spiritual compatibility, strength of character and how this plays an equally important role in great marriages.