Love is perfect and we are not.  Our humaneness is at the center of our struggles within love relationships. We tend to love poorly and inconsistently.  We rarely succeed at purely loving and fully accepting even ourselves.  Also, we tend to love our partners intermittently and rather badly.  The heights of unconditional love are so lofty few come near. Unconditionally, the sun gives its light everyday to everybody without exception without fail, while never asking for anything in return. Love relationships are highly complex; two imperfect people join together.  When coupled, their union possesses twice as many imperfections as each owns individually.  The relationship is bound to be a test.

      Love is a natural connecting force; it joins and bonds.  When fully given, love nourishes while chasing away all separateness.  Love embraces, accepts while including us in belonging. When we are fully loved, we feel valued and important. If we cooperate with love, it encourages us to let go of all selfishness. One definition of love within a relationship is: supporting the partner’s nourishment, well-being and growth while also protecting him or her from being harmed. Each one of us has the option to strive to grow beyond our highly conditional lives to love unconditionally.

      Many relationships begin with intense excitement and transcendent feelings of bliss.  Time and again this is referred to this as the honeymoon phase. Rarely does the experience of bliss last more than a year, but usually less than six months. The good feeling is so profound that it becomes many partners’ definition and expectation of love; hoped to continue unabated throughout the relationship. Celebrated for its pinnacle of excitement, Hollywood and advertisers use the blissful experience repeatedly for their own purposes while repeatedly sustaining the illusion about real relationships. We are trained to unrealistically expect relationship perfection, a perpetual honeymoon bliss, which ultimately undermines a relationship from being good enough. Just as it is unhealthy to eat candy all the time.

     Hugely less glorious, but far more common, is what may appropriately be called the “work phase” of a relationship, the long duration following the honeymoon phase in which partners do the hard growing work of love. And it truly is hard, sometimes ugly work. Hard work usually feels uncomfortable.  Enduring change is painful. Growing in response to change is harder still. Most partners are not prepared for the magnitude and long duration of the challenge of the work phase. It is as if in our culture, all the attention and excitement has been devoted to the honeymoon phase, but the work phase, representing the majority of the relationship has been denied.  Because of unrealistic expectations, romantic partners resist growth and change, refusing to cooperate with love’s process, while not having anticipated that growth is a necessary and normal part of successful relating. As a result many romantic partners are deeply disappointed and disillusioned once firmly in the throes of the “unromantic” and painful work phase. Expressions of “I did not sign up for this,” signal nearness to another broken union. The reality of the work phase is dismissed by the phrase, “unlucky in love.” When it comes to love, it is not luck.

     The “work” in the work phase is about improving and increasing the capacity to love ourselves, our romantic partners, family members and life itself. Because each one of us grows up inheriting our family’s patterns and limits and because while growing up we sustain emotional bumps and bruises, healing and growing is required in order to be more capable of complete love. Growing is really hard. Striving to unconditionally remain open while accepting of all life’s experiences, even painful ones is essential to realize love’s essence.

     Few get to live a life of continuous stress-free vacation, with all needs fulfilled and enjoying chronic pleasure.  For most of us vacations occur occasionally, only small islands in a large sea of daily work.  Love relationships are similar. The honeymoon phase is a special time that does not last.  Truly, there is no love without pain. Realistic expectations include a readiness to complete the emotional tasks required of us in the work phase, which in the long-run allows for more relationship “vacations.” Andrew Aaron, LICSW