I Love You. Such meaningful words that are said so often in so many different situations. I spent some time pondering this question recently, as someone who personally finds it easy to see and feel love in almost all my relationships that play an important role in my life. At my silent retreat, during an eye gazing exercise, I found love in the eyes of the 13 people I shared that intimate week with. That was when love became an experience of, and the confirmation that, we are all connected and of the same life source energy. Just as the Sanskrit word Namaste evokes, the Divine within me sees and bows to the Divine within you and recognizes that we are one in the same. I spent a few weeks asking the people in my life this very important and multifaceted question. What does saying "I love you", mean to you? For some, love is a promise of forever. For others, it can be felt quickly and is merely the acknowledgement of the feeling they are experiencing in the moment. Another believed that we only have one true love or soulmate in our lifetime and should reserve the word for only when we REALLY mean it. Others believe that we can love many different people in our lives in different ways and also, every time we say I love you it can have a different meaning, even to the same person. The short answer is that it genuinely means something different to each and every person. And furthermore, it can mean something different for the same person in each relationship as well as the chapter of their life! So, how do we know, in our romantic relationships, if we are on the same page as each other?
Jay Shetty, in his book, 8 Rules of Love, talks about the 4 phases of love. He explains that they can all look like love and feel like love and are all part of the journey of love. Knowing what phase we are in, when building a relationship can help with understanding and preparing us for the next chapter and ensure that we are looking at each situation with eyes and hearts wide open. Clear communication as to where each of us are, every step of the way can support a healthy journey and experience where everyone feels seen, understood, safe, and supported.
I summarized his 4 phases of love below:
Phase 1 -Attraction: The initial, and thrilling hint of a promise for more. Time helps you understand if what you are feeling is truly love. During this stage, we observe people for how they appear but don't know yet, what it is like to have and actual relationship with them. It is easy to want to stay in this phase because of the rush of hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine feel intoxicating and we are all putting out "representative" or best self out there. Having deep meaningful conversations creates connection. Getting vulnerable and building trust is an important part of this phase. As we gradually unveil our values, personality, and goals, we can see if there is a connection. As we begin to reciprocate personal disclosure, we can begin to truly know each other and see if there is a future. In his book, Jay Shetty speaks of 3 dates (not necessarily sequential). He suggests you focus on 3 areas.
Phase 2 - Dreams: Sometimes our dreams can cloud our vision of the other person and our own personal needs. This is the phase where we try to dismantle false expectations and focus on building a strong relationship based on realistic expectations of the specific individual. We often have a conscious or subconscious list of needs and wants when entering the dating world. This list can hold us back or keep us in a perpetual state of searching. When we have multiple close relationships in our lives to support different needs, we can let go of the idea of finding one person to check all the boxes and better identify what roles we want and need our partner to play. In this phase it's important to talk about standard of living, family structure, likes and dislikes, financial situations, plans for the future and how to handle unexpected challenges. Sometimes when these aren't in alignment, it can be taken as a sign that the love isn't reciprocated or it isn't meant to be. How you handle your differences is more important than being completely on the same page when it comes to a lasting love. Creating rhythms and routines are great ways to support this next phase of the journey and create a gradual and steady growth and progression.
Phase 3 - Struggle and Growth: Smooth sailing can't last forever, and we are bound to hit choppy waters. This stage helps us understand how to move forward. For us to grow as individuals, together and connect on deeper levels, we need to make mistakes and work on doing better. This phase is important in defining love because we need to decide if the person is worth facing the issue at hand and working through the growing pains or if how these moments are approached is a deal breaker.
Phase 4 - Trust: Growth that is built together builds depth and trust. Building trust is a gradual process through thoughts, words, and actions. Giving pieces of ourselves day by day and observing what they do with our authenticity, vulnerability and honesty is what builds trust. We first need to be trustworthy by aligning what we think, say, and do. When we can trust ourselves, we can more clearly communicate to our partner and trust that we can ask for what we need and give it to ourselves as a form of self-care. We then also, show up for our partner in the same way. We trust people more when they make us feel safe and live their life based on values we agree with. Taking a moment to connect with the level of the physical, mental, and emotional trust of your partner can be a helpful way to look at the relationship. Trust not only needs to be built slowly, nurtured but then also sustained. When trust is high, we feel the freedom to feel deep, physical, and emotional safety and security.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu
Often, we turn to romantic relationships to satisfy unhealed parts of our shadow self or unfulfilled self-love. One of the first steps we can take before we even begin to entertain the idea of romantic love, is to get to know ourselves on a deep and intimate level so that we truly understand what we desire to feel, and then we can choose a partner out of want rather than what we think we need. When we learn what fills our love tank, the next great practice is to love ourselves the way we wish to feel loved. Once we learn to love ourselves authentically, it becomes so much easier to spot it when someone like that shows up in life.
On my personal journey of love, this has been, by far the most transformational practice. While I have been discovering self-love for over 20 years, the last 3 years, post-divorce have served as a catapult into a revolutionary phase of life. Most recently, over the last month, I have embarked on a rigorous, in-depth, 7-week course with my "spiritual running buddy" that has, propelled my personal growth expedition to a place I couldn't have predicted. When we learn to understand, have compassion for, and accept all the parts of ourselves and phases of our lives, then and only then, can we allow ourselves to truly be vulnerable and feel worthy of and accept love from another. We will only acknowledge the love we have been conditioned to believe we deserve, so until we adjust and raise our love identity, and self-worth thermostat, we can anticipate that the love that shows up in our lives will mirror that below par standard that is all too often, repeatedly embraced.
The beautiful truth that I have come to know love to be, is the life-giving energy that is our birthright. To love and be loved is a driving force that is innately within us. There is a bottomless well of love that is available to each of us and is meant to be shared! The more we tap into this feeling and embrace it, the deeper it can grow. I've spoken on this in other blogs, but I believe we should never hold back or withhold love, we can choose to alter how and with who we share our time space and energy with but allowing love to pour out of our hearts and into the world, every chance we get, can only make the world a better place.
Whether it means this moment, here, and now, or it means forever, say I love you as often as you can to those you care about and allow your heart to sing the song it was designed to sing. I wish you a brave, vulnerable heart that you allow to shine as it was intended.
All the love,