Mental Health Column: Love Is Everything

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When people are asked at the end of life what mattered the most to them, they often say the quality of the relationships they were able to build — the love they had the privilege to give and receive. If we can bring that purpose into the moment of our everyday existence, we can deepen our relationships in order to feel greater love and fulfillment before our time on Earth is up. Love has been proven to improve our immune systems, our longevity, our overall health and wellness and our happiness. It’s what matters the most to most of us, and it’s a powerful force in our lives that can significantly increase our happiness and give us an enhanced sense of meaning.

The beginning of the new decade presents a good opportunity for us all to focus on deepening the love in our lives. February has Valentine’s day near the middle of the month, another symbolic reminder that we can dedicate ourselves to experiencing more love. If you’re single, you deserve the companionship and attention of someone kind, thoughtful, gentle and generous. If you’re partnered, both you and your partner can seek to feel more loved, understood, cared for, joyful and relaxed being together. Even your friend group can deepen, providing more honesty, support and real bonding.

While loneliness and discomfort in emotional intimacy is a problem for many, love is a powerful force that can break through such barriers. If we open our heart, and reveal our vulnerabilities, feelings and struggles to trustworthy and compassionate others, the sense of love in our lives can deepen almost immediately. If you have the courage to reveal your true self, flaws and fears and seek out empathic, kind and like-minded people, you can feel comforted and increase the sense of connection and meaning in your life beginning today.

A simple way to increase love in your life is to tell each of your top 10 people what you appreciate the most about them, and then be still enough and create space for a deeper bond to be felt between you. Take some time out of your day to message them, call, or visit and let them know what they mean to you.

By being intentional about creating connection, others can read your intentions for the relationship and more easily reciprocate. Another tip is to be more direct with casual friends about wanting to have a deeper connection with them. Let them know your intention to deepen the relationship and see how they respond!

The ritual of sharing and bonding in a compassionate and supportive relationship is also found in great counseling. There are many types of therapy and it can be easy to get confused by all the acronyms and different approaches to the work, but great therapists are available to hear your truth and help you to reflect on it in the context of a genuinely caring relationship.

Meta-studies in the field of psychology have found that the quality of the relationship between therapist and client is the most important healing factor in counseling. The bond and trust between client and therapist is a critical factor in healing from life’s wounds and learning new tools. A therapy relationship is not the same as a friendship, in the sense that your therapist might not come over to play Cards Against Humanity at your house, but the attunement and dedication in a therapy relationship can be just as real as with a close friendship.

In today’s world, we live in an independent culture that focuses on self-improvement and self-sufficiency through individual activities. A new understanding is emerging — backed by modern neuroscience — that self-development may actually benefit more from a focus on healthy and fulfilling relationships.

A deep connection with others helps us heal from old emotional wounds and helps us to live for something greater than ourselves. Forming genuine, close, empathic bonds with others supports us, makes us feel less lonely and does wonders for our self-esteem. Humans are tribal animals, so we thrive on a sense of connection with others. Sadly, that sense of connection is missing for many in today’s modern society, but we can set our intention to create a deeper sense of connection with whomever we can.

For those who engage in therapy, the process of building more love in your life can include revealing more of yourself to a therapist and practicing what it’s like to form a close, trusted bond. Group therapy offers a way to practice relationship skills in a broader social context and practice connecting with different types of personalities.

You can begin that growth process by finding counselors who are skilled in the process of deepening relationships. If you have a willingness to be humble and learn, and the courage to try new things, you can build skills that help you deepen your existing relationships and form new ones. Seeking deeper love takes intention, believing that your life can feel different, and persistence in practicing relational skills that can make relationships more satisfying.

The start of 2020 and the focus on matters of the heart this month make for a great time to deepen the love in your current relationships with your partner, friends, kids or family members, or to start new relationships off on the right foot. You can set your intention to be more open-hearted to reap the rewards of a richer, more meaningful and fulfilling life.

If you need support, join a therapy group, or work one-on-one with a relationship therapist. Also, keep an eye out for communities of like-minded individuals or singles looking to deepen love, connection, maturity and personal growth. Through such efforts, you can be one of those people who at the end of life feels fantastic about the love you were able to give and receive with others. Let’s hope we can all feel that satisfying sense of closeness and meaning in our lives. It starts now!

 

 

*John Howard and Peter Craig are psychotherapists at PRESENCE, a wellness center supporting the integration of your mental, physical and relationship health so you can heal, grow, and thrive in life through empathic and science-based care.

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