What Marriage Counselors Want You to Know About Real Love
No matter what the circumstances, the one thing you should never do, Hendrix and Hunt say, is find fault. Raise the notion of constructive criticism and they laugh ruefully. "That's very dangerous," Hunt says. "It's an invitation for self-righteousness."
"Criticism is abuse," Hendrix says. "There's no way around it. Because it means, 'You're not good, you're not right, something's wrong with you, and I'm trying to fix it.'" What your partner needs more than anything is simply to feel validated, in large part because most of us grew up feeling that love was conditional on meeting someone else's expectations.
Having weathered a crisis in their own marriage (they've been together for 26 years but got to real love only in the past five or six, they agree), Hendrix and Hunt know how much work—even pain—is involved. "My empathy and patience for the people I counsel have changed," Hendrix says.
"Something I've learned is that real love is counterinstinctual. We're designed as creatures to protect ourselves and to survive, and therefore we go after what we need. But with real love, you commit to the survival of the other person. And that has a paradoxical effect: Your survival is secured because when you surrender your focus on getting your own needs met, your relationship with your partner will change. It's not manipulative—you're genuinely caring for your partner, who knows it. Helen and I still have our differences, but they're like a ripple on the surface of an ocean. It touches me even to think about it, that I feel so safe and valued.
"In courtship," he says, "you're trying to win the partner, keep the partner, stir up passion. With real love, the behaviors look the same but they arise out of the depth of the relationship and are expressed as a sense of gratitude. They come from within to reflect a state of being rather than to generate emotions."
Hunt weighs in: "You have both learned to create the sacred space between two people."
"When you read, 'Here's what to do to get your man to stay,' or to love you, there's an outcome you want," Hendrix says. "In real love, you're already in the outcome."
More on Love and Relationships