How to Love Someone Well
This idea – a collaboration of old friends who have lived long enough to see both tragedy and success in love – began like many others do: a seedling conversation that began to sprout and grow. One day it was suggested we should put this together into a blog conversation. Maybe someone out there will find something useful that one of us has to say.
The posts here are not intended to be a back-and-forth in a traditional interview style. Rather, it is more of a free arena to consider what the other has written. It might be that one post is connected to the previous, or it might be a new independent thought. Nevertheless, the prevailing theme throughout is intended to be about what is important, not just in loving someone, but in doing it well.
By Mark Reid
Meet Your Partner MORE Than Halfway
Before I was ever married, I got what I consider some of the best marital advice I have ever received from a stranger on a plane. I was much younger then, single, and headed on a solo trip to Costa Rica simply for an adventure. Excited, of course, I was feeling a bit more extroverted than I typically do and began to chat up the gentleman sitting next to me from the moment we buckled our seatbelts for departure. As we learned bits and pieces about each other – why we were going to Costa Rica, where we’re from originally, etc. – the unnamed man told me he had just had his 35th wedding anniversary. That’s when the lightbulb of opportunity went off above my head.
I had been a skeptic of marital success. I grew up surrounded by divorce. My parents, my aunts and uncles, my brother… all divorced. I had seen it and all its ugliness played out time and time again. Only my maternal grandparents had had a successful, lifelong marriage. Intrigued, I asked the man, “35 happy years?”
“Very,” he responded. “I mean, every marriage – especially one for that long is going to face ups and downs of all kinds, but yes, I still love my wife as much or more than the day I fell in love with her.”
“With respect, sir, how? How is that possible?!”
“I will tell you the secret. You know how people say ‘always be willing to meet your partner halfway? If people are open minded to meet in the middle…blah blah blah?'”
“Yes.” I had heard this many times.
He said, “The real key is to be willing to go 60% or even 70% or maybe even more whenever there is need for a compromise. Whatever that halfway point is, be open to going a little further. Whether it is a disagreement on which curtains to buy or something much bigger like how to collectively parent our children, if you have a willingness to give up more than just 50/50 ground every time, you have a real chance at being together for life. And it can’t just be one of you. If both partners are willing to go more than halfway – to at least consider going beyond an equal compromise, which ultimately means a willingness to sacrifice what you want – if both of you go into marriage with that mindset, you will have a long, successful, joyous partnership together.”
“Wow,” I said. “I had never even considered that point of view before. Thank you, sir, and Happy Anniversary.”
That conversation has stuck with me for nearly 20 years since that flight. I still think it might be the most sound marital advice I’ve ever heard.
By Jenn Agnew
Love Yourself To Love Others Better
Through divorce, raising children, aging disabled parents and other partnerships I learned that what really matters most in love is being able to love yourself first so you can support others. I used to give and give in relationships until it hurt, thinking, if I just love them enough we could get through anything. Some people, though, would only take. Some would say they love, but leave you hanging. Some people are so attached to their own misery they never look up when you are pouring your heart out.
Not everyone is great at love. I love my children who are still learning how to love. I love my parents who could not take care of me because they are living in their own bell jar. And I have loved partners who either were not ready or did not know how to love others. But I have found that it is essential to love yourself first in order to love others better. That means setting and enforcing healthier boundaries. It means saying “no” to the one who keeps breaking your heart. It means making time for things that make me happy. It means figuring out my needs and why I need them. Love means not giving until it hurts. Love means standing up for yourself when others are crossing your boundaries again and again and not apologizing for it. It means unconditional love in a healthy, rather than destructive, way.
What does this look like? Maybe it is saying no when others ask too much of you. Maybe it is resting. Maybe it is not accepting bad behavior any longer in the name of love. A part of me still hopes to find that same honest, raw, passionate love that I give others fully reciprocated in the way I always give, but maybe that is unlikely. So, for now, I find the most love and happiness when I do loving things for myself. Then, I am a better mother, daughter and a more loving partner when I am full and recharged. I have more patience and kindness with others I see struggling.
Finally, not expecting from others what they do not have to give is a form of healthy unconditional love. I am only able to reduce or eliminate that expectation when I love myself. I can’t be dependent on others to provide the love I need. If I do, it becomes an attachment that controls me. But what I, what we, can only do is meet someone halfway and the rest is up to them. I can’t force someone to give what they don’t have inside of themselves. The only love I can accept is the one freely given. And, some of that love must come from within.
By Jenn Agnew
Love Is Best When It Grows
Love has always been a moving force in my life. Married at a young age to my high school sweetheart, I learned the hard way that love sometimes is not enough to stay together. Sometimes people do not grow together. We change directions and plans and challenge ourselves in different ways. Some of us do not have any intention of growing or changing.
Stagnant love is not enough. It is nice for a moment, but all moments eventually pass. Circumstances, the world around us, our dreams, and people all change over time. Healthy love requires each participant to understand this inevitable change. A healthy love – a love that is alive and breathing – is one that grows.
By Mark Reid
Stay Healthy for Her (or Him)
I was sick recently. And, honestly, it was my own fault. I had not been taking very good care of myself. I left myself vulnerable to illness and I got ill. During that bout with the devil, I realized something – that my health is not exclusively my own property in a marriage. Sure it is my body and all that, but it is ultimately selfish if I don’t take care of it. What if she gets sick (through no fault of her own)? In this day and age of Covid, she and I need to be prepared to take care of each other if need be. What if something happens to her parents or my parents? I need to be ready to go somewhere at a moment’s notice. I won’t live my life expecting tragedy at any given moment, but I can live it in a way that I am best prepared to deal with tragedy when it strikes.
I will borrow the motto of the U.S. Coast Guard for this: Semper Paratus, meaning “Always Ready.” It is easy to love someone, but to do it well, you obviously need to show it through actions, not just words. One of those actions is to always be ready – as much as is reasonable – physically, mentally, and emotionally. In truth, when I think about it that way, I actually have more motivation to exercise and eat right because I am taking care of my body for us, not just me.