Falling in love is an idealised story so deeply embedded in our linguistic repertoire that alternative ways of conceptualising the experience through language don’t come easy. To think of love as something to fall into can be limiting to relationships and in some cases erroneous. Instead of falling in love, a more fruitful notion is to “rise in love”.
Rising in love encourages a mindset of growth, maturity and learning. Instead of love being at our mercy, a state that we fall into and can easily fall out of, it is something that is nurtured and built upon. To rise in love treats love as fluid; there isn’t a black-and-white trajectory of being either in or out of love, but rather recognition that feelings vary; waning love doesn’t necessarily have to mean a doomed relationship. The Shackleton Project, a longitudinal study on relationships by the University of Exeter found that in thriving relationships, there are realistic expectations of the relationship and a ‘developmental’ outlook; meaning couples expected to have to ‘work at’ the relationship”.
Rising in love recognises that relationships require work. As individuals, we relate to each other with distinct needs, experiences, identities, values and many other differences. Relating to one another is an ongoing process where we are constantly learning about the other person; relating does not end once you are married or have changed your social media status to “In a Relationship”. Relationships require ongoing work: communication, understanding, honesty, kindness, respect, boundaries and working together are crucial. As one study found: being able to to effectively relate to one another helps during times of turbulence, an inevitability in relationships.
Rising in love acknowledges that you are your own person within the relationship, you are able to make choices and so can your partner. Falling in love in comparison can be experienced as a process that is beyond the individuals control. This may fuel an individuals sense of self becoming entangled with the other person; the individual is so in love that they are at the mercy of the other person. In abusive and unhealthy relationships individuals often struggle to hold a solid sense of themselves, their boundaries are breached and they sacrifice their needs for the other person. It is not unusual to hear the words, “how could I possibly leave when I have fallen in love?” or “I will never fall in love again” as justifications for staying in and remaining passive in toxic relationships.
Thinking of growing in love instead of falling in love is helpful in distinguishing enduring love from what may be more fleeting feelings of love. Dr Helen Fisher an anthropologist at Rutgers University has written extensively on the topic of love and highlights how love can be distilled into three categories: “lust, attraction, and attachment. Though there are overlaps and subtleties in them, they are each characterised by their own set of unique hormones. Testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment”. Enduring love tends to be more stable, whereas fleeting feelings of love can mimic processes found in addictions.
How concepts from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you rise in love:
Key within CBT is addressing unhelpful, thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and feelings. Techniques from CBT can be applied individually or worked on with your partner to move towards rising in love:
- Notice negative thoughts and beliefs that you might carry in the relationship and challenge them when they occur. Often in relationships there are judgments about the other person. Words such as, “they should”, “they need to”, “they must” and “they always” are clues that rigid rules are at play. See what happens if you alter your language for example, you might try experimenting removing the word “should” from your vocabulary.
- Curiosity encourages acceptance and helps overcome a tendency to jump to conclusions, to make assumptions and judge; things that often occur without our partner even uttering a word. Ask questions, explore, take a step away from assuming that you know what your partner is thinking. “Lasting love… is about seeing the other person. I am very interested in relationships and, when I watch couples, sometimes I can sense a blindness has set in. They have stopped seeing each other”. –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Realise that you don’t know everything about your partner, even though you may feel that you do. We do not exist as fixed entities; there are so many facets of another person. Rather than assume we know everything there is to know, explore and unravel the depth.
- Rise in love by making time to communicate with each other mindfully and consciously. Really listen and hear the words of your partner. Set aside time for conscious communication. Be aware that phones and multitasking can be obstacles that hamper mindful engagement. “To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens.” — Unknown Author
- Rising in love requires self-improvement and development. We are all a work in progress and that work may involve introspection and thinking deeply about what you carry in a relationship. Do you have a fear of rejection or abandonment? Do you have a need for control or to always be right? How do these processes play out in your relationship? If they were worked on could they make room for growth in your relationship?
How we form and maintain relationships may be influenced by our core beliefs about ourselves and other people. Core beliefs are shaped early in our lives and are influenced by things such as, dynamics with parents/caregivers and our environment. Core beliefs of being “worthless”, “unworthy” or “unlovable” can lead to fear, anxiety and low self-confidence in relationships.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –- Rumi
- Conflict is an inevitable part of relationships. Rising in love involves being able to navigate disagreements in a healthy way. This doesn’t mean avoiding arguments or agreeing with each other on everything. To effectively deal with conflict, assertiveness, boundaries, negotiation and communication are necessary.
- Work towards building trust. What can you and the other person do that creates a relationship that is physically and emotionally safe? How can you show that you are reliable and honest?
- Embrace a mindset of working together as a team. Instead of focusing on yourself and what you can get, think of you and your partner as a team. Doing so shifts thoughts away from a “me” versus “them” outlook, which can fuel resentment to “how can we work together and solve this”. Working together helps lessen pressure from juggling demands such as, work, chores, bills, childcare.
“Whatever problems arise in a romantic relationship, it’s important to face them together as a couple. If an aspect of the relationship stops working, don’t simply ignore it, but instead address it with your partner. Things change, so respond to them together as they do.” –Anne Nwakama
- Problem solve together. When obstacles are encountered, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless may arise which can create resentment. A useful way of addressing problems is to tackle them directly through problem solving. To problem solve: 1. Brain storm possible solutions 2. Consider the pros and cons of each. 3. Once you have found the best solution create a plan towards addressing the problem step-by-step. Problem solving together kindles an attitude of working together.
Making change to encourage rising love may feel like a daunting process that takes you out of your comfort zone. Feelings of apprehension and uncertainty are a natural part of making change. Being aware of areas for development and growth is a significant step towards building relationships that are fruitful.