What is Love? Harville and Helen Weigh In

Originally published November 16, 2017

What is love? Love is a verb, not a noun. It does not exist independent of behavior. It is created or destroyed minute by minute by what we do. Love is an act that is accompanied by a feeling, but it is not a feeling itself. It is the behavioral commitment of one person to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual potential and welfare of another person that is equal to, if not greater than, the same commitment to oneself. Love is the quality of a relationship that totally excludes negative judgment; it is the full acceptance of the other as they are, not as we wish them to be. Love accepts and honors difference and does not limit itself to similarity. It is the hyphen between the I and the Thou, the Space Between each partner.

For 30 years, we have been helping couples in our Getting the Love You Want workshops to create love in their relationship, guiding them to foster a Space Between that is safe and passionate.  We help couples transition from the bliss of romantic attachment (which is unstable and naturally goes away) through the dark valley of the power struggle (which is inevitable and natural) to relaxed joyfulness of real love (which is reliable and permanent.) We all yearn for this relaxed joyfulness of real love, for being understood, accepted, and even adored by the other, to feel the rhythm of connection that oscillates from I to Thou to Us and We. This connection promotes healing and growth for both partners and the creation of the dream relationship. Essentially, love is a spiritual journey, which requires us to stretch into new ways of being for an “other” that is “not me.”

For 30 years, we have heard stories from couples who were in a crisis or on the brink of a divorce, that were able to transform their relationship by first understanding the purpose of conflict and then by choosing to work through conflict in ways that promote healing. And we have found that the healing that begins at home in a committed relationship radiates outwards—to the children in the home, to other family relationships, to the workplace, the grocery store, the community. Couplehood thus is also about social transformation. When healing can happen in the home, then we are able to move out of our fear of the other and of difference, and learn to hold difference side by side, providing empathy, collaboration, and cooperation, and ultimately evoke transformation. We become better citizens and stewards of the world. Our world is hungry for healing. And to us, healing begins between the dyadic structure of a committed relationship.

This is special message from Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt about their online and in-person Getting the Love You Want program originally published by Kripalu and reposted June 2021.

Harville Hendrix, PhD, cocreator of Imago Relationship Theory and Therapy, is committed to the transformation of relationships and to the evolution of a relational culture.

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