Your heart races every time he calls and your palms sweat whenever he's near. You think he may be "the one." But how do you know if this is the real thing?
Dennis Neder, author of Being a Man in a Woman's World (Remington Publications, 2000), says love has three stages: the infatuation stage, the bonding stage and the familiar stage. Dr. Neder, an ordained minister and doctor of metaphysics, says it helps to consider all three stages when determining if you have the real thing.
The infatuation stage is when you can't wait to be with the other person. This is the romantic stage of love, says Dr. Neder, who warns that this is the stage when people thinks it's "the real thing." But this stage lasts only a short time.
The second stage, says Dr. Neder, is the bonding stage. During this stage you get to know the other person and you start planning aspects of your life around them. If you continue through this stage you eventually enter the third stage, or what Dr. Neder calls "the familiar phase."
In the familiar stage you've established a pattern that involves the other person. "Your lives become intertwined and merged," Dr. Neder says. "You know foundationally how the other person feels about almost everything. And interestingly," says Dr. Neder, "you also become refocused on your own life, direction and goals." Dr. Neder says this is where most professionals believe "real love" starts.
The Definition of "True Love"
"Love means never having to say you're sorry," or so the famous line from the movie Love Story goes. But when asked to define what true love is, even the experts have to pause and think. Perhaps it's because true love has different meanings for different people.
Dr. Neder defines true love as caring about the health, well-being and happiness of another person to a greater degree than your own health, well-being and happiness. "When you carefully consider your words, thoughts and actions, and specifically how they will benefit that other person," says Dr. Neder, "you're in love."
Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Bantam, 1998) and The Wisdom of Menopause (Bantam, 2003), says "true love is when you care enough for another person to allow them the space and time they need to become all they can be."
Conversely, if someone says to you: "If you love me, you would ...," that is not love, says Dr. Northrup. According to Dr. Northrup, this is the "second chakra" talking. And when "love" comes from this place, it's about control. True love comes from the "fourth chakra" and is easily recognized as unconditional support.
Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D,. and Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., authors of the upcoming book Everlasting Love, say that true love occurs when you shift from unconscious commitment to conscious commitment. "When you hear people say: 'Relationships are really hard work,' this is an expression of unconscious commitment," says Kathlyn Hendricks. Conscious commitment, say the Drs. Hendricks, means that you reveal your true self to your partner and support your partner through thick and thin.
Laurie Moore, Ph.D., says all love comes from an open heart. "When you're together, it's open and safe at the same time," she says. Moore believes, however, that this doesn't mean the person you love is necessarily your life partner.
Nine Ways to Tell if Your Love Is Real
So how do you know if you're in a lasting relationship? Here's what the experts say:
- You feel good. A good relationship makes you feel good about yourself.
- You look forward to spending time with your partner. You don't need to be with other people or go to events to avoid being alone together. You enjoy spending quality time together even when it's quiet.
- You respect your partner. You hear yourself bragging about your partner. You say things like: "My husband is a really talented singer-songwriter." If you find that you're always talking about yourself, you're not focused on your partner or the relationship.
- You're interested in what your partner thinks. You ask your partner's opinion about issues that are important to you. It's OK if he or she disagrees with you.
- You accept your partner's quirks. Everyone has them. Even you! If your partner's quirks are endearing or tolerable, you're in good shape. If they really bother you, you should look more closely at the relationship.
- You're able to work through your problems. It's natural to have some bumps in the relationship road to true bliss. People in healthy relationships see disagreements as a chance to learn more about their partner. However, if you're creating problems, or if you think every fight is the "big one" leading to a breakup, you should probably rethink your relationship.
- You feel safe. You're not afraid of losing your partner.
- You can't explain why you're together. Many people coordinate their lives so that they have to be together. But ask yourself if you're together because you truly want to be. If the answer is "yes," then you'll probably stay together. If it's "no," you're bound to have problems — if you haven't already.
- You don't compare your partner to others. There will always be someone more beautiful, smarter or more athletic than your partner, but you don't care because you only want to be with him or her.
If you still don't know whether your love will last, try this last piece of advice from Dr. Moore: Make a list of what you require from someone to be happy. If the list is met, you may have found everlasting love.