Many people find themselves disappointed when what they thought was true love goes wrong.
You may have been through a series of relationships you thought would last forever, only to see each of them end in a matter of months.
Once you’ve been deceived by what you thought was the real deal, with someone who seemed to meet all of the criteria on your checklist, you may find yourself wondering not only why finding and keeping true love is so difficult, but what true love even means.
What does love really mean?
Love means loving someone without having expectations or limiting beliefs. It means caring for someone, putting their needs before your own, and having a genuine desire for their happiness. Sadly, most people have been devastated and deceived by pop culture’s definition of “true love.”
If you’re ready to get serious about loving someone and allowing yourself to be loved in return, you need to begin by figuring out which definition of love rings true for you. You must be ready to understand love’s meaning, how to recognize it when you find love, and how to make finding and keeping it your highest pursuit.
Here are 8 things you need to know about the true meaning of loving and being loved.
1. True love is not new — it is lasting.
It’s true that all love starts out as new love. But new love is easy. It’s expansive and romantic. In a sense, it’s what the hippie generation used to call “free love.”
Everyone feels these emotions in new romantic relationships. It’s just the way our brains are wired. Meanwhile, true lasting love is earned love. It takes intentionality.
You have to decide: do you want to spend time and effort to achieve lasting love, or do you want to live in the fantasy that true love is simply going to happen to you?
2. True love means being emotionally connected.
Research has shown that emotional connection is the single most important factor for creating true, lasting love. It’s the glue that binds relationships together. You can have great conversations about life, politics, sports, or goals, but if there is no emotional connection, there will be no sustainable attraction.
What does love mean in a relationship? Well, emotions are the glue that bond relationships together. They are the primary way we express our deepest joy and fear. Love in a relationship means expressing these emotions in a way that connects you, and responding to your partner’s feelings with support, trust and respect.
Though emotions aren’t a love language, they are the language of love. They make you trust and believe in the sincerity of your partner’s love. They tell you that your partner cares about you, even when you hurt.
3. True love is accessible.
You need to know that your partner is available to you when you need them. What good is it having a Lancelot if he doesn’t rescue you when the dragon comes When we bond as a pair, we expect our partner to be the first responder when we are afraid.
When the World Trade Center was burning, the lion’s share of the calls going out were expressions of love to husbands and wives. Being able to connect with the person you love the most when you need them the most calms your emotions and makes you feel safer, even in the face of the worst kinds of danger.
When a husband is not accessible to his wife in labor with their baby, it’s one of the biggest pain points she can experience. If she goes through that pain without him present, she will resent him for years to come, losing her ability to trust him to be there when she needs him in the future.
True lovers are on call for each other 24/7. They are accessible to their partners whether they are in distress or wanting to share in celebrations.
Do you want your partner to celebrate with you on your birthday, when you get that job promotion, or graduate from school? Absolutely. Sharing the good times together strengthens your bond with each other.
But sharing the good and bad times requires more than accessibility alone.
4. True love is responsive.
If your partner is in the room with you, you expect them to respond to you when you are trying to talk to them. If you hand them the ball and they drop it, you will be angry.
Most men tend to emotionally withdraw in the times when their partners need them the most. They struggle with handling heightened emotions in themselves or in others. From the time they were young, they learned to stuff their emotions and not feel them.
Meanwhile, most women do the opposite. When they are emotionally distressed, they put it all out there. They express their emotions and expect someone to be there for them.
If your guy is in the room and is acting like a dead fish while you’re expressing yourself to him, you don’t feel his love. Because of this, you’ll ask yourself where your Romeo went. He was so responsive and thoughtful when you were dating. During that time he was amazing. What’s happening now? Are you not attractive enough to hold his attention any longer?
You will naturally interpret his non-responsiveness as a sign that he’s no longer attracted to you or in love with you and that he just doesn’t care. However, that’s not necessarily true.
During the new love phase of relationships, you have the advantage of the powerful neurochemical known as dopamine. The brain produces a lot of dopamine during the early stages of a new relationship, helping even the most withdrawn men to be more emotionally expressive than they normally would be.
True lovers learn how to work through “the pursue/withdraw phase” of the relationship that occurs once newness wears off and the dopamine tapers off. So, don’t attack your partner when he’s struggling to not shut down when you’re expressing your strongest emotions. He demonstrates his loving feelings for you by telling you how scary it is to feel his emotions and yours at the same time.
In time, you will feel good about being safe with each other and respond naturally.
5. True love is engaged.
You can be accessible and responsive to your partner but still be tuned out if you aren’t engaged with them. Engagement is all about paying attention and being present.
In our current age of smartphone information access, how many times have you been in a restaurant and noticed both members of a couple searching their cell phones during dinner? They should be together during quality time, right? Your social media, your game, or news searching must take a back seat to engagement with your partner.
This isn’t easy. Companies invest a lot of money to psychologically manipulate you to engage with them. And, of course, pictures of your friends can be quite engaging.
True love means being able to let go of other distractions like the phone or the TV or anything else that gets in the way of you listening when your partner is talking. You need to know that your words are important.
6. True love is always growing.
My parents have been married for 65 years. They both say that they love each other now more than ever. Watching them together, I believe that is real love.
True love grows until the end of life. Everyone agrees that life is difficult. Things happen that are hard to deal with, and no matter how old we are, we struggle with getting older. When a couple is there for each other during life’s challenges and through the process of aging, they grow closer.
Knowing that you can depend on your partner to meet your needs makes you love him or her more and more. This is really important to understand if you’re in a new relationship. What you thought attracted you to each other early on in your relationship becomes less and less important over time.
You’re going to become fat and wrinkled, but if you have the money for cosmetic procedures and treatments, you can prolong your youthful appearance. And, yes, exercise will help you keep the weight off.
But, over time, how you both look on the outside becomes less and less important than your growing love for each other on the inside. Your memories of sharing life’s most important times together will be irreplaceable.
True love is a journey together through mountains and valleys. There’s nothing more bonding than helping each other through life’s challenges. This often requires that you let go of ego and what you think is most important to you. Couples who grow and survive life’s challenges learn to do what’s best for the relationship.
7. True love is faithful.
For starters, couples need to have faith in their relationship, which really means having faith that the other person will be someone you can trust as the years go by. Trust is the key to success and foundation of every lifelong healthy love relationship.
When you say “I do,” you are putting your future and well-being in the hands of another person. That may sound contradictory to the modern perspective on relationships, but think about it. You will share a house, friends, family, money, and emotions.
You may even share your DNA, from which you’ll make the babies that will belong to both of you. With the exception of your jobs, everything that matters to both of you will likely be shared.
So, there’s a lot that you need to trust your partner with, and you need to have faith that your partner will be a good parent, housekeeper, friend, and co-provider.
Another part of faithful love is what we normally think of as “fidelity” — not having emotional or sexual affairs. You must protect each other’s hearts by not opening up your emotions or sexual needs to others.
There are other notions out there that say long-term relationships can work while having multiple partners. But in my 30 years of practice, I have never seen it not damage a relationship.
True love means your primary relationship is primary, which relates to the attachment theory of relationships. Science supports the theory that an infant forms a primary bond with one other person who is its primary caretaker. The infant’s security depends on the health of the nurture and support of that relationship. Neuroscience teaches that our brains are wired to make this two-person connection.
More recent research has found that adults bond the same way that infants do. So, we call the infant-mother bond a primary relationship. The adult lifetime couple bond, forming a primary relationship as well.
How do you know if you are in love with someone? You’ll know you are in love with someone when you have faith in your relationship, and in each other. Having secure true love requires you to make your primary relationship a priority. Both partners need to feel that they are more important to each other than other people, places, or things.
You put each other first, above anything else. If you feel this way about someone, whether you just started dating them or have been married for years, there should be no doubt in your mind that you really, truly are in love with them.
8. True love is transparent.
Intimacy has been defined as “into me, see.” You need to be open and transparent with your partner for them to see and respond to your deepest needs and desires. When there’s distance in the relationship, it’s probably not about your waistline, but more to do with unmet needs that are not being expressed.
There’s nothing more precious to offer to your partner than your deepest needs, fears, and desires. In her book, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brené Brown talks about the importance of transparency in relationships. And to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and transparent, you need to work on everything you just learned above.
What is the best definition of love? The best definition of love is having a deep bond based in commitment, respect, trust, and acceptance. Love means being dedicated to someone else’s well-being, holding their desires and dreams in high esteem, accepting them for who they are without judgment, and trusting them to do the same for you.
Though many tend to think of love as just being selfless and having a deep devotion to your partner, anything less than lasting and affirming love is not true love. If love hurts you or prevents you from becoming the best version of yourself, then it really isn’t true love.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and certified emotionally focused couples therapist and EFT supervisor. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book “Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love”, and together they have developed an online learning course based on the science of attachment and healthy relationships.