Is love enough?

For a relationship to work? To make it last?

mural: Curtis Kulig / photo: The LA Survival Guide

A question from reader Alex Buck:

“Is love enough for a relationship to work?”

It’s a common question, of course. But Alex is no common reader. And so he goes on to specify, with incredible thoughtfulness:

“Are there differences between what qualifies to love someone vs what qualifies for a relationship to work?”

And to answer that:

yes, love can be enough to “make it work.”

— IF:

  • By “love” you mean real, honest, mature, healthy love — not passion, or romance or being swept away with feelings; not forcing affection on someone, no codependence, not sacrificing your own wellbeing for the sake of someone else’s. Love that is a daily recommitment and investment of energy, in a way that’s mutually but quietly nourishing. “Boring” love.
  • By “it” you mean a real, honest, mature, healthy relationship — with ups and downs and compromises, with valleys and peaks and countless “boring” moments in between
  • By “work” you mean “succeed by putting your own work in,” which means negotiation and compromise and meeting halfway.
  • All of this is mutual.
  • You share the same fundamental values and highest-level goals in life, or at least one of you values the relationship more than your differences
  • And your differences are not too extreme (thx, Anna)

Then yes, love can be enough to make a relationship work.

And there are no differences between what’s needed to “make it work” and what’s needed for really loving someone, if you have maturity and emotional health in the way you approach both.

How does love solve for issues?

“By your definition of love (completely selfless and loving one for their very being), if both parties love each other in your truest definition, then it seems like issues in money, sex, emotional stability wouldn’t be an issue at all, if you’re loving each other selflessly.”

“If you love yourself completely and are as independent of a person as you suggest you should be a relationship, then those issues listed above also seem like like they wouldn’t be issues. But at what point do you draw the line between loving someone unconditionally, and the issues being too much for the relationship to work?”

Well…

The limitations of love

Love won’t prevent issues. Love only allows you to work through issues.

When you truly love each other, things like money and sex are “non-issues” — but only in the same sense that “hunger” isn’t an issue when you have money.

You still have to manage these things. They’re just easier with the right resources. And relationship issues are easier to work through with real, healthy, rich love.

They don’t just go away (I mean, I hope not — that would be a real issue.) They still exist. They still have to be managed. But having discussions around them are different when approached — and received — with love.

MONEY: Love alone won’t solve for life.

Love won’t put food on the table. Love won’t pay the rent.

Love won’t make up for money. But love makes the conversation around money, if it needs to happen, easier.

SEX: Love alone won’t fill in for physical intimacy, but love can solve for this problem.

If you truly love one another, you fundamentally do not want them to suffer — especially at your hands. If you love someone, you listen when they share their emotional needs, you empathize with their need for intimacy and touch, and you prioritize this need over your “headache” or “not feeling like it.” And vice versa — when you love someone, you compromise on how much sex you’ll have, based on how much they want.

EMOTIONAL STABILITY: Love cannot exist without it — and will never solve for it

Emotional instability is not “solved” with love — because emotional instability destroys love; drags it out back and mauls it to a pulp. Love cannot exist within emotional instability; stability must be settled first for love to even exist.

You cannot have love without emotional stability. Not real love. Not healthy love. Not mature love. Love offered to someone with emotional instability will be mishandled, mistreated, and manipulated. It will be dumped into a black hole; a bottomless pit. There will be no reward, no resolution. Ever.

Love can never solve for emotional instability. Stability must come first.

This one is different than money and sex in that way — those conversations are easier with love; love can be a precursor. But love has no power in the depths of emotional instability. It needs stability to even have a fighting chance.


Love and values

“What about aligning with someones values? Values related to religion, community, lifestyle, family, etc. The 2.5 things are great, but they don’t seem to cover aligning with values — and I can’t see a way a relationship could work without (mostly and within reason) aligning with each others values.”

Aligning with values is incredibly important.

The reason I didn’t include “values” in the 2.5 things I want in a partner is because those 2.5 things — emotional stability and critical thinking and friendship — are my values.

They’re what I want in a partner, but they’re also what I foster in myself.

I am open to having a dialogue around other things — religion, community, lifestyle, family, etc. — but frankly, these conversations are sort of non-issues when I find people who share my higher-level values. They’re almost casually brought up, like a Chicagoan might jokingly ask over drinks, “ketchup on hotdogs or nah?” They’re already pretty confident they know the answer.

That being said: yeah, values are important.

“You’ve mentioned before to be cautious of measuring potential partners by how well they fit into your fantasy, but is wanting your partner to align with your values fantasy? At what point do you draw the line between wanting your partner to align with your values (non superficial and for the sake of living a meaningful life aligned with your own values) and chalking it up as you selfishly wanting to live in your fantasy for convenience.”

Values aren’t a fantasy. Good values aren’t, anyway. Good values aren’t the same as “beautiful” or “drives nice car” or “uh, Santorini?” Good values are real — both ingrained in your actual day to day as well as the way you’ll define your long-term journey.

If your “values” are bullshit, then yeah, that’s worth addressing. But if your values are good, then you should feel good. And if your values are good, they’ll foster real, healthy, mature love.

And, yeah, that little package —real, healthy, mature love — is all you need to “make it work.” As long as you have everything else that allows it to.

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