True love is not for the faint of heart.
And now… with fear so pervasive, the closeness you yearn to feel with your beloved can be even harder to achieve.
Or so it seems.
If your relationship is falling a bit short, or even if it's suffering, take heart.
It’s easier than most people think to achieve the full depth of true love — whether the challenges are from the pandemic or the usual relationship issues.
Our professional practice combines evidence-based insights about the neurobiology of love and of fear with cutting-edge communication techniques. The combo is surprisingly powerful for creating the changes you want.
Plus, we also know this topic intimately. We’re well into our 34th year of an increasingly happy relationship — one that’s more fulfilling now than we knew to hope for.
Here we offer 3 essentials for true love for those who want to move beyond the usual relationship challenges and experience the fullness of love, connection, and togetherness — what we call extraordinary love.
Essential #1: Ask More from Love — Not Less
People tend to misunderstand love.
Not so much the feeling of love. But love’s true potential.
We’ve all heard people say it — and maybe you've said it too: “If we could just get us back to the honeymoon phase...”
We laugh, knowing it’s not realistic. Yet something about it rings true, right?
So what’s that true part?
It’s that the yummy, early bliss is more than a hormonal high. Those pristine feelings of love are a taste of what’s possible, a glimpse into your relationship’s potential for extraordinary love.
What is extraordinary love?
Extraordinary love is a bond of ever-deepening trust, intimacy, and connection that expands and grows in good times and bad, rather than fading or stagnating.
It's a co-created union that supports each of you becoming who you desire to be and who you have the potential to be, as individuals and as a couple.
This first essential for this — asking more from love — actually has two parts:
- First, is knowing that this quality of relationship is imminently attainable and sustainable. (If you don’t believe it’s possible, how can you experience it?)
- Second, is deciding (perhaps again) that you're committed to that fullness of love for the both of you.
With this simple shift in perspective — seeing that it’s reasonable to reach for the true love you long for — you’re better prepared to deal with the messiness that gets in the way.
Essential #2: Embrace the Mess — Even When It's Difficult
When two people join their loves, some degree of challenge is a given.
From small misunderstandings to deeply rooted conflicts, the usual messiness can make once-adoring partners question if they belong together.
This definitely happened to us.
Don describes this experience from our early years in the epilogue of our new book, Grabbing Lightning: The Messy Quest for an Extraordinary Love.
I’d sometimes feel criticized by something Paige said and would snap at her in anger—and she’d collapse into a world of hurt. We’d fight for a while, then withdraw in frustration. At other times, the hurt would hit, and we’d go straight into silence.
Either way, a video camera would have found Paige in another room behind a slammed door, sharply muttering while reorganizing a drawer. And it would have captured me at my desk, pummeling my keyboard or stomping out the door to walk it off…
In those dark moments, we both glimpsed the perils ahead if we failed to master our own fears and the disruptive patterns being formed between us. And had we not persisted in developing some form of self-intervention, we would have indeed lost everything.
Without a roadmap, it took us a lot of trial and error. Still, we finally crafted a reliable method to interrupt those painful patterns and resolve even our most formidable conflicts.
Making conflicts less challenging
The ability to interrupt those unwanted, yet common, patterns of communication requires a re-definition of what the conflict itself means. And what it doesn’t mean.
- Whether you’re butting heads or holding painful silences, the fact that you’re having issues doesn't mean that you don’t belong together. It also doesn’t mean you should accept that level of discord as the way things are.
- Instead, the conflicts are an invitation to reach for a deeper understanding of each other and yourself — soul-nudge, if you will, prompting you to find your way back to love and beyond.
That simple shift in mindset is surprisingly potent.
It sets the stage for a make-or-break relationship skill — having difficult conversations as caring beloveds, rather than cranky adversaries.
Then as caring beloveds, you can discover together the real source of your disconnect and allow more closeness to emerge. In that kind of conversation, you’re also more capable of co-creating a solution that will actually work.
It took a while for us, but in time we replaced our counterproductive patterns of communication with ones that uplifted us instead.
That was such a relief, but there was more.
A hidden alchemy
Somewhere along the way, we realized that we’d unwittingly opened access to an experience we hadn’t imagined possible — a hidden alchemy that arises when two people open themselves again and again to expansive levels of love, even in the face of life's most difficult challenges.
Said differently, this alchemy is about turning conflicts into extraordinary love.
Interestingly, while this is definitely a two-person journey, it almost always starts with just one of you taking a solo leap.
Essential #3: Know When Reconnecting is Solo Work — Not 50/50
It might seem counterintuitive, but when your relationship stumbles into one of those painful disconnects, the repair process is almost all solo work.
As a human being, when something disrupts your experience of a loving connection, your neurobiological system, by design, shifts from being open and receptive to feeling threatened and defensive.
This reaction happens in a split second — even when there’s no real or imminent danger. And you can find yourself fighting or retreating into silence before you know it.
That’s because this neurobiological shift blocks your ability to think clearly and connect warmly. This is to get you to focus on self-preservation and defensiveness, the exact opposite of what you need when you’re trying to get back to love.
And those are the times that your relationship needs 100% from you — rather than being the usual 50/50 dance.
It’s easiest to explain this with an example.
Paige’s version of solo work from our early years
It would start with a flash of self-awareness that sounds something like this in my head:
Yikes, I’m a wreck! I’ve got a knot in my stomach. I’m pulsing with anger. I feel totally misunderstood. My mind is scrambled… I don’t even know what happened but it obviously scared me. I hate this.”
Sigh. “It’s just fear. Right?”
Exhale. And a moment of inner peace.
Then back to that frustrating inner ranting. Then maybe tears as I’d remind myself: “It’s just fear. Our love is what’s real.”
Finally, at some point, I’d feel this inner shift. A release.
My system would soften. And instead of being mad, I’d start feeling sad. Sad about the disconnect. Sad about the distance and loss of closeness.
At some point, I’d finally feel like I could say something that had a decent chance of bridging us back together rather than reigniting the conflict."
Don's experience of what happened next
This following reflection is also in the epilogue of Grabbing Lightning:
In the early days, it was Paige who’d make the first move. She’d come toward me and just look at me, love pouring out of her face. Then she’d reach out and gently touch me, and whisper, ‘I’m sorry for my part.’
It came from such a true place in herself, I couldn’t not join her there. I’d reply, ‘I’m sorry for my part too,’ and we’d fall into each other’s embrace.”
Those moments were indeed restorative — even though we were both still raw from being so jarringly disconnected.
As you can imagine, the subsequent conversation felt like we were making our way through a field of landmines.
If you were to observe the conversation that followed, you might conclude that the solo work was done.
Solo work is critical while discussing what happened.
On the surface you're exploring what went awry and why it was so painful. But inside, you're also noticing any defensive flare-ups and shifting yourself back into that gentle openness.
That requires an expanded awareness while you're listening and speaking. For instance:
- At the heart of this kind of listening is your genuine curiosity about your beloved's experience, even if you hearing things that are painful for you to hear or that seem downright inaccurate.
- Similarly, your speaking wants to reveal an honest yet compassionate description of your experience. That means using words and tonality that make it easier for your partner to hear without getting triggered again.
With that kind of deep listening and vulnerable speaking, you're getting to know each other, and yourselves, more intimately. For us, that part was surprisingly exhilarating — albeit a bit embarrassing and humbling at times.
Perhaps more importantly, these kinds of conversations show how you can transform the relational dynamic that created the conflict in the first place into one that invites more love, trust, and closeness.
It’s worth noting that such healing conversations are invariably initiated by just one of you — whoever’s ready to reconnect first. And that’s fine.
We often joke that whoever makes that inner shift first wins — a far cry from the winner being whoever holds their “I’m right” position the longest.
This kind of solo work is critical for transforming relationship challenges into a more profound love. It doesn’t matter who starts this new pattern. It just matters that it happens.
The Potential for True Love
True love is not just possible.
It's easier than most people think.
There's no doubt in our minds that these three relationship essentials are indeed essential for those who want to experience an extraordinary love:
- Asking more from love — not less
- Embracing the mess — even when it's scary
- Knowing when reconnecting is solo work — not 50/50
The catch: It takes a willingness to see love, conflict, and the role of solo work in a relationship a bit differently than most. And of course it takes acting on those perceptions again and again until true love, extraordinary love, is just the way it is in your relationship.
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