Experts and everyday people share transforming and inspiring stories of love, and advice for keeping love alive
Songs and sonnets, movies and books all express our timeless and deepest need to love and be loved. These loving and compassionate connections we make with others give meaning to our lives.
Like a shock absorber, love cushions life’s inevitable speed bumps, with respect, rituals and resilience helping love last a lifetime.
To Monica Burton of St. Pete Beach, love looks like her parents’ relationship.
“Last year, I got a shocking call from my dad about my mom being in the hospital and the long journey of her almost not leaving the hospital to her full recovery,” says Monica, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
She is past president of the Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
While helping her dad move her mom from the rehabilitation unit back to their house, “the most beautiful moment happened,” Monica says. “She started crying because she was in too much pain to put on her shoes, and he leaned over and kissed her and put them on her. It was so beautiful and the most kind, compassionate act of love I think I have ever witnessed.”
She says love also looks like her children.
“The first time I heard my two boys cry right after they were born, my heart was so full of joy,” Monica says. “It’s a feeling that is indescribable. Love is hearing them laugh in pure joy and holding them while they cry.”
To Amy Chinea of Key Largo, love looks like Malix—a dog she rescued more than a decade ago while vacationing on the Yucatan Peninsula.
She took a lunch break from touring near Tulum, a coastal Mayan ruin site, and learned the restaurant owners rescued local dogs.
“My beloved dog Rhiannon had recently passed away due to a bacterial infection,” recalls Amy, “so my heart was looking for another dog.”
A woman from Texas was walking the newest canine adoption prospect, trying to decide whether they would be a good match. Amy went snorkeling.
“I happened to be walking back to my hotel and saw the lady with Malix, which means street dog in Mayan,” says Amy. “It was love at first sight for both of us.”
Amy and the woman chatted and agreed that if she did not take Malix, Amy would. As Amy walked away, she turned to look back at Malix.
“She didn’t want to walk with the woman anymore and was staring at me,” Amy says. “The restaurant owners brought Malix to the airport the next day. I bought her a plane ticket, and the rest is history.”
Making Love Last
As a Lutheran pastor, licensed counselor, and marriage and family therapist, Don Cole, 61, has seen countless inspiring love stories, including his own with his wife, Carrie, 59, also a counselor and therapist.
“We all need to love and be loved,” says Don. “Love is a deep basic biological need hardwired into our DNA. It goes back to being born helpless and needing to rely on parents or other adults to nurture and protect us.
“We’re creatures who depend on each other. As we move to adulthood, we naturally turn to pair bonding. The basic need for love never goes away in our lives.”
The Coles have made it their mission to teach practical and easy ways to help make love last a lifetime in relationships, whether between spouses or among families or friends.
Married in 1996 after meeting at work, the Coles founded the Center for Relationship Wellness in Houston, where they have their primary home. They also both commute to work at The Gottman Institute, established in 1996 in Seattle.
Founders and psychologists John and Julie Gottman developed ways to keep love alive in relationships, based on decades of research with thousands of couples.
At the institute, Carrie is research director, while Don is clinical director. He is a trainer for and oversees a program that certifies a network of therapists worldwide who have been trained in Gottman techniques.
The Gottmans developed a seminar, “The Art and Science of Love,” which the Coles teach in Houston.
Loving relationships have respect, rituals, resilience, empathy, creativity and humor, says Don.
For the Coles, love looks like a sitcom every morning with a humorous ritual.
“We celebrate life together starting with breakfast,” says Don. “We have a corny joke between us that I won’t repeat. I call it to her to let her know the meal is ready. She has an equally corny response.
“One morning I said my part of the joke, but she didn’t say hers. I asked if she was mad. She was upset about something I’d done, so we talked about it. Having that ritual of connection helped us get back on track.”
Don recalls how love transformed the lives of a young couple who considered divorcing and came to him for counseling.
Instead of asking about their problem, the Gottman method starts with clients telling their oral history and how they met, says Don.
“They began to make eye contact, smile and chuckle,” says Don. “That memory was the basis for a transformation in their relationship. Gradually, they realized they still loved each other, and their sense of humor and fun returned. They turned toward instead of away from each other. Love kept them together and certainly changed the course of their lives.”
Free Gifts of Love
Like Don and Carrie, Monica helps clients using methods she learned through training with the Gottman Institute.
“Dr. Gottman teaches love can be found in the small acts of kindness, compassion, empathy, appreciation or affections that we do for each other every day,” she says.
Monica says she sees all sorts of inspiring love stories.
“Love to me looks like the couple sitting in my office remembering their first date, or their first impressions of each other,” she says. “They smile or laugh, and that’s the first laughter they have experienced in quite a while.”
She advises couples to focus on the small ways to connect every day.
“It doesn’t mean we have to forget about the pain or conflict, but love allows us to heal and to forgive,” she says.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Don, Carrie and Monica suggest families, friends and couples give non-material gifts that nurture the relationship and create moments of priceless connections.
“Remember your first date and recreate it,” she says. “Remember your engagement or the moment you knew you were in love and write your partner the story in a beautiful journal and give it to them. Keep the journal and add new stories throughout your life together. Cut out heart-shaped paper and write notes of love starting at the beginning of February through the 14th. Instead of going out, create a fancy dinner by candlelight and play romantic music.”
“Make a coupon book for whatever matters to your loved ones,” adds Carrie. “There are so many ideas: fix a meal, give a massage, do a chore, play a game together, give a hug or kiss, clean part of the house.”
Every day, not just on Valentine’s Day, tell your partner, “This is what I love about you,” says Carrie. “Be specific and talk about what makes their personality unique.”
Don suggests a ritual of having a beverage or taking a short walk after dinner and talking about the day.
“You’re investing time in your relationship, intentionally creating a way to turn toward each other,” he says.
Don encourages initiating contact with those you love and not taking them for granted.
“You’re saying, ‘I want to connect,’” he says.
Besides ritual, resilience is a key to keeping love alive in relationships.
“We all screw up sometimes,” says Don. “The key is how we repair relationships that have been harmed. Couples and families that stay together make repairs.” n
Florida counselors who have been trained to use Gottman techniques may be found by Googling the Gottman Referral Network.