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Love As A Growth Process: Dr. Julie Hanks on KSL’s Studio 5

For this Valentine’s Day season, I thought it fitting to use this Studio 5 segment to discuss one of my favorite topics: love! We all know the excitement of falling in love, of being completely and totally enamored with someone else. Who doesn’t love roses, chocolates, and candlelit dinners for two? But the truth is that when February is done, when the honeymoon phase of a relationship is over, real love is a lot of work. It can be challenging, painful even, but it can ultimately help us learn and mature, both individually and together. Here are a few ways that love is a growth process:


Loved ones invite us to grow, but we often aren’t listening.

Think about feedback you get from your family or spouse. Is there a theme that you keep hearing? Sometimes we tend to drown out the message because it’s too painful to hear, but it is often from the people we’re closest to that we can learn the most important lessons. Truly hear out what’s being said. For example, there was a time recently when a few of my kids and my husband were trying to tell me that I wasn’t very good at listening. I got really defensive and said something like, “I’m a professional listener! It’s what I’ve been doing for my clients for years!” But I realized that there was truth in what my family was saying; I did need to work on my listening skills! Be brave enough to accept these kinds of invitations to grow.

We choose partners to heal past wounds.

It’s fascinating to me how we seem to naturally gravitate toward relationships where we are forced to confront our deepest insecurities and issues. I choose to think of this not as us choosing people who bring out the worst in us, but as love presenting the opportunity to help us heal. We fall in love with people with whom we will eventually have to face those past hurts. The beauty of love, though, is that with time and experience we can move past our emotional raw spots through our connections with others.

Love Means Saying Yes to Happiness and Tears

Culturally, we seem to emphasize the bliss of love and marriage, but remember that when you open up your heart, you’re opening it up to pain as well as the joy and happiness. I’ve worked with couples where one person expresses that he/ she didn’t sign up for betrayal, for chronic illness, or for a number of other difficulties that can come in a marriage. But actually, by saying yes to love, we also are agreeing to cope with all that accompanies it-the good and the bad.

It’s Normal To Have Problems

David Scharch, a psychologist whom I respect, has said that no one is ready for marriage. No one can be fully ready for the transitions and trials that will accompany this change. While I’m not advocating throwing yourself head first into a new relationship completely unprepared, the truth is that marriage prepares you for marriage; you just have to dive in! And problems or issues that may arise with regards to sex, communication, or any other aspect of the relationship are totally normal, and they present an opportunity to learn and grow together as a couple and as individuals.

It’s taken me some time to embrace this love lesson that personal growth comes from relationships. Some years have been difficult and not what I expected, but as long as we’re learning, we keep moving. Love is a feeling, a behavior, and a commitment, and sometimes we need to draw on one or all of these definitions to help us see it through.

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