The other day a friend asked me what I thought the definition of love was. After thinking about it for a moment, I said, “love is expansive.”
In recent years, I have gotten a little more life experience under my belt and expansive seems like the most concise and accurate way to describe love. Why? If a relationship is not expanding it is contracting, and love in a relationship that is contracting will eventually fizzle out and die.
Whether or not an interaction feels expansive is the first question I asked myself when I’m considering how much effort and time I want to put into any relationship, no matter if it’s romantic, a friendship, or a business partnership.
When dealing with an intimate partnership, an expansive dynamic looks very different than contracting dynamic. Here are some real-life examples I’ve heard from others whose relationships are expanding:
“Being with Ben has given me the added confidence to take on challenges that scare me.”
“With Rebecca, I can relax and be myself. Coming home feels like an oasis where I can recharge.”
“When BJ and I do something to upset each other, we try to talk about it as early on as possible so it doesn’t fester or keep happening. We try to talk about the issue like we’re on one side and the problem is on the other side.”
“Once a week Steve and I go on a date. We put our phones away and make each other the priority. We also write down a couple of questions or observations to share with each other. It helps us decompress and continue to learn things about each other.”
“We are always laughing together.”
“We never go to bed angry.”
Here are some examples of relationships that are contracting:
“If I want to stay with Rob I have to forgive him for cheating on me.”
“I think Chris just needs more time. Later on, we can revisit the conversation of meeting my needs.”
“When I come home after business trips and ask Mai how she is, she tells me how wonderful everything was while I was away and how I’m not making enough money.”
“I’ve always wanted to feel desired but Kathy never initiates sex and has never talked about why. We’ve been married so long and never had these conversations so it feels too late to start.”
“He never says ‘I love you.'”
“She never says, ‘thank you.'”
If you’re making excuses for your partner’s behavior, ask yourself why. If you feel like you are making them and their needs more of a priority than they are making yours, ask yourself why. If you feel like you cannot fully be yourself in the relationship or are not working towards being your best self, ask yourself why. Does the answer sound expansive?
Something else to think about it is where compromise falls on the expansive-contractive spectrum. Depending on how much each person is compromising and how much each person is benefitting it could be expansive or contractive. Do you feel like you are maturing or growing when you compromise? Provided you value the relationship, does the compromise feel beneficial for the relationship on the whole? If you’re not speaking up at all about your wants and needs for fear of disrupting the status quo in your relationship, then your relationship, or at least whatever aspect you’re not speaking up about, is in a contractive state.
Further reading: Dr. Daniel Amen makes great suggestions in this article about getting out of fatalistic thinking, identifying and eradicating Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs).
Various products featuring my painting, Expansion, featured below, can be purchased here. It was this painting that was the inspiration for Plato's Ladder's logo.