Water is necessary to live. But not all water is safe to drink; in fact, if it is contaminated, it can be quite deadly. The same applies to relationships. To be Grown is to set higher standards for what healthy love and loving are—to accept not just anything that passes for love, but nothing less than Grown, healthy love, what we call Good Love. Helping people to stop chasing substitutes and to recognize and attract Good Love is exactly why we wrote (and so many people are reading) our book, Loving In The Grown Zone: A No-Nonsense Guide to Making Healthy Decisions in the Quest for Healthy Romantic Relationships of Honor, Esteem and Respect.

Good Love is always:

An emotionally safe, healing and nurturing refuge from—not a source of—pain, anxiety and stress. In healthy relationships, partners are allies against adversity and in pursuit of opportunities, not adversaries, nor the source of one anothers problems. Stress and misfortune does not pull them apart—it brings them closer together.

A relationship of partners who are always tender, compassionate and considerate of one anothers feelings, desires and needs, and mutually committed to treatment and behavior that brings honor, esteem and respect. It is recognition that tenderness is not just about how you touch each other, but how you treat each other when you’re not touching each other, and especially when you are away from each other.

A relationship in which partners maintain a space of peace, fun and joy. They are committed to intimacy even when they do not share proximity, in part through constant, always honest and non-judgmental communication, so nothing and no one can separate them. They demonstrate and earn trust and confidence, and draw strength and security, from one another. If every day, regardless of life’s circumstances, starts and ends with smiles, with lots of shared laughter in between, it’s likely Good Love.

This is what good love looks like, not the picture perfect fairy-tales of Hollywood marriages and celebrity couples fanatically promoted by popular media (and just as eagerly picked apart when they result in public break-ups and costly divorces). Authentic, Good Love is the kind of love that endures through thick and thin, and conquers all, not the self-indulgent sex, ego-driven desire, obsessive control and possessiveness, and unhealthy dependency often celebrated as “love.” Real, authentic love is always and unconditionally good for you, not just conditionally good to you. In other words, it is always healthy—to mind, body and spirit—not just pleasurable. Moreover, love cannot be authentic when it is accompanied by unloving treatment and behaviors.

Do you have Good Love? Here are a couple of reality checks:

When you are lying awake at night, worried about facing illness, financial issues, guilt and pain from your past, or other problems, is the person with whom you share your body, home, money and/or heart a reliable source of strength, reassurance and compassion; discouragement and blame; or burdensome uselessness? Is he or she present and available, or absent altogether (busy “loving” someone else, perhaps), physically and/or emotionally? Are you sleeping with a staunch ally, a disinterested observer or your enemy?

Or how about this: When you put your key in the door (or hear the key turning in the door) of your home at the end of the day, does your heart pound with tension and anxiety, or leap with joy and anticipation?

And finally: Imagine yourself lying sick, broken, weak and powerless. Who cares for you when money won’t fix it, sex is not possible and good looks are useless or gone? Who sits faithfully by your side?

Only you know the answers to these questions; you don’t have to tell us, but you can’t hide the truth from yourself. If you have Good Love, great—treasure, protect and nurture it. However, if you don’t, you have only two choices: change the relationship (impossible without a partner who shares your commitment) or end it to make room for the unconditional love we in the Grown Zone believe you were created to give and receive.

You hear the rationalizations for tolerating unhealthy mistreatment in relationships every day: Every relationship has problems. Just because she cheats on me/he hits me/she belittles me/he ignores me/she lies to me doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. There is a huge difference between partners who can count on each other to face problems, and two people who are each others problem, by virtue of their neglect, abuse, betrayal or other mistreatment of one another. Just because there is no such thing as a perfect relationship does not mean you should accept anything less than a healthy relationship. The first step to recognizing Good Love is refusing to acknowledge—much less engage in—anything less. The fact is, if it’s not Good Love, it’s not love at all.

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