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Good religion: Someone who worships the same God, and in the same way, as you do.

These are all legitimate relationship attractors—they draw people to one another, which is both healthy and natural. However, looks, sex, money, status, lifestyle and religion are not love. They can’t possibly be, particularly because they are temporary and bound to change over time and in ways we can’t control. Our insistence on believing otherwise is the underlying cause of unhealthy relationships, unhappy marriages and the oft-referenced 50-plus percent divorce rate. Attractors are why we enter and commit to relationships that have everything we thought we wanted, only to find that they don’t have the one thing we need: healthy love.

Love—true love, the kind that nurtures relationships and the people committed to them—is a very specific thing, defined by respect, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, fidelity and safety. These are what we call relationship sustainers in our book, Loving In The Grown Zone; they tend to not only last, but get stronger over time in relationships of honor, esteem and respect. If you want to decrease the likelihood of getting stuck in failed relationships and increase the odds of finding and maintaining a resilient, loving one, focus your search on sustainers, not attractors.

The love you seek from others can never exceed or substitute for the love you demonstrate for your self. Unfortunately, most of us are taught to believe the opposite of this, that we are incomplete and incapable of knowing real love until and unless we find it in another (our so-called soul mate). When you buy into this notion, you surrender responsibility for your own happiness, while waiting for someone else—that “special” someone, a.k.a., The One—to bring it to you. Eventually, this feeds the belief that life in a relationship—any relationship—is better than being alone. And this leads to lowered standards, poor choices, and unhealthy, dissatisfying and unsustainable relationships.

Instead of learning this lesson the hard way, accept this truth: The capacity for others to love you can never exceed the love you demonstrate for yourself. If you are desperate for love, you don’t need the love of another; you need to focus on building a more loving relationship with yourself. The more expert you become at loving self, the better your judgement will be when determining who is qualified to meet that standard of care for you, and demonstrates a willingness to commit to it. Regardless of your relationship status (even after you are happily married), it is your responsibility (not your mate’s) to set, communicate and enforce your standard of treatment. Good, healthy love cannot happen without self love.

We do not instinctively know how to love. Assuming that because we fall in love, we know how to love, is like assuming that we’ll instantly know how to swim if thrown into the sea. Which, of course, is absolutely untrue; some of us may manage to survive, while many of us—likely most of us—would drown. Yet people take major risks and make permanent commitments—including unprotected sex, procreation and marriage—based on the mistaken, but widely promoted idea that merely falling in love is all the qualification you need to be in a relationship. The result is the equivalent of drownings in relationships, including (but not limited to) 50-percent-plus divorce rates.

The truth is, while we are all born with the need, instinct and capacity to love, we are not born knowing how to do it. Learning by trial and error is a costly proposition, take it from us. Better to commit to actual education and preparation, including from books like Loving In The Grown Zone and classes and other training to determine and strengthen your understanding and aptitude for healthy relationships. Do not make the false assumption that you know how to love, no matter how strong your desire for it.

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