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  • Writer's pictureStephen Hart

Growing In Love

Looking back over my relationships, there was a clear distinction between those where I fell in love and those where I grew in love. I didn't know it at the time, but with perspective, growing in love with a partner created the most profound and deep connections. I enjoyed exploring this in this article. Enjoy!

 

Falling in love is exciting and scary, with butterflies, fantasies

and life through rose-colored glasses. Your heart melts and you feel like nothing can go wrong. You live in a world of bliss and joy. This ‘falling in love’ is glamourized in all the movies, books, and songs because it is exciting and inspiring. The problem with falling is there is an endpoint. The ground. The excitement settles, the butterflies scatter, the fantasies fade.


Growing in love is different. It is simple and steady. It feels natural. It may not always be exciting or inspiring, but it is sustainable and real. It is aligned and grounded. It persists through the ups and downs of life. It is a foundation of purpose, a source of strength, and a guide for navigating a partnership. Growing in love takes patience and understanding. You create a container of love within which your partner gets to grow and evolve, as you do, and in doing so, your love grows together.


I find it backwards that pop culture so often refers to marriage as a prison and your partner as the ‘ol ball and chain’. What’s the point of getting married then? Why so often does a relationship go from love to a trap? When you fall in love, you eventually hit the ground. The ground doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the relationship, but it is the end of the expansion of love. The love still may be there, but it isn’t growing. This is because falling in love is based on emotional intensity, fantasy, projection, and a need for validation, none of which are permanent. People change over time, needs change over time, desire changes over time. The person you fell for will not be the same in 10 years. If there is no space for this growth, the relationship becomes a prison.


Is it possible to fall in love with someone and then grow in love with them? Absolutely. But it takes a shift in perspective, a lot of good communication, and both parties being on the same page about what is happening. Growth needs to be a value that is understood and appreciated.


For most of my life, I was a faller. Mostly because my perception of love was through the fantasies in TV shows and movies. Jim and Pam from The Office was my ideal love, a ‘you are the only one in the world for me’ sort of perfect love. I had uncertainties in relationships if they didn’t feel this way.


Then there was a pivotal experience in my relationship with Karina back in 2020. After 6 years together we realized we were stuck, the growth had slowed, and we both needed some time apart to work on our own things. She left on a trip around the world and we had no plans to reunite unless the universe led us back to each other.


During that time, I needed to figure out what exactly I wanted in a partner. What were my values? What did I really want? In the midst of the initial COVID lockdown, I had a lot of time to sit with this. It was a transformative time for me, the first time I could determine what I truly valued in a relationship and wanted in life. It was challenging, confusing, and stressful, but the universe gave me the people and experiences I needed to find what I was looking for.


Back from her trip, and both having accomplished what we set out to experience, Karina and I were eventually led back to each other.


Then there was a moment, a conversation as we sat and watched the ocean, that formed my guiding principle in love and relationships. Karina said to me, “we didn’t fall in love, we grew in love.” She went on to show me how much we had grown over the course of the 6 years, and how proud she was that we built a relationship in which we could both grow as individuals and as a couple. And when the time came that this growth slowed, we were able to separate, grow on our own, and come back together with a deeper and more profound connection than ever. At this moment, I understood growing in love and realized that this was our path.


She then said, "When shit hits the fan, who do you want in your corner?” And my answer was her. With this, I was ready to marry her. Thinking about the hard times in life, challenges with my business, healing from the loss of my mom, and finding myself as an adult man, she was the one I wanted by my side. And this was because, as we know, all challenges are an opportunity to grow and growth was our highest value. Through thick and thin, we grew as individuals, and we grew as partners.


Now, I’m not a perfect partner, nor was she. We were both human. At times I disappointed her, frustrated her, and angered her. During those times, we separated, sat with our emotions, empathized with each other, and came back together to find clarity and connection on the situation. This is how our relationship expanded. We evolved as a couple and grew as individuals each time we did this. Each time we did this, our love grew stronger.


This was put to the ultimate test when the real shit did hit the fan. I’ve heard story after story of partners leaving their spouses when they got ill because they couldn’t handle the stress. When Karina started getting sick, which ultimately led to a cancer diagnosis, and her eventual passing, the thought of leaving, or even doing anything else in life other than caring for her was unfathomable. At this point, our love was so expansive that nothing else mattered and I would climb Everest barefoot to save her.


But I couldn’t, and this was our greatest lesson. We grew in these months at a lightning pace. As Karina faced her mortality with courage, grace, and perspective, I dug into every ounce of my being to support her, keep her comfortable, make her smile, and ensure she was getting the care she needed, all while facing my biggest fear in life: losing my partner. Transformative doesn’t even begin to describe this experience.


People often told me how impressed they were with me for all that I was doing. I didn’t understand that. I couldn’t imagine doing any less than everything to take care of her. As hard as it was, it felt like the only thing that mattered, and I would do anything that was needed.

Shortly after her passing, her father sent me a message that I’ll never forget. He said that Karina’s final gift to me was showing me the strength of character I possessed that was beyond what I could have imagined. And it was true, the experience was so intense I could feel myself evolving in real-time. Even in her sickness, Karina held space for me to do this, as I did for her.


This was the result of growing in love.


Though our physical relationship has come to an end, this value is within me. I’m not looking to fall in love again. I’m looking to grow in love again. To take the next step on my path. To build upon what Karina and I had. To keep climbing higher and higher. Onward and Upward.

 

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