Real Love is Available Love

by | May 26, 2019 | Relationships, Wedding/marriage transition | 40 comments

The first part of this post appeared on Instagram this week. I’m expounding upon it here. 

Real love is available love. It’s not the chase. It’s not drama. It’s not longing. It’s not the kiss at the end of the movie or finally snagging the one who got away. Real love is here-and-now, human, messy love. It’s two imperfectly whole people committing to sharing and creating a life together – a life that will include as much heartache as joy. It’s the commitment that matters.

The commitment to wrestling with the fear when it shows up, as it will.

The commitment to repairing after ruptures, of which there will be many.

The commitment to saying “I don’t know” more than “I know.”

The commitment to prioritizing connection over being right.

The commitment to taking space when you need it but always coming back to say, “I’m here.”

The commitment to renewing the choice to show up every day, if not every hour.

Real love is vulnerable love. Real love is learning how to say, “The story I’m telling myself is…” instead of attacking, blaming, or withdrawing. The key phrase in that last sentence is “learning how”, for very few people know how to communicate with vulnerability naturally. When we don’t grow up witnessing and receiving emotionally vulnerable communication it’s difficult to know how to respond when we’re hurt, so we default into the primitive responses of blame, attack, or withdrawal. The commitment is to learning over time – by which I mean years, decades, even – how to respond with softness. For the first fifteen years of my marriage, I failed miserably at vulnerability. It’s only in recent years that I’ve become more adept at it, but I still fail all the time. The commitment is to growing, not to perfection (which doesn’t exist).

Real love triggers unhealed fear and unshed grief, for it’s only in relationship with an available partner that we feel safe enough to peer into the sealed off places of psyche and begin to bring the hidden pain to light. We don’t necessarily choose to do this healing work; nobody in their conscious mind would choose to break open the defended heart. But real love says, “It’s time now. It’s safe now.” If you don’t understand how fear works, you’ll mistakenly take the projections literally and run off with the first thought-baton that says, “This must mean I don’t love my partner.” You will do this until you learn about real love and begin to reverse engineer the projections, arriving at the core of fears of “not enough” that live at the root and need your tenderness in order to heal.

Real love is a reflection of your life, like a mirrored pond, which means that if you’re bored in your life you’ll be bored with your partner. Real love isn’t an elixir that lifts you out of discomfort, pain, or emptiness.

Real love invites self-love, but it’s not dependent on it. We often hear, “You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.” I disagree. It’s through real love that we learn not only how to love ourselves but also how to love another.

Real love is interdependent, not codependent, which means that you depend on each other, you lean on each other, and you hold each other through life’s joys and challenges, but you don’t expect the other to fill you up or rescue you from your pain.

Codependence says: I am responsible for your emotions and you’re responsible for mine.

Interdependence says: We’re each independent but we depend on each other for emotional support.

Real love is a safe harbor amidst life’s stormy seas. Real love can be stormy at times as well, but at the core is a safety that feels like home.

Real love can tolerate rupture. In fact, the repairs that occur after ruptures are how healthy relationships grow stronger. We will mess up over and over again with those we love. We will hurt them. We will shame them. We will drop them when they reach for us. This is what it means to be human. But in real love, we will also repair, over and over and over again. We will learn through the ruptures so that we hurt each other less and grow more loving over time.

Real love can tolerate messiness and shadow.

Real love is a choice; it’s not a feeling or a fantasy. It’s not always easy, and it might not “feel” the way you’ve been culturally conditioned to expect love to feel.

Real love includes fear in all forms, including irritation, boredom, doubt, and ambivalence.

Real love is a bowl of oatmeal: warm and nourishing in your soul.

Real love is a pair of mallard ducks floating on a creek in spring.

Real love is the only kind of love worth fighting for.

Real love is a blessing and a true gift.

Real love is why we’re here.


For an in-depth roadmap of real love, consider my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course



  1. I was reflecting on marriage yesterday, and wrote something similar to this. I’m going to keep this article handy as a reminder while I go through the marriage transition.

    “When we don’t grow up witnessing and receiving emotionally vulnerable communication it’s difficult to know how to respond when we’re hurt, so we default into the primitive responses of blame, attack, or withdrawal.”

    This is so true. I grew up in a very emotionally vulnerable home, where emotions were out in the open and shared with each other. My fiance’s home – the opposite. So when I come to him with my feelings, he withdraws. That could also be because I’m an enneagram 4 (very emotionally open and intense) and he’s a 5 (analytical and overwhelmed by big feelings). It’s nice to know that this is common, and that vulnerability can be grown.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful, A. It’s an interesting distinction between emotionally open and emotionally vulnerable. I, too, am a 4 on the Enneagram, and while I’ve always been emotionally open it took me so long to learn how to be emotionally vulnerable with my husband (it’s always been easier with friends).

      • Just curious. What would be the difference between the two? Aren’t we emotionally open when we are being emotionally vulnerable?

        • They’re similar but not quite the same. Emotional vulnerability is closely connected to accountability and being non-defensive in the moment of feeling hurt or blamed. It’s being willing to say, “I’m feeling hurt” or “The story I’m telling myself is…”. Emotionally open is the willingness to talk about one’s pain, loss, grief, fear. To read more I highly recommend Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight.”

  2. How wonderful. I am printing this article out and putting it up on my wall. It’s sucn a lovely touchstone for when things get murky. Thank you, Sheryl! I also pre-ordered your book and I am so excited to read it. Your work has been a literal life saver to me, thank you again. 🙂

    • I’m so glad it was helpful, Diana, and thank you for the support and your kinds words! x

  3. This is beautiful (and I’m trying not to be jealous). I really like your differentiation between codependence and interdependence. I’m scared of the reality of real love and what it will look and feel like once I find the right person to create it with. I thought I had real love, and perhaps aspects of it were real. Though, I am scared nothing will ever measure up. It felt like oatmeal, but ultimately it didn’t endure. I suppose these things aren’t black and white.

    • Yes, they’re not black-and-white, and that’s probably one of the most painful aspects of life to accept. Sending love to you on your continuing healing journey.

  4. I love this one so much.

  5. Yes yes and yes! Real love is not what i thought it would look like. It takes time to look resistance in the face and figure out all the stories you are telling yourself that stop you from love. This work really is an expansion of what love can be. When I started I thought it would limit me but what i’m realizing is that it opens you up to more ways of loving yourself and your partner. And my friends and family! I’ve been stuck in fear and judgement and blame for so long and what i keep seeing is that the more the stories fall away the more freedom I have to love differently and to love more. Its daily work though and it doesn’t change overnight. But I can tell you that when you start letting it open you up rather than saying its all your partners fault you will recognize a difference. Thank you, Sheryl, for helping open up a new way. 🙂

    • Thank you for beautifully articulating your process and your learning. Real love does expand us, even when the ego tells us otherhwise ;).

  6. This is one of the most beautiful posts about love I’ve ever read. I will keep this close to my heart.

  7. Sheryl, this is so genuinely beautiful. It touched my soul deeply, to the point that I could feel joyful tears of excited “Yes!” falling down my cheeks. This sentence especially hit close to home:

    “Real love can tolerate rupture. In fact, the repairs that occur after ruptures are how healthy relationships grow stronger. We will mess up over and over again with those we love. We will hurt them. We will shame them. We will drop them when they reach for us. This is what it means to be human. But in real love, we will also repair, over and over and over again. We will learn through the ruptures so that we hurt each other less and grow more loving over time.”

    I mess up. A lot. And the more I mess up, the more I “choose not to choose”, fight vulnerability, and choose primitive ways of dealing with my emotions, the more my heart closes. I can almost literally feel my walls building taller and taller, each time I fail to destructive emotions. And I know the only way to open my heart again is through vulnerability. But it’s hard. It really is. I mess up a lot, and never seem to stop; on the contrary, it only gets worse as my walls build taller and stronger. And yet, reading that you of all people failed to vulnerability for 15 years… Really made me feel better. It’s ok to mess up. For hours, days. Even for months. But it’s just important to also consciously take action and do our best in order to improve ourselves and not hurt our partners. And that is 100% possible.

    I mess up a lot. I’ve showed my partner my ugliest, most aggressive, violent, annoying, obnoxious, smartass, short-tempered, hateful, egoistic, rudest self. And yet, he’s still here. He still loves me. He still thinks the greatest things about me, and describes me as the most wonderful person in the world. And I just wonder… How? How, when 70% of time I’m showing you only the ugliest and most toxic parts of me?

    I think… That if a person is able to see the real you, your good parts, even through every all the constant messes and mistakes… I think that’s a person who truly loves you. That kind of person who is worth waiting for.

    Thank you, Sheryl. Much love ?

    • Love love ❤️

    • I’m so glad that reading my story and my journey around vulnerability helped you accept your process around it. We’re all so incredibly human, which means full of shadow and wound which comes out in messy ways. To find someone who sees the essential you amidst the messiness is a gift, indeed.

    • There is so much hope contained in the blurb you have referenced, “In fact the repairs that occur after ruptures are how healthy relationships grow stronger.” And reading how honestly and readily you responded to this post, in a shock-and-awe, takes-some-getting-used-to way, tugs at my own heart. I think I have had similarly true and meaningful revelations as a result of studying Sheryl’s work. And I am more astounded than ever, Sheryl, at your affinity for selecting the most powerful words to frame such complicated experiences. Thank you, thank you, thank you, both. How serendipitous, I feel I needed this tonight. A very transitional evening, from a 3-day weekend back into the whirlwind of my office life.

      • I’m so glad it arrived at the right time, Abby, and thank you for your beautiful response.

  8. This post made me feel so happy. Although my partner broke up with me after 7 years and I am still dealing with that heartbreak, i know I am learning a lot of lessons that I needed to learn. This post also helped me to realize that I had normal feelings and experiences in love. I wish that we could have read that and understood it together. Maybe we could have deepened our relationship in a way that I wanted. I’m not sure what will happen next, but I will take these words with me. Thank you so much Sheryl.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Jasmine. Sending love through your loss, and I applaud you for being able to take in this message even through your heartbreak.

  9. This article needs to printed out and read out loud every morning and night. Thank you Sheryl.

  10. Hi Sheryl!

    Firstly I’d love to say that this blog post is so nice to read!

    About 3 years ago I found your website while I was really struggling with relationship anxiety and intrusive thoughts. It helped me so much at the time but unfortunately the relationship I was in ended when my partner left. In the end it got too much for her and we never really understood what was happening to me and why I had so much anxiety and I didn’t get to do the work properly before it all ended.

    A little while after the break up, as you could probably imagine, I started to feel so much better because of course, I no longer had the intrusive thoughts!
    I hate to say it because I know it can be triggering for some, but I literally felt free and so at peace with myself and I hadn’t felt that in so so long!
    I am conscious and aware enough to know however that of course I wouldn’t have the anxiety anymore if the relationship was not present anymore. There was no longer anything for me to be anxious about!

    Fast forward now, it’s been about a year and a half since then and I am now with a man who I met and didn’t think too much would happen because I was SO AFRAID to let myself be with anyone for the fear of losing myself again!
    Regardless, I’ve been with him a little over a year and all was going well until about 8 months in when I started to have intrusive thoughts again!
    I think I was sparked and triggered because I found out that early in our relationship he had still been chatting to a few other girls from his past. Of course it made me so sad and I considered ending it but something told me that I still wanted to continue this relationship with him and that our paths had not finished.
    I told myself it was okay because it all happened early on and we were really not even together yet and since then he hasn’t done anything to make me think that he isn’t a good person or anything to make me feel uneasy.
    However, my thoughts and anxiety will not have it!
    I only a few days ago looked at your blog again after not visiting in quite some time! It’s definetly helped to read!

    I especially resonated with the blog posts you recently posted:
    The first being the one about having to be single to heal and the other about getting into the arena and choosing courage over comfort.

    I always have trouble with the thought that I was so free and happy when I was single and so many things opened up for me and I said yes to every opportunity. I felt very aligned at the time and I struggle now, being with someone to feel that same way but I also understand that anxiety can cripple you if you don’t do the work and try to understand the root causes.

    In regards to courage and comfort, I have these contrasting ideas that; being in the relationship is courageous because I have to show up to my thoughts and anxiety in order to stay, but also the other intrusive thought cycle i have is that I am comfortable in this relationship and it would be more courageous to break up as the detachment from my boyfriend is what I’m uncomfortable with.

    I try to let these thoughts slide by but sometimes I still struggle.
    With the help of my therapist I have become much better in knowing what an intrusive thought is but as we all know they can be very convincing which is what I’m dealing with today.

    The other day my boyfriend and I were in an arguement and I was so annoyed and felt unappreciated and unheard for something that he did ( I am still working on how to argue better and be softer in this process so my boyfriend doesn’t feel attacked), it wasn’t a huge deal I can see now but to me in my mind it was just SO hurtful!
    We fought all day and I just let rip to everything that was irritating me and was probably quite rude and mean to him. Sometimes when we argue he retracts and withdraws because I can just go and go at him and his withdrawal makes me even more mad (which I can identify as me not getting what I want or feeling more bretrayed maybe).
    At the end of the day I said I was going to leave and go stay at my mums, I packed a bag and said goodbye to him and that it was over but for some reason in all my anger I couldn’t leave, he ended up pulling me close and hugged me until we fell asleep.

    I observed my behaviour the next day and I thought, I constantly, especially when we argue have the temptation to end the relationship but can never walk out or even if I do leave the house I am almost immediately waiting for him to ran after me or call or text me.
    This leads me to believe that even though as I mentioned earlier, that my thoughts trigger me into thinking the break up would be the courageous part of this whole situation and the relationship is the comfort, when actually what might be happening is the opposite because in the break up I am looking for him to want me more and trying to get him to forfill this need of being wanted or seen/heard, which I suppose comes from childhood in some way or another.

    I have never really left anyone that I have been in a long term relationship with but I suppose I have had ‘mini’ break ups with people that I’ve gone on a few dates with or maybe if I’ve been seeing them for a little while and in those relationships when it comes to parting ways I am not looking for them to want me back or to chase me because ultimately I am at peace and intuitively know they are not for me.

    I guess I am understanding now more and more what I’ve known all along and that is that I have to realise that the intrusive thoughts and anxiety are fear based in which they are trying to not get me to heal this part of myself because it can be very painful for the ego and inner child.
    The wanting to be single again is ultimately the wanting to be free from having to heal which of course is not ideal for the long run.

    I didn’t intend for this comment to be so long but in some ways writing to someone helps me understand more myself.

    I hope you are having a wonderful day! 🙂 x

    • It sounds like you made many important connecting through writing this comment, which is a strong indicator that you would benefit from the journaling practice that I teach in the course. We have our own wisdom!

      • I actually had purchased the course probably 2-3 years ago but when my relationship ended I never used it.
        I wonder if my subscription is still valid?

  11. Really grateful to come home to this article after attending a wedding with a very suave groom. My sweetheart is not comfortable with dancing and I was definitely jealous of those with smooth partners. Even started to doubt if we really have enough fun/chemistry. But then I realized that he committed to dancing with me ALL NIGHT even though it’s not his thing because he knows I love it and he wants to feel more comfortable for our wedding later this year. My heart is full of oatmeal love. Funny how perspective can shift so quickly.

    • It is truly amazing how quickly perspective can shift, especially when we connect to the heart-opening elixir of appreciation!

  12. Sheryl, as always, your words speak directly to my heart! I found your work nearly two years ago when I was at my lowest ebb in my marriage, and thankfully I managed to work through my crippling fears of not ‘feeling in love’ with my husband, and have come out the other side with a much stronger connection and a deeper appreciation for him and our love than I believed possible at the time. You are so wise and I feel truly blessed to have found you and your work – thank you. x

    • What a beautiful comment, Abby, and I’m so happy to hear that you’ve come out the other side stronger and more connected than before. This is what happens when we do the work!

  13. A sweet post, thanks!

  14. Just curious. What would be the difference between the two? Aren’t we emotionally open when we are being emotionally vulnerable?

    • Good question, Cami. I responded above :). .

  15. Bliss and I loved this one so much, it’s going on the Fridge!! Thank you Sheryl XXX

    • So much love and blessings to both of you! xo

  16. Not sure if this is a suitable question on the Break Free forum, since it’s marriage related instead of anxiety specific, but one of my fears in the marriage transition is that my fiance didn’t witness a healthy marriage relationship (the “real love”) growing up – his parents have remained together but the communication/vulnerability is very low and they both harbor resentments. Issues were stuffed under the rug, not brought up and resolved. This is a stark contrast to my upbringing, where my parents were emotional and vulnerable (around the kids, even) but everything was communicated. Because this is the model he received, I’m worried about this repeating in my own marriage. We’ve talked about how we want our marriage to be different, but in conflict he withdraws and has a really hard time with vulnerability (since this was never expected of him like it was in my house – if I looked bothered, I would be asked about it and expected to give an answer). I guess “real love” must be taught/learned/practiced. When getting married, it’s almost like you expect to know how to be in an intimate relationship, but it requires its own guide…

  17. I’d just like to take a moment to thank you first for all of your incredible work! I’m currently half way through your “Breaking free from relationship anxiety course” – not only has it been such a life line for me, I’m also just finding it all so incredibly fascinating!

    My one question though with regards to “the chase” is that while the beginning of my relationship certainly had a chase element (my partner chasing me rather than me chasing him), we most definitely reached a blissful stage where we were on the same page, giving and receiving equally & both equally committed in the relationship. This seemed to last for at least a year and it was heavenly & safe and secure. I don’t think that at any stage I was the chaser, and this in fact made me feel extremely safe and infinitely loved (to know that my partner, though awful to admit, maybe always loved me just that fraction more).

    So I suppose my question is that if I was never the pursuer, and not “longing” for my partner, and my feelings toward him were therefore real love, why has fear suddenly dropped in and made me so doubtful of everything? Why has real love been so easy to challenge?

    • I’m so glad the course has been helpful and enlightening. It’s actually the distancer, which you have been, who carries the fear and uncertainty. It will make more sense as you progress through the course :).

  18. I love this article and can definitley feel a lot of truth in it.

    My main hook, however, focuses on the ‘purity’ of love, and whether or not I am a truly selfless and loving partner. I want to be able to say I love my partner for who he is deep down, as a person. But I worry that my attraction to him is based on his qualities that directly affect me and this means that I am selfish. For example, he is a very domestic kind of person, which is how I’d describe myself too, and seeing him pick up the majority of housework makes me very grateful but also guilty. He is my ‘rock’ and keeps us on track whereas I am still battling my anxiety/depression.

    I do have a history of being hard on myself and I have spoken about this with my partner, who assures me he feels very loved by me. I keep coming back to this idea of it not being a ‘pure’ love, though, especially in times of disconnection.

    I am just curious if anyone has any thoughts on this idea of a pure/unconditional/’i love you for you’ kind of partnership that I feel like I’m missing.


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