Knowing the keys to real love is essential for us to find love, to be in love, and ultimately, to stay in love. Love has many characteristics for different people, but the most common denominators seem to be these:
First off, how do we feel about ourselves, and how do we show it? It's often said that if you don't like yourself, no one else will either. The same is true for love; how will someone else be devoted to us if we don't consider ourselves worthy in the first place? Self-esteem, properly balanced and not egotistical, not craving for constant attention by others, demonstrates that we can give this devotion to others just as we give it to our self. Being balanced means that we accept our strengths right along with our weaknesses, and we accept with gratitude who we are. With quiet confidence, we like who we are and it shows.
Sincere devotion is based upon who we really are, and not for whom we might pretend to be. Sincere and genuine, based only upon truth, it gives us confidence that we have the real thing, and that our partner is faithful. The things we say and do for the other, and in turn what we hear and see, are honest and not manipulated. Sincerity builds trust in a relationship, and it's trust that builds the foundation for the relationship to last. So essential is that trust, that if it's ever betrayed, the foundation is broken and we then suffer the worst pain possible in our relationship. The key here is to say and do what we honestly mean, with no intent to ever deceive.
Our love is humble when we put the needs of our partner ahead of our own. It enables us to say that we're sorry and mean it, and that we're willing to learn from our mistakes. Humility is based upon self-confidence, knowing that we don't need constant praise or affirmation just to make us feel good. Honestly caring more about others than about our self is an attractive quality, and so others are naturally drawn to us. However, being humble does not mean being taken advantage of, or being weak. Rather, it takes great strength to show real humility, and sensibility to avoid being manipulated.
Kindness is one of the ways we have to show true devotion, in fact carrying out those three favorite words: "I love you". It means giving our partner things that are precious to ourselves, such as our time, attention, and understanding, without necessarily expecting anything in return (although quite often it is). It's taking the initiative, giving those things without being asked, and doing so makes our partner feel special indeed. We already know how important it is to our friends for us to just be there and listen. How much more so for our life partner!
Patience is our capacity to love imperfect people in an imperfect world. Patience is passive, rather than reactive, showing how we respond to problems and things that are otherwise inconvenient and annoying. It shows our partner that we are consistently willing to put our goals and principles above disappointments and delays, simply because we believe in them. We are in full control of our emotions, our temper, and we are not rude or abrupt. We're willing to do things at our partner's pace rather than our own, knowing that it's best for our partner. It shows that we always feel our partner is worth waiting for. But most important of all, it shows that we see things in our partner far greater than any problems, annoyances or inconveniences.
Forgiveness is probably chief among the many challenges to our ultimate devotion. When we are wronged, hurt, or even betrayed by our partner, our first instinct is to seek justice - some sort of punishment to settle the score and ease our pain. But such a situation gives us a choice to make, albeit a very difficult one. We choose forgiveness when we believe that our partner is sincerely sorry for what was inflicted, has learned from it and vows never to repeat it. Forgiveness not only replaces our anger and frustration, but it frees us to love again. It's an affirmation to our partner, in fact a rather significant one, that we still see that greater goodness in them, and that it trumps all else. Even if the hurt is such that it ultimately dissolves the relationship, it's still essential to forgive, and not be held hostage by anger, resentment, and bitterness, which would otherwise carry over into our next relationship (aka "baggage").
To be selfless is to find satisfaction in helping our partner get ahead, without regard for personal considerations. Selflessness shows our partner that we not only recognize and respect them for who they are, but that we're also willing to spend our time and energy to achieve their needs prior to our own. Instead of placing demands upon them to be what we think they should be, we set our partner free to be them self without any conditions from us. We are not jealous, and we are not in competition. Again, it's a demonstration that we recognize the goodness in our partner, and we honestly want to advance that goodness.