By Tina Engel
I knew in December that I was going to write this blog and have it post on Valentine’s Day yet found myself pondering the meaning of love and the journey I went on to make love meaningful.
My name is Tina Engel. I am a Marriage and Family therapist and the Executive Director at Christian Counseling Center San Jose. My husband and I met in high school and got engaged a month after we graduated. I specialize in couples therapy not because I loved well, but because I did not know how to love.
How do you know you have met the love of your life if you don’t know what love is or what that even means. We fought so much our first year of marriage that I thought to myself, is this love? Did I marry the wrong person? Is this all there is until “death do us part?”
When you look back on your love relationships, what made you pick who you picked? Why did that person pick you back? Was it to not feel alone anymore? Was it because that is the thing to do? Was it because of what you did for each other or was it because of how it made you feel?
What is that key ingredient that holds couples together when the honeymoon phase ends and the first stressful fight ends unresolved, hurt, and feeling judged? How does a couple find closure in one fight before getting entangled in another that has the potential to make things even worse.
I remember my husband shared at one of our marriage workshops that the worst part of loneliness isn’t being single, but being married to someone you cannot even touch toes with in bed.
I believed marriage would help me no longer feel insecure, flawed, and fearful. I assumed that for once in my life, I would feel enough, and therefore, content with life. Marriage made me feel like my biggest fears were true, that I really was not enough to love and be loved. It was one of the hardest most painful times in my life.
We separated two years after marriage because the pain of living with each other seemed more painful than living without each other.
We celebrated our Silver Anniversary during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. We couldn’t wait to hibernate away from the world for just a few days and unplug with each other. He is my best friend, my lover, and the father of my two sons. I have a deep respect for him and proud of who he has become.
How did we make it?
I realized that I was expecting love to make me feel better. For me, the meaning of love came out of learning what hurt me. It came from trying to understand my pain by listening, learning, and understanding all the parts I believed were broken inside of me; the ones I thought were permanently damaged and the ones I judged as weak. Self acceptance and self compassion was the beginning of my journey in making love meaningful. Only then did I realize I could only love others at the extent that I love myself.
My husband and I, with the help of a Christian therapist, went on the longest and hardest journey, the journey inward. We grew up emotionally together when we let pain be our teacher. It helped us find freedom to love ourselves as we are and to love others as they are. What if the meaning of love was just that…….being okay with feeling broken together and loving each other right there. What if making love meaningful is loving ourselves right there.
Wherever you are at in your life, in a relationship, just broken up, or single, you are good enough just as you are. Making love meaningful is a personal journey and it is one worth every step. Happy Valentine’s Day!