The Power of Love
January 25th, 2018 by Dianna Troyer

A couple walk in the rain under an umbrella. Fresh Stock

Experts and everyday people share transforming and inspiring stories of love, and advice for keeping love alive

Songs and sonnets, movies and books all express our timeless and deepest need to love and be loved. These loving and compassionate connections we make with others give meaning to our lives.

Like a shock absorber, love cushions life’s inevitable speed bumps, with respect, rituals and resilience helping love last a lifetime.

To Laurel Crover, love looks like her son Joe and his 10-year-old son, Stephen, grinning and bald-headed at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. A photo shows Joe with his head shaven to match his son’s hairless scalp, a result of chemotherapy.

Complaining of chronic leg pain, Stephen had a blood test in February 2017 and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The cancer of the blood and bone affects 500 children in the United States annually.

“Stephen needed six months of treatment in the hospital,” says Laurel, who has a vacation home in Sunriver, Oregon. “My son and his wife, Jeana, vowed he would not spend one minute of that time alone.”

With the help of family members, that task was accomplished.

“I cannot tell you what this picture did for our hearts when we saw it, our son with his son,” says Laurel. “This is love. These parents’ love and support for their son was a Valentine like no other.”

Laurel and her husband, Steve, made the 45-minute drive from their home in Damascus to the hospital countless times.

“This was a team effort,” says Laurel. “Stephen’s parents in Gresham did the majority, getting time off work, trading days and nights to make it happen. Grandparents Jim and Janet Erb, sister Rebekah, age 12, other family members and a close friend came, too, sleeping in a bed in Stephen’s room.”

Laurel says the cancer diagnosis was a life-changing event for the family.

“It reminded us that love among family and friends means everything,” she says. “The gift of love is the greatest gift of all.”

To Suzan Ott of Willamina, Oregon, love looks like an emaciated stray dachshund rescued during a rainstorm. She named the dog Twinks, not realizing at the time that it was also a nickname for her father, who had died.

With restored health, “Twinks always greeted me with such excitement, I thought she’d burst from love overload,” says Suzan. “I finally understood the idea that dogs are angels sent to earth to be our best friends, our companions who judge not but love endlessly.”

To Edwin and Barbara Karlow of Tillamook, Oregon, it is reconnecting with a grade-school love 68 years later.

“We met in first grade,” says Edwin. “By second grade, she was my girlfriend. One day in class, we began passing notes to each other. It didn’t take very many notes before I wrote, ‘I love you. Will you marry me?’ Before my note got to her, our teacher intercepted the note.

“After that second-grade year, we were never again in the same classroom, even though we attended the same elementary school for eight years. We have this conspiracy theory that when the teachers got together to assign students their classrooms, the teachers saw to it that we were never together again!

“We attended the same high school, and even the same college, but never dated. Married others, raised children, had careers, but began keeping touch again with annual Christmas letters after our children enrolled in the same school.”

After a divorce and the death of a spouse, Edwin reached out to Barbara.

“Soon, we were emailing daily, and discovering we were soulmates,” Edwin says.

Edwin hadn’t forgotten his childhood proposal, and hoped Barbara would remember it, too. Christmas morning, two years ago, Barbara opened a scrapbook Edwin made of their romance, and found a note written in pencil on lined paper just like the paper used in second grade. It said, “I think you’re a nice girl. I like you. I like you a lot. I like you and love you. Will you marry me?”

She leaped up, got a pencil and wrote, “YES, a hundred times!”

“It’s really fun being 70-plus-year-old newlyweds,” Edwin says.

Making Love Last
As a Lutheran pastor, licensed counselor, and marriage and family therapist, Don Cole, 61, has seen countless inspiring love stories, including his own with his wife, Carrie, 59, also a counselor and therapist.

“We all need to love and be loved,” says Don. “Love is a deep basic biological need hard-wired into our DNA. It goes back to being born helpless and needing to rely on parents or other adults to nurture and protect us. We’re creatures who depend on each other. As we move to adulthood, we naturally turn to pair bonding. The basic need for love never goes away in our lives.”

The Coles have made it their mission to teach practical and easy ways to help make love last a lifetime in relationships—whether between spouses or among families or friends.

Married in 1996 after meeting at work, the Coles founded the Center for Relationship Wellness in Houston, where they have their primary home.

They also both commute to work at The Gottman Institute, established in 1996 in Seattle. Founders and psychologists John and Julie Gottman developed ways to keep love alive in relationships, based on decades of research with thousands of couples.

At the institute, Carrie is research director and Don is clinical director. He is a trainer for and oversees a program that certifies a network of therapists worldwide who have been trained in Gottman techniques. The Gottmans developed a seminar, “The Art and Science of Love,” which the Coles teach several times a year in Houston.

Loving relationships have respect, rituals, resilience, empathy, creativity and humor, says Don.

For the Coles, love looks like a sitcom every morning.

“We celebrate life together starting with breakfast,” says Don. “We have a corny joke between us that I won’t repeat. I call it to her to let her know the meal is ready. She has an equally corny response.

“One morning I said my part of the joke, but she didn’t say hers. I asked if she was mad. She was upset about something I’d done, so we talked about it. Having that ritual of connection helped us get back on track.”

Don recalls how love transformed the lives of a young couple who considered divorcing and came to him for counseling.

Instead of asking about their problem, the Gottman method starts with clients telling their oral history and how they met, explains Don.

“They began to make eye contact, smile and chuckle,” says Don. “That memory was the basis for a transformation in their relationship. Gradually, they realized they still loved each other, and their sense of humor and fun returned. They turned toward instead of away from each other. Love kept them together and certainly changed the course of their lives.”

Free Gifts of Love
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Don and Carrie suggest families, friends and couples give non-material gifts to create moments of priceless connections.

“Make a coupon book for whatever matters to your loved ones,” says Carrie. “There are so many ideas: fix a meal, give a massage, do a chore, play a game together, give a hug or kiss, clean part of the house.”

Every day, not just on Valentine’s Day, tell your partner, “This is what I love about you,” says Carrie. “Be specific and talk about what makes their personality unique.”

Don suggests a ritual of having a beverage or taking a short walk after dinner and talking about the day.

“You’re investing time in your relationship—intentionally creating a way to turn toward each other,” Don says.

He encourages initiating contact with those you love and not taking them for granted.

“You’re saying, ‘I want to connect,’” says Don.

Besides ritual, resilience is a key to keeping love alive in relationships.

“We all screw up sometimes,” says Don. “The key is how we repair relationships that have been harmed. Couples and families that stay together make repairs.”

For the Crover family, love helped them remain resilient while confronting the adversity of cancer. In Laurel’s most recent photos, love looks like her son and grandson with their hair grown back. In late July, Stephen was discharged from the hospital.

“He’s doing well,” says Laurel. “He has monthly cancer tests, and they’ve come out clear so far. He had a test two days before Christmas, and the results were the best gift ever. What a courageous young man he is, who is loved dearly.”