Love is the only virtue that can satisfy a person's need to connect with the world and at the same time keep his/her integrity and individuality (Erich Fromm: Discovering the love for life). Love is the unity with another person and at the same time the realisation of the ‘I’ and the integrity of self.
I believe this description of love explains the difficulties we often face in relationships. Major conflicts in relationships often arise because one person is not able to maintain integrity and individuality or because one of the partners does not feel the ‘oneness’ as the result of a strong connection within the relationship.
My mother used to describe relationships in a very simple way. She said that each of our individual lives could be seen as our own garden that we have to take care of our whole life. We plant our own seeds and are responsible for it to bear fruit and to blossom. In a relationship another garden is added, a joint garden of the two people who enter into the relationship. The art is to be a good gardener for both gardens – the joint and the individual one. How do you make sure that your flowers blossom, the garden is watered and there is no rampant growth of weeds in both gardens? Modern life makes it very challenging to find a balance. It is easy to get distracted and only work on the one but not the other. Ones work can take up so much attention that the joint garden has to be neglected. Children as fruits of the joint garden can become the centre of attention so that the own garden is overlooked. I think it is impossible to be a good gardener for both at all times but I think being conscious about the existence of those two spaces might make it easier to understand why we often struggle.
There is another feature that I think specifically women have to look out for - One cannot manage the joint garden alone. Even if you put all your energy and effort in, the other party needs to give as well. You need to allow the partner to be a gardener and contribute.
This practical picture of gardens frames for me the by Erich Fromm outlined tension of love as mentioned in the introduction. Romantic relationships are only one example of relationships where the explanation of love applies in our lives but I think those are the most challenging and closest to most of our lives.