Love gets all the attention. But I believe there is a concept more important than love when it comes to succeeding in long-term relationships. And that concept is cherishing.

Love is an emotion that we believe (rightly or wrongly) we have little control over. There are dozens of phrases we have developed in our language that convey that love controls us and not that we control it. We ‘fall’ in love. We are ‘struck,’ ‘swept away’ and ‘blinded’ by love. We can be ‘victims’ of love, and ‘lose’ ourselves in love.

No one ever says, “We decided to love each other … and in hindsight, it was the right thing to do”, unless it is with cutting-edge irony.

But to cherish someone is eminently within our control because it is based on attitudes and actions. Perhaps we cannot always (or even ever) control an errant emotion, but we certainly can control the focus of our attention, thoughts, and actions. So, although love gets the attention, cherishing our significant other is the way to keep love alive.

I think of love like a Cirque de Soleil show, all fantastical colors, sounds, and lights; death-defying acrobatics; and graceful ballet-style movements. But ‘cherishing’ is the behind-the-scenes machinery that allows the ‘love show’ to go on. It includes all the cranes and pulleys, the acrobats placing ice on their swollen joints, the people at the theater window, the managers and choreographers, and all the other people engaging in all the hidden, glamourless, day-to-day activities required to make the show go on. Without this ‘infrastructure’ firmly in place, love quickly falters and dissipates.

Now, I do not wish to remove all the romance and beauty from cherishing, which has its own universe of meanings. “To cherish” means to hold someone dear, to protect and care for someone lovingly. It is a beautiful amalgam of solicitude, concern, worry, preoccupation, and attention; it is the keeping of someone dear to you in your thoughts throughout the day. It means that when you consider doing something, you first consider how it will affect your loved one. It is the opposite of “out of sight and out of mind.”

Cherishing is at its most important during times of tension and disagreement. At those times, to cherish means to esteem your loved one even in the midst of angry words, even when they are hurting you. Cherishing occurs when you maintain a positive holding environment – your mutual capsule – when your partner is acting poorly or selfishly, acting out misplaced hurt or misplaced anger. If we react back with anger and resentment when we are the object of the other’s anger and resentment, we do not give space to either partner’s ability to temporarily act foolishly without causing damage to the foundation of the relationship. And a long-term relationship, to survive, needs that space for dumb and hurtful acts because they do and will occur. Sometimes, we just need to suck it up. The day will soon enough arrive in which we will need, in turn, the grace extended by our partner to suck up our nonsense.

There are a thousand ways each day to cherish those dear to you. You cherish your teenager who is out late on Friday night when you stay up until they get back home, not only because you worry about their physical safety, but also because it feels like part of your role as a parent, like you wouldn’t be caring if you just sought the oblivion of sleep as they remained out with friends. You cherish your spouse when the cappuccino you made awaits them as they come down to the kitchen in the morning. You cherish your younger children when you tuck them in and kiss them goodnight.

If you are at all like me, then you and I both have opportunities to become more cherishing, more thoughtful of the ones we love and who love us too.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Thanks and take care.

Jack Krasuski, MD

Language Brief

“To share is precious, pure and fair. Don’t play with something you should cherish for life. Don’t you wanna care, ain’t it lonely out there?” ― Marvin Gaye

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.” ― Maya Angelou

“If you truly love someone, you will cherish what they despise most about themselves.” ― Deborah Harkness

“I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson