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Can we really have love that lasts for life? 


Something is awry in the world of love it seems. Since the medieval troubadours first introduced the idea of courtly and romantic love to Europe, we have imagined that this is something we can all reach out for and find, true love is supposed to last for life as in all good fairy stories. But suddenly, we don’t expect love to last anymore, we don't believe the fairy stories now, that is all they are we think. Some of us hope, against our better judgement and the supposed evidence, that somehow, for us, love will be a happy ending. But we're all aware that recent reports have told us that, so unhelpfully, our new longevity can mean we now outlive the capability of partners to feel love for us, or so it's mooted. Relationships are not meant to be life long, we're told, rather we should expect no more than a few years with any one person, until we move on and look for another. Does anyone actually manage to hold onto lifelong love anymore? 
 
Mirabel, a retired schoolteacher and still happily married after 30 years, says, "I have been very lucky to find a wonderful man, but he's not so different to other men, you have to know how to steer them, like ships." What does Mirabel mean, I ask? "It's like with anything you have to take control, without letting him know you are doing so, let him think he's in control and gently, skilfully guide him and you have to know when to pull back too. Most importantly you need to have your own life, things you do just for yourself and have shared pastimes as well. Share the good times, keep your problems to yourself when you can." 
 
Mirabel and her husband William do seem very enamoured, when I first arrive at their cottage, they greet me holding hands, they look into each other's eyes frequently, their body language is that of teenage lovers and they still seem genuinely interested in whatever the other has to say. William leaves me alone to talk to Mirabel, after serving us tea in the conservatory. "As a woman," Mirabel confides, "you have so much power over your man, learning how to wield it positively and subtly, is what matters. You are probably his only close friend as well as his lover. Men are taught to hide their feelings; to show them is weakness; to show any fears is weakness. With my son, I watched him cry openly and tell mummy what was wrong. Then he started school and I saw him start to cover up, trying to be a man, whereas my daughter would always tell me what was upsetting her. Our men hide their inner emotional lives, and this is a great burden to them. But when you're married you can help him to relax and let some of those tensions out, be his safety valve. You can be the one person who he can unload to, knowing he is safe. You provide the security he needs by showing only support, never judgement when he opens up. When we were first married I started to help Will confide in me with small steps. I'd ask him how his day went, how he felt about the things that had happened. Then he began to tell me more and more. You see, that kind of friendship we have is so deep, it feeds our marriage," Mirabel smiles contentedly.

irabel and William on holiday
Mirabel and William enjoy a recent romantic holiday

Mirabel and William glow with affection and love for each other; has it always been happy and as easy for them as it looks, I ask her? "No relationship can be easy all the time, it's cyclical," Mirabel explains. "If you expect it to be wonderful all the time, your relationship wont last, your expectations are too ridiculously high!  We have had very rough patches at times, but I make sure that we spend regular times doing things together that we both enjoy and we go away together for the weekend and on holiday as often as we can. These times, they're like money in the bank. You hit a bad patch and your investments see you through, all the happy times you've recently shared. So I make sure we have 'investment time' as often as possible, not once a year but weekly, and every few weeks we go away for a weekend and holiday three or four times a year. So when we have the inevitable problems, we still have the recent pleasures in mind, and that has helped to see us through 30 years of problems."
 
Edna Healey, the renowned authoress and broadcaster, wife of the much admired British politician and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dennis, ascribed the rare and lasting happiness of her 62 year marriage, in a BBC interview, to three main things. "...It wasn't always sweetness and light, we had our moments, but one thing I always did believe, you should never go to bed with a quarrel hanging over you, and sometimes you have to recognise that his work was so much more important than mine, so you save things up and didn't bother him with something very trying at a time when he was being tried. People thought that was very odd of me, but I didn't tell him when very emotive things happened to me quite often and he didn't tell me. For us a trouble shared was a trouble doubled, we felt for each other, so we just bore our own burdens. And kept our own space and that seems to me a very important part of a happy marriage..." Edna explained. 
 
Saskia, a photographer, who enjoys a 20-year relationship with her partner, also shares the benefits of her wisdom with me, "Never stop flirting, and never stop giving him compliments when he's been especially thoughtful. Keep a dash of spice in the cupboard and sprinkle it when he's least expecting. Take weekends away together and apart when you need some space. You get back and you're both all the more eager to be together. And then there's my other favourite resource, love spells." I am astonished and ask Saskia why she uses magic on herself and her partner, when they are already so happy? Why does Saskia bewitch herself? "Because every relationship can benefit from a little magic now and again, a beautiful love spell, to keep the highs higher, and iron out the lows, is always so helpful," Saskia winks. 
 
So it looks like we shouldn't give up hope, nor ever think love too flighty and fickle to be lovingly captured and gently held for a lifetime. Wise women show us the way; it seems lack of love is not a reflection of our capability to love lastingly but a reflection of our new beliefs. It can't last forever we think, so we give up when things go wrong, fulfilling our own fears, instead of believing in and nurturing that most beautiful of all our gifts, the ability to love for life and finding bridges over problems when they do crop up. 
 
Surely we are not less capable than the swans, who mate for life and whose lives certainly must seem just as long to them, as ours do to us. It might be that all we need to do is listen to our partner's needs, as considerately as any true lover should and live with forethought and care for each other at all times. Sometimes this may mean taking a back seat as Edna Healey did on occasion, or giving each other space to breathe, and forgiving our lover for not always meeting our most romantic hopes. 

love swans

As that great book of wisdom the Bible tells men, "Love your wife as your own body." If we all could give our partners unconditionally, all the love we are able to, we can all one day look back on a lifetime of fulfilling shared pleasures and happiness. Making that long journey with one loving partner, who really cares for us, must be so much more satisfying then frequent stops to look around for someone new, who'll only go part of the way on that trip. As these inspiring women show us, we can find lasting love, if we are willing to give unselfishly, as well as receive and share unfaltering faith in each other. 

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