We’ve all heard that relationships take work, and it’s true. When love is at its best it is a verb.

Our relationships have meaning when we value them enough to actively protect, nurture and honor their places in our lives.

But what many people get wrong about relationships, particularly romantic love and marriage, is not realizing that to foster a relationship we must also work on ourselves.

Showing someone that they are worthy of my self reflection and emotional work is the greatest act of love. Like in the 1997 movie As Good as It Gets, when Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.”

That’s certainly part of it. Falling in love may inspire us to do better, to be better.

Movies are good about showing that inspiration. But life is also about doing the work. And some of that work comes from listening to your partner when they challenge you to be your best self. Not in a needling, codependent way, but in a way that cheers you on and helps you realize your fullest potential as you may define it.

We create narratives inside our head based on how we’re feeling and the assumptions we make. In the worst situations, we fight to win instead of listening to understand.

We forget that relationships are teamwork. There is no “me versus you” in a partnership. We are on the same team and a relationship is not a game you’re supposed to win.

The only way we win is together. If we lose it’s because someone has decided they no longer value the relationship and has walked away. Not every relationship is worth keeping. Not everyone is worthy of your best self.

The person we eventually deem worthy is special indeed. As we grow proverbially old together, we hope this person stands beside us while we become wise, good humans.

It is in love like this that we develop safe spaces where we are not judged but are encouraged to be the best version of ourselves possible. This is what I consider love making: an emotional evolution with someone who is eager to share in my metamorphosis while they embark on theirs.

If our love is a fire, then our individual growth is the kindling that makes it burn.

A relationship that is never finished loving involves two humans who are never finished growing. We nurture and discover one another while exploring the depths of ourselves because we are both inspired and challenged by love.

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier-Journal. She can be contacted at bfeldkamp@gannett.com, followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.