Love in the time of Corona
Apr 7, 2020
Creating Joyful Aliveness in the Mundane
Apr 27, 2020

How to survive with Love

by Kobus van der Merwe

When I find myself in a good space in my life, I appreciate nostalgic sayings like “Love conquers all”, or “Love is all that matters”. And yes, I do believe that. I see the truth of love every day in my own life and work environment.

But, in times like these which make me feel anxious and concerned, those oft-used phrases don’t resonate with me as much. It feels as if I need something more, here and now, which can have an immediate impact on the present moment. In times like these waiting for the wise age-old rhythm of love to do its magic is not an option for me. I need to act now to survive!

Love has one of the most amazing ways to do exactly that; to still be wise, right now. I know this but I find it very difficult to trust Love to do its thing!

When there is danger, we need to be vigilant and ready. In certain situations, we need to move fast and act or react immediately. But sometimes, our survival system overreacts. Then we act in ways that intensify the problem and that creates even more anxiety. Instead of surviving, we fail.

There can also be a tendency to “under-react”. We freeze or hide or run away when we are supposed to act. Here we also fail instead of surviving.

People who survive times like these are people who react in an attuned manner proportional to the intensity of the threat. Too much reaction and you die. Too little or no reaction and you also die.

How can we find a balance? How are we supposed to deal with this, especially in uncertain times like this? We have no idea what the next step should be. There is little or no information or previous experience to act on. The world has never been in a place like this before. So, how do we know how to not over- or underreact?

Our bodies have a very intelligent system that makes us act or react. Our neurobiology is wired to protect us. But this system also requires rest between actions/reactions. Too much action can cause harm, and that is where love steps in, especially in difficult times like these.

People who experience connection and belonging can regulate their anxiety. A soft touch, some attentive listening, eyes that see and witness, the sound of someone’s voice…these are all biological signals that calm our instinctual biology. It is a system of self-regulation (inside, biology) and co-regulation (in between, relationship).

And maybe that is Love….the simple choice to be that present for each other in times like these.

“From this nettle, Danger, we pluck this flower, Safety.” – (from Henry IV by William Shakespeare)

We don’t have the answers. We don’t know what the future will look like after this. We don’t know if life is guaranteed, how we are going to survive this financially or if we’ll even have enough food to feed ourselves and our families? We are living in the Unknown…and this Unknown is real.

Just being present and choosing to be there for each other is Enough! We don’t need to give solutions or answers, we don’t need to rescue, we don’t need to fix. We don’t even need to find a scapegoat or play the innocent victim. Just our presence with each other as couples, parents or friends will activate a natural, dynamic and intelligent system. This will put us exactly in the right place to be able to act wisely and with creativity and that is all that is necessary for now.

“The fittest may also be the gentlest because survival often needs mutual help and cooperation” – Theodosius Dobzhansky

Our relationships are one of humankind’s biggest resources for survival. Relationships help our natural survival system to regulate wise decision-making.

Sigmund Freud told the story about a young boy who was living with his grandmother. One cold winter evening she wakes up in the middle of the night as she hears him calling for her: “Oma!, Oma!”

She pretends not to hear him, hoping that he’s talking in his sleep, not wanting to get up in the freezing cold and darkness.

He keeps calling.

After a short while, without getting up, she calls back: “My son, what is it?”

The boy was quiet. Puzzled, she gets up, walks to his room and asks: “What is the matter my boy?”

He answers in a sleepy voice: “Nothing grandma.”

“Then why did you call me?” she asks.

“When I woke up in the dark I was afraid. But when I heard your voice, the darkness disappeared and I fell asleep again.”


May your voice and presence echo regularly in your partner’s mind:

“I am here.”

“You are not alone.”

“I am with you.”

“We are in this together.”

Just imagine adding the quality and depth of the Imago Dialogue!


Kobus is a certified Imago Clinical Therapist and Trainer. He is busy with his Ph.D. in Imago Relationship Therapy at Daybreak University. He especially enjoys working with couples in Couples Intensives. Read more about that at

Kobus Van der Merwe
Kobus Van der Merwe
Winner of the Harville Hendrix Award for Clinical Excellence 2016. Twenty Three years experience in Imago Couples Therapy and workshops. Married to Anita for 25 years.