Gordon Livingston, in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, writes on p. 9, "We love someone when the importance of his or her desires rises to the level of our own." I was stunned because this is a definition I have using in counseling with people for over 20 years. To see it in print written by another author is very validating.
My other definition of true love, by the way, is " to know the worst about somebody and love them anyway."
To care about the other person's growth and development, satisfaction and fulfillment as much as our own is a wonderful thing. This is not sacrificial, it really gives us great joy to see the other person happy, to see the other person grow, to see the other person realize his or her dreams. Parents do this for their children. It should be the same way for their partner.
I sometimes ask people in counseling what they would like to have gotten out of life in the next 2, 5, 10 years - short term, intermediate, long range? When I do couples counseling, I stop the first partner from answering and ask the second partner what they think the first partner is going to say. It is very revealing when the second partner has no idea. How can a partner nurture and encourage the growth and development of their partner when he/she has no idea what his/her partner's hopes, dreams, and aspirations are?
To facilitate the becoming of the other is one of the greatest, most fulfilling joys in life. Unfortunately, we get so focused on getting our own needs met that we "forget" to attend to the desires, needs, preferences, hopes, and dreams of the person we claim to love.
A colleague of mine told me a few months ago that in mature couples one observes, if you look closely, what he described as " a conscientious consciousness of the other." This requires that one sets aside ones own narcissistic preoccupation to actually empathize and attend to the feelings and thoughts of the other. This conscientious consciousness takes tremendous discipline and tremendous love, but also is extremely enriching to do relationships in this way.
To ask, "Good morning, dear, how are you feeling today?" and really mean it and really want to know is an example of "conscientious consciousness. When you return home from work to genuinely ask, "How was your day?" and to really want to know because it is important to you so you can understand your partner's experience to support him/her is an example of conscientious consciousness.
As Iris Murdoch said, Love is the realization that someone else is real. I would take it a step further and say love is not just the realization that someone else is real although this is the important first step, but also caring and being curious and interested in the other person's being and becoming. That's love.