Cherishing. The word even has the sound of tenderness, of holding dear, of warmth toward another coming from the soul.

Cherishing is first of all love, but one can love without cherishing. Cherishing is an exalted form of love, the highest, noblest, strongest feeling one person can have for another. Cherishing is a love for the other that has come to maturity, to fruition. It is a bonding not only of the physical, but of spiritual, emotional and intellectual dimensions shared in common with the other.Cherishing requires the sharing of time and space together, and a seasoning of the relationship as it is cultivated, renewed and celebrated daily.

One who cherishes regards another not as an extension of self but as a unique, forever becoming, beautiful person.

The person who cherishes envelops another with a cloak of dignity and respect, refraining from condemnation and rejection. That person creates an environment so safe the other can share his or her innermost feelings, dreams, failures or successes without fear of recrimination.

There is room for mistakes without penalty, even big ones, for mistakes are regarded as essential to the process of becoming. And there is always forgiveness.

The person who cherishes also sees in the other a reflection of his own humanness and the miracle of life. He treats the other with the same tenderness, devotion and awe as he would a newborn child. His love is not demanding, nor does it depend on merit or worthiness. Neither does it keep score.

The one who cherishes has the desire to connect with the other, to experience that person's deepest inner self and to share, in return, his own.

He experiences bursts of love coming from the self deep inside. He expresses that love through acts of tenderness, appreciation and devotion, and he ever affirms the other's presence and worth. His consistent affection and affirmation causes the cherished one to feel a calmness, a contentment, that comes from often being quietly assured of the other's love.

One woman describes her experiences in cherishing and being cherished in her marriage. Speaking of her husband, she says: "I really like him a lot. He's good inside and out. He wears his feelings on his sleeves and he cries in front of me.

"He's funny. He does giggly things that make me laugh. I feel good when he touches me and when I put my head on his shoulder.

"He's a good friend. He knows me better than anyone. And I can tell he likes me. Sometimes it's in the way he talks about me when I'm not there. He tells me often that he appreciates me for what I've done and that he loves me. He's also honest with me. I can trust him.

"Sometimes he has a certain look in his eyes that makes me feel good inside - it fills me up.

"He's a little overweight and he's exercising hard right now. There are irritating things about both of us, but we've learned to overlook them.

"He's important to me. I need him. I would do anything for him. He's dear to my heart. When he's absent, I miss his presence - it's like a big void when he's not with me. I don't want him to go away. It makes me feel better to have him around."

Says another person about couples and cherishing: "You can tell, even when you don't know other people well, whether they cherish each other."

For most couples, cherishing is a quest - a condition unattained but not unattainable. To develop one's capacity to cherish, a person must reach inside to find the vulnerable self and to express that self in soft, nurturing and appealing ways.

Cherishing requires giving up the toughness, harshness and impatience that often come from prioritizing everything above the people in one's life. And it requires clearing emotional space inside oneself, to contemplate and to appreciate the precious and irreplaceable value of a loved one.

To cherish, one must also reach outside of self to affirm through acts of love the value of the other.

Cherishing requires becoming more deeply involved, more vulnerable, more responsive, more sharing and more intimate.

Finally, cherishing involves commitment of time.

Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist, tells of lecturing on the importance of devoting time to a relationship. After the talk, a young couple approached him to say how happily in love they were. "But one thing troubles me," the man said. "How do you find time for intimacy?"

"I asked him his profession, and he told me he was a lawyer," said Branden. "And then I said, `There's one thing that troubles me. Given how much you love your wife, how do you find time to attend to your law practice?' "

Responding to the disoriented and nonplused look on the man's face, Branden next said, "The answer seems obvious, right? I mean, you have to attend to your law practice, don't you?"

Slowly a light of comprehension began to dawn on the young man's face as Branden continued: "When and if you decide that love means as much to you as your work does, when success in your relationship seems as important to you as success in your career, you won't ask, `How does one find time? You'll know.' "

Couples who cherish, of course, understand that perfectly.