“People always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other’s personalities. Who wouldn’t? Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws?” -Elizabeth Gilbert
Far too often in my role as a psychotherapist, I have sat with couples in distress because one of them reports that he or she is no longer “in love”, and therefore must leave the relationship to find a more perfect love with someone else. Or the rejected partner tells the other to go ahead and leave, convinced that love, once lost, cannot be rekindled. How tragic that we have been so filled with images of romantic love that we think of it as something outside of our control. We wait for love, like a giant bird, to descend from some distant landscape and settle in our branches once again.
This destructive myth makes many believe that love, once set into motion, will carry us along through the complexities of life, if only we are lucky enough, or if we choose the right person. Not so, since conflict, disagreement, hardship and misunderstandings are inevitable in every close relationship. To build a strong, lasting relationship, love is better thought of as a verb not a noun. Love is hard work and includes all of the ten keys described in How’s Your Family Really Doing? 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family. This means learning things like how to listen deeply to one another, how to understand each other’s point of view, how to respect differences, argue constructively, and to forgive each other’s mistakes.
If you talk to couples in long-term relationships–and I mean the ones who are still happy to be in them–they will tell you the same thing. Their love was not always a constant, but it was not in steady decline either. Feelings of love ebb and flow, with times of greater intimacy and connection interspersed with times of conflict and struggle.
Marriage does not kill romantic love unless you allow it to. A relationship is something you have to work at, and when you do, your love will more likely grow, deepen and mature. And as for sex, the vast majority of married couples have sex slightly more than once per week throughout the life of the marriage (more in the early years but still constant over time).
Most happily married couples, when asked to be honest, will admit that there are certain things about their partner that drive them crazy. They will also confess that the one person on the planet that can get them the most riled up is–yes, you guessed it–their partner. Although one of the most popular Bible readings at weddings includes the credo that “love is patient, love is kind….it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs,” all of us not-yet-sainted humans know that while such perfect, unconditional love may be our goal, most of us have a long way to go.
Although most people marry not just for love but for companionship, happy couples enjoy not only their time together but also their time apart. Although I love my husband more than ever, I look forward to times he travels because I can luxuriate in a few days of not having to compromise–eating whatever and whenever I please, watching sappy chick flicks that he would hate, staying up too late or sleeping in as I wish.
Part of building a strong “we” is to continue to build a strong “me” or sense of individual identity. Spending time away from each other allows you to take care of yourself, pursuing personal interests, friendships, and dreams. This new input brings vital energy and ideas back into the relationship, keeping it alive and growing.
In the next blog…Given that staying in love takes time and commitment, what are some helpful reminders to make our relationships more loving and satisfying?
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Best of Our Blogs: March 8, 2013 | World of Psychology (March 8, 2013)
Last reviewed: 4 Mar 2013