Marriage therapists these days hear a whole lot of sentences that sound something like this: “I’ve fallen out of love with her”, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him”, “I fell in love with someone else”. This sounds as though love is some kind of an accident, a trip on a curb when you weren’t watching where you were going!!! And perhaps, when we think of it like this, it is exactly that, we are not paying attention to where we are going. It’s as if once we have the feeling of love, all else will take care of itself. Sort of like buying a plant and never watering it. That works for a silk plant, but not a living growing one. And love is a dynamic, growing, energy.
A good friend recently said when she wrote her wedding vows, she included her thoughts about how love is an action. She said that her uncle used to peel peaches for his wife because the skins gave her a rash. Love is like this; full of many little deeds and expressions that sustain it to remain vital as it once was. Sometimes it seems we have forgotten about the intentionality of love, and the day to day little efforts we make on love’s behalf in order to keep it vital.
When you think about it, none of us would have had a second date with our partner if we hadn’t both participated in a multitude of behaviors in which we conveyed our interest and encouraged the other. We talked, we listened, we smiled, we complimented, we laughed, we agreed, we accommodated, and we took an interest in the other. Of course, we were enjoying ourselves so we didn’t realize we were making an effort. But effort it was, and that effort may have taken us all the way to a wedding ceremony.
Somehow we have come to believe that once we have reached that brass ring, the work is over. So we neglect to talk, or take time to listen, and stop seeing our partner in positive light, let alone letting them know we see anything positive about them. We become disagreeable, and belligerent. And then, one day, all of a sudden, we aren’t “in love” any longer. What a surprise!!!! Where did we get the idea that the feeling wouldn’t require action to sustain it?
What disturbs me, however, isn’t even how we have come to believe these myths about the nature of love. I read the fairy tales, I watched Disney, I’ve seen enough Meg Ryan movies to be mythologized by the happily ever after illusion. What frustrates me is how we have come to think that somehow, when that feeling ends, that we cannot revive it by being willing to give the same kind of effort as we once did to the relationship in the beginning. If we have a plant that is wilting in the corner of the room, and there is a little green left in the stem, all it takes is the desire to bring it back to life by, once again, watering, feeding and nourishing it. Simple acts such as listening, talking, smiling, complimenting, laughing, agreeing and accommodating, as we did in the beginning, are water and food to a loving relationship.
Maybe we don’t want to give it that effort. Perhaps we are eyeing a prettier plant in the store window. Or possibly we have filled our head with so many negative thoughts about our partner so we are now incapable of saying or seeing something positive. If we tried to talk, did we talk from the heart or merely yell our dissatisfaction to one another? Throwing out a revivable philodendron is one thing, but discarding a relationship has repercussions the rest of our lives.
My 5 year old niece was watching a Disney film. Cinderella and the Prince were wrapping it up, and I heard the narrator say: “And they lived happily ever after”. I told her, “Well, now the real work begins! Tomorrow they will have to begin talking together and making decisions: where to go for the honeymoon, how much to spend, how much time to take off from work, who does the laundry! Now the struggle really begins.” It may have been a bit much for my 5 year old niece to grasp, but, you get my point!