I remember, when we were doing our 12 sessions of premarital preparation with my mentors in Nebraska, how it was impressed upon us that the various brain chemicals that produce the highs of feeling ‘in love’ — with the butterflies and the great passion and the giggly-ness, etc. — last for a maximum of 2 years.
The challenge presented was to progress from that “honeymoon stage” — when it would come to its natural end — into an even deeper connection, that of ‘oneness.’
I’m currently reading a book that is all about love (how we humans try to understand it!). One point I literally just read, which spurred me to write, is that the word ‘love’ is so frequently misdefined — for instance, we might say ‘love’ when, really, what we’re talking about is faithfulness, or ‘being true’.
We’re tasked with daily enlarging our capacity to love. We increase our ability to love by being mindful — fully present in the immediate moment, not living in the past or the future — and by keeping our senses open and sensitive to receive new information, have new experiences.
Love, then, is such a fleeting emotion, a temporary sensation. The only way that we continue to love anybody or anything is if we can repeatedly ‘become acquainted’ again and again in fresh ways.
Many mistakenly believe that ‘true love’ that lasts a lifetime between 2 partners is because of the strength of that love. Many are devastated, not to mention taken totally off-guard, when somehow that great, true love magically slips away.
Love is fleeting, love is fickle. Love is fragile and not something we can force. But faithfulness, or being true … that we control. That is a matter of will.
If we want a love that lasts a lifetime, we have great personal responsibility we must exercise.
In the best, healthiest and happiest of relationships, there will be moments (<– again, fleeting!) in which one or both parties won’t feel very in love, maybe won’t feel an ounce of love for the other at all. That is where the commitment to faithfulness comes into play.
Now, I personally don’t believe in remaining forever tied to a partner who you habitually feel no love for or who doesn’t consistently feel (and, therefore, show) love to you.
But if that’s the situation in which you find yourself, rather than bemoan how ‘apparently this wasn’t the great love of my life’ and comfort yourself by saying ‘whoops, I guess I was wrong … better keep looking!’, take personal responsibility.
Love dies when we don’t work to keep it alive.
That love is somehow going to stay present no matter what (<– all the ways that we actively seek its death or passively allow it to die without us moving a finger to the contrary) has got to be one of the greatest myths that still plagues society.
When Kyle and I married, the promise we made to each other is that in those times when love is scant, we will remain faithful. This, to us, means not only that we won’t just suddenly throw in the towel, saying ‘sorry, I guess I don’t love you anymore’, but that we will actively work to keep ourselves open to love, actively work on growing our capacity to love more and better. We promised to always take personal responsibility for the health and happiness of our relationship together and not ‘just leave it up to fate’ or some such nonsense.
We don’t take a similar ‘leave it up to fate’ with anything else, so why love?! We know we have to apply ourselves if we want to progress our careers, or make more money so we can have better things. Perhaps it’s because love can seem some ‘otherworldly’ that we think the same principles don’t apply?
We can’t force ourselves to feel love … but we can consciously create the environment around us that encourages our experience of love.
Kyle and I value both love and faithfulness. It’s the combination of these values, culminating in our marriage, that we find so powerful. [Important side-note: I personally believe any number of parties, whoever they are, have the right to consensually make a public commitment to each other — if it’s life-long and exclusive, that’s what I would define as ‘marriage’. I don’t believe the government has any business involving itself in this cultural institutional whatsoever. I also believe that making a public declaration of one’s intentions (vs. the parties ‘just’ deciding between themselves that they’re ‘committed’) is very powerful and meaningful.]
We all desire both love and security. Love is creative and dynamic — there’s a certain freedom about it because we can’t predict when we’ll feel it or for how long and we certainly can’t control it, to make it stay stronger or longer than it does. Security is the opposite of love in so many ways — it’s fully predictable … you can count on security, with its unchanging, static nature.
Security is, perhaps, another word for faithfulness. So, marriage, to me, is about this blend of security and love. If our goal is only love, and not security, then we will surely never find ‘one, true, lifelong love’ because love is too unruly; we’ll have our hearts repeatedly broken. On the other hand, what beauty or virtue is there in a relationship rooted solely in security, but not love? Sure, I may know you’ll always be there for me in a practical, physical sense … but why would I want to be ironclad to someone if there is no love — no emotional bond — between us?
With divorce rates so high, it seems to me that many are trying to put some sort of socially acceptable ‘stamp of approval’ on their love, but they’re not really making a commitment of faithfulness to each other. They’re still abiding to the culturally sanctioned magical thinking that ‘love takes care of itself.’ Then, the love runs out (because they weren’t intentionally creating the circumstances in which love will naturally thrive), the couple says ‘we made a mistake’ and they separate.
On the other hand, how many couples do I know who are faithful to each other, who have the element of security in their relationship, but not love? This is just as tragic to me as the previous scenario. To relegate marriage to mere security, mere commitment, is to cut the heart & soul out of it. Our senses are deadened, our curiosity and adventure stifled, and we become closed off where we should be open.
Perhaps my favorite litmus test in my own marriage with Kyle is do I continue to fervently believe that ours is the best relationship EVER?! 🙂
Of course, there is absolutely no way to prove this and, really, I’d like to hope there are many other wonderful relationships out there now and that have existed throughout human history (but I doubt it …). Still, it seems like a fantastic sign that — specific partner aside (<– not that I’d trade him either) — I wouldn’t trade the quality of my relationship itself with that of any other I’ve ever heard of. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not arrogance or naïveté. That’s peace, contentment, gratitude and even wild, unbridled happiness.
We’ve been together for 3 years, meaning we’re past that 2 year mark of insanely over-the-moon happy brain chemicals. So, this level of immense happiness isn’t just because I’m on hormonal brain drugs. In fact, I think they may have officially worn off when we were just a year into our relationship. It’s been a journey toward greater and deeper oneness ever since.
We ‘meet each other again’ everyday. We carefully cultivate a life situation that encourages the revitalization and growth of love. We’re open to new, fresh, exciting experiences. We drink in the beauty all around us each day.
The security that we promised each other was just this: that we would remain faithful to nurturing the love between us. That’s the only security that a lifelong partnership needs! We committed to creating a life together that supports the development of our capacity to love. Designing and maintaining this environment takes work — sometimes a heckuva lot of it. But the love? The love then takes care of itself.