We fall in love. It is the most delicious, compelling feeling we’ve ever experienced. Everything feels so right. Then, with the anticipation that it will be thus for the rest of our lives, we marry or make a serious life commitment. Disillusionment sets in as our expectations fall short. Anger and distance grow and then comes the decision to divorce. We wanted more than what we got!
Now the younger generations are afraid to make the commitment. They see the carnage around them. (Often, they were part of the carnage. And, they didn’t have role models to show them how to cultivate a good relationship.) What they see are people, leaving one relationship after another, only to experience their once-again failed expectations. What is going on?
Might it have to do with the expectations? Or, that we don’t know what the word “commitment” means? Or, is it that we don’t know how to nurture and grow a healthy relationship?
As a relationship therapist for over 32 years, and having experienced marriage and divorce myself, I believe it is a combination of all of them.
What does it take to keep a relationship viable? What is this thing called love, anyway? That is the first and most important question.
Well, I believe it is critical if the person you “love” shares your deepest values, enjoys similar things, treats you with respect — as well as — sharing a sexual appetite with you. However, if it is the latter that keeps you longing to be together — well, that is the biggest mistake we make. And, we call it LOVE!
Getting into bed with someone who attracts you is more about the sexual attraction than it is the basis for relationship. The couples who bring their disappointments to my office are no longer having great sex. It may have started out that way, but it is no longer happening. Now they are angry that their partner doesn’t listen or care about what is important to them. They come to me lonely because what they are living feels empty. They fear for their future security. They don’t trust each other. Their homes are filled with anger – rage or something worse – dead silence. They don’t know how to negotiate the important things. They don’t know how to talk with each other. There is little friendship or good will to fall back on.
So, they shut down. Many find themselves responsive to others who make them feel good. They rationalize and share a lunch, drinks, a hug or two, until they are undressing together and believing they are falling in love – the “real” kind this time.
And, thus the “sacred” vows which once meant so much have been obliterated, along with pieces of themselves such as their integrity. The lawyers and mediators are making money again. Partnerships are disintegrating and re-coupling continues in the search for “true lasting love.”
This time, I made it a conscious point to love someone who matched my values, who loves music, who cares about people and relationships, and respects who I am — in the world and in our relationship. And, when he disappointed me, I thought I had made another mistake. So, I sought help with a trusted therapist. The therapist wisely told me that as long as you have a partner who is willing to repair, you have what it takes to build a solid relationship. (I knew that!).
We took the time to look at how our old wounds were getting in the way. We learned how to express ourselves in a safe space. We laughed our way through some ridiculous expectation that we each really knew the other, and then we learned what we needed to trust. So, we have kept our commitment to each other, and the love has grown into something I never knew personally. (As a therapist, I have successfully helped my clients to have what I always wanted, a healthy, fun relationship.) The respect we feel towards each other, the way we have learned to negotiate our needs and wants so we are both really satisfied, our deep conversations and shared experiences, the affection, the laughter, give us the courage to face the challenges of our lives. We reap the benefits of our accumulated wisdom and accomplishments. And, getting older, losing people we love, bodies changing, we come home to each other every day, so grateful for having made the commitment. We heal what needs to be healed between us. We speak the truth. We continue to nurture what we value in each other and in our lives together. And our love-making is truly that.
What we have is love and commitment. Whatever we have to face, we will do so together, keeping our vow to honor our connection and keep it sacred. And, if we hit a bad spot, or disappoint each other, we will find our way back to each other and prize the foundation we have built over time.
The grass is not greener – it’s just been properly watered and tended to. Do that and you will know what love is!