Hollywood movies and romantic novels are culprits in contributing to this crisis, where all these love stories depict the hero/prince and the heroine/princess getting married and hence live “happily ever after”, communicating that just feeling “in-love” is enough to conquer all. What they fail to show is what happens afterward where reality, routine, chores, mundane day-to-day tasks, and other people’s (in-law, children) presence set in.
Stage 1: Romance or Infatuation is the exciting time for the couple, where weakness doesn’t matter and each person bringing out the best of the other person. This usually lasts for brief period and you start tiring of the very qualities you like of your spouse.
Stage 2: Disillusionment or depression is when you start questioning “Is this all there is to marriage?”
Stage 3: Joy or Intimacy is where couple is able to work towards the various developmental tasks of a maturing relationship (i.e., coming together, forming union, forging common values/unity, developing individuality within unity, and developing true unity), is able to communicate, negotiate, integrate, and recommit to the same spouse and start a “new” marriage over and over again.
We need to understand that in successful marriages we build 15-20 marriages with the same spouse especially when we encounter various challenges like having children, family crisis, life changes, personality growth/aging etc. Unsuccessful navigation from Stage 2 to Stage 3 is usually when divorce happen.
But what about the love feelings that had faded? “Love is a feeling” and “If love fades I’m with the wrong person” are all myths. Research has shown that the initial infatuation feelings is driven by our hormone and as the relationship progresses, the initial Estrogen, Androgen, Dopamine and Norepinephrine (which fueled the “in-love” feelings which at most last 2 years) is replaced by Oxytocin and Vasopressin (which helps with bonding and becoming “family”).
The fact is Love is NOT a feeling. Many people possessing a feeling of love, and even acting in response to that feeling, act in unloving and destructive ways. On the flip side, a genuinely loving individual will often take loving and constructive actions toward a person he or she dislike, actually feeling no love towards the person at the same time.
Real love is not mysterious or irrational; it is not simple, easy or doing what comes naturally; it is not an uncontrollable feeling. Instead Love is a choice, an act of will, an action. Genuine love is a commitment. It exists with or without a loving feeling. It involves the will to extend oneself for the growth of your spouse. It is a choice rather than feeling. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. The person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present.
You produce love by giving it first and giving it wisely. Real love recognizes the unique value in your beloved, it chooses to affirm the value of the beloved always, it consistently does the best for the beloved. Love is costly even when the giving is pure joy.
While our spouse’s actions and words would have an impact on our feelings of love, it is important for us to realize that we too can take action to help ourselves be in touch and grow the love we have for our spouse. What are some of the actions we can take to help ourselves feel more of the “loving” feelings so that we can do “acts of love”?
- Think of relationship enhancing thoughts:
- characteristics you find endearing or loveable about your spouse
- good, romantic, and special times in the relationship
- physical attribute you like
- what about your partner you are proud of
- common things you have (e.g., children), beliefs and values, goals
- what secret(s) your partner know about you and still accept you for
- good support your partner had given you
- Do actions that integrate fondness and admiration and add to emotional bank:
- Give your partner flattering nickname
- Give genuine appreciation for something your partner did
- Touch your partner (verbally or physically) in a purely affectionate manner
- Do something that your partner would like for you to do
- Turn towards each other every day in some small way (e.g., check in with one another at the end of the day, cook dinner together, read morning paper together)
It is important for us remember that marriage is not just a “state”, it is a process of never-ending opportunity to love once again, forgive once again, to commit to one another and to the relationship, over and over, again and again.