Without love, two people could not commit themselves to a relationship. They certainly could never find it worthwhile to become engaged or get married. Love is the catalyst for commitment. Love is what ensures that a relationship grows and improves. But sooner or later, every good relationship bumps into bad things. And that's when honest people discover that love, no matter how good, is never enough to keep their relationship moving forward.
Let's make this clear. When we decide that we are not simply casually dating someone, but that there is a stronger bond of love, we form a commitment in the confidence that our relationship will not simply survive but thrive. Our confidence is built and bolstered by that love. But here's the kicker: One cannot completely guard one's love against the things that diminish it. What's more, love in itself is seldom sturdy enough to support a couple when they inevitably run into bad things. Love, while being a good catalyst for a relationship, is not enough to sustain it.
Countless couples out there cling to the sentimental, romantic notion of love expressed in songs, movies, and novels. It is a notion that leads some of us into marriages that are doomed to failure and unhappiness. We believe that everything good in our relationship will get even better in time. But the truth is, not everything gets better. Many things improve in our lives once we find someone special to focus on, but some things become more difficult.
Every successful relationship, for example, requires necessary losses. For starters, forming a commitment with someone means coming to terms with new limits on one's independence. It means giving up a carefree lifestyle. Even to people who have dreamed for years of finding someone to date who they can really connect with and love, and who think of themselves as hating to be alone, a relationship can come as an invasion of privacy and independence. Young people who are still new to the experience of having a relationship are often quite surprised at the sheer intensity of this invasion. And so, for many, they run into their first real challenge to love. But it will not be their last.
Like two weary soldiers taking cover in a bunker, every couple is bewildered by constant assaults to their love life. A relationship is continually bombarded by unpredictable instances that interfere with being the kind of lovers we want to be. We are torn apart by busy schedules, by words we wish we could take back, by not giving all that love demands.
Love asks for everything. And how hard it is to give everything! Indeed, it is impossible. We can tell each other we are in love, we can make a symbolic gesture of commitment, we can even declare it quite dramatically at a wedding ceremony, but even these are just mere messages of intention if based on a feeling of love alone, and not on a knowledge of the work and hardships that must also be traversed. No mere mortal can ever live by romantic love alone.
My friend and colleague Dr. Neil Clark Warren believes there are at least 29 personality dimensions, such as our anger management skills, our feelings about children, our energy, and our ambition, that make up who we are and that play a vital role in keeping a relationship together. When we become initially attracted to someone, and even fall in love, often it is more their appearance, their involvement in our lives, or perhaps their interest in a common hobby or occupation that catches our attention and brings us together. Few men ask a woman out because they find her anger management skills enticing! But in the long term, if a couple ignores these traits in themselves and coasts on love alone, eventually their relationship is in deep trouble when a crisis occurs that love cannot solve.
Sometimes crises become too numerous and too deep, resulting in a break-up-other times, it just means the couple involved needs to talk and work things out before they can move on. But either way, it is better to avoid coasting through a relationship solely on our feelings of love. We can grow to know each other and to make better decisions about our relationships if we are realistic about the other important factors beside just romantic love.
People get hurt in love. Even after a couple gets married, bad things will still happen. For a couple who understands that not everything good gets better in time, and who share a commitment to learning about each other's faults as well as perfections, love can mature and become something worth devoting their lives toward. The naivety of new love grows into a knowledgeable and confident love, one on which promises and vows can be taken in total confidence.
But if a relationship is bandied about by a myriad of bad things, and a couple falsely believes that love alone will eventually lead them away from all pain and conflict, they are in for some terrible times. If they go ahead and get married without dealing with this reality, they are condemning themselves to even worse miseries.
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