By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References “Can Love Last” by Stephen A. MitchellAdults pursue romantic relationships for the same reason children carry around stuffed animals– security. They want to know someone always has their back. That they don’t have to take on life’s challenges alone. Unfortunately, relationships are not secure. As French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan said, “Love is giving something you don’t have to someone you don’t know.” But this does not stop many couples from getting discouraged when they have problems in their relationships. They have been told, if it’s “true love” it will be eternal and effortless. But that is just not the case.
Myths about Love
1. Love is forever
No, it’s really not. Especially if we’re talking about the intoxicating rush of new love. Research has proven that euphoric mix of hormones is designed to wear off within the first two years of your relationship. After that it is up to you and your spouse to establish a new foundation for your relationship. This is where you start fusing commitment, mutual sacrifice, and personal growth to frame some semblance of security for your relationship.
“In love we are searching for points of attachment, anchoring, something we know we can count on.” (Mitchell 91) Unfortunately, this is a pipe dream. Your partner is a separate human being with their own goals, preferences, and ambitions. You cannot control them anymore than they can control you. However, you can control your commitment to the relationship.
When people talk about love, they often mean that light-headed obsession that characterizes new relationships. When the Bible talks about love, it means a verb. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV) This kind of love Christ speaks of here is the love you need for marriage. The chemicals in your brain may not last forever, but this will.
As pointed out above, courtship seems so much more thrilling than marriage because of the chemicals in your brain. As they calm down, you may start to second-guess whether getting married was such a good idea. This does not mean your relationship can never be as satisfying as it was when you were first together. It means you need to find a longer lasting source of satisfaction than brain chemistry– trust, mutual support, and commitment.
Another contributor to monotony is that married couples stop courting one another. Let’s call this the “sweatpants effect.” When a person has promised to love you forever, it can be tempting to stop trying to keep them interested. You start wearing sweatpants more often. Taking advantage of your partner’s marriage vows is selfish. That does not mean you need to schedule candlelit dinners every Friday night, but to sustain a loving commitment with your spouse you need to often remind them how much you treasure them.
However, there is a sort of comfort in a monotonous marriage, according to Mitchell. “When (spouses) complain of dead and lifeless marriages, it is often possible to show them how precious the deadness is to them, how carefully maintained and insisted upon, how the very mechanical, totally predictable quality of lovemaking serves as a bulwark against the dread of surprise and unpredictability.” (Mitchell 49)
People do not like to feel out of control. This makes monotonous marriages reassuring, if not enjoyable. You may not be happy in them, but it is the devil you know, and you know exactly what to expect from it. However, this rigid maintenance of the status quo is what eventually destroys marriages.
3. If they loved you, they wouldn’t ask you to changeMarriage is designed to either force spouses to change, or force them to divorce. It’s like this– when you first get married you fall over yourselves to accommodate one another. The things they do that get on other people’s nerves, you find kind of adorable. Eventually, when the obsessive chemicals fade, this starts to be more of a burden than a pleasure. After a few years, you can no longer stand compromising yourself to prop up their self-esteem, and critical relationship problems set in.
Here is an example– Say a husband struggles with erectile dysfunction. During the beginning of their marriage his wife is sympathetic because she feels bad that he feels bad. However, she also asks him to see a specialist. After several years of unsatisfying sex, and him refusing to do anything about it, her sympathy turns to resentment. She starts feeling taken advantage of. He has a problem he could see a doctor about and possibly fix; yet he expects her to not only put up with mediocre sex, but also sympathize with him afterward.
Eventually your integrity cannot take it anymore and the relationship reaches what Schnarch calls “critical mass.” You too can no longer take the comfortable route of ignoring your problems. You are forced to either endure the discomfort of confronting and dealing with them, or divorce. (Schnarch 243) The husband in this scenario must confront how he is taking advantage of his wife to avoid dealing with his problem. The wife must also confront how her sympathetic propping up of his ego also allows the problems to continue.
I Cor. 13 would not describe love as patient and kind and keeping no record of wrongs if it were not necessary for people who love each other to be this way. Your partner will exasperate you. You partner will do things that require your forgiveness. That is the nature of having relationships with people. They require work and longsuffering on both your parts.
Christian counseling for marriage problems
Many people enter marriage with a lot of misconceptions about how “making it legal” affects the relationship, and what a romantic relationship between two people should look like. They can help you and your spouse identify weaknesses in your relationship, and help ease you through the painful and necessary growing process. As the New Testament constantly reminds believers, there is no growth without adversity. Find a Christian counselor who will help you grow into the person God means for you to be.
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