When the honeymoon stage of gazing longingly at each other fades, there is a clash of differences, a shifting balance of power, the need for virtue. Love takes work – personal work on ourselves, the shaping of our virtues – small acts of kindness such as letting a spouse sleep in and taking care of the kids before going to work. The practice of tact to speak gently.
Perhaps this is the reason for fickleness. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The faint of heart flee to another partner, who can easily be romanced into thinking we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Someone new will gaze at us with those old familiar rose coloured glasses. But by never getting past stage one of a relationship, we miss out on the good stuff – the spiritual honing that only lasting love offers. To be deeply in love with someone is a journey of enduring courage, because love is God’s laboratory. It is one of the most powerful ways to transform our souls, to smooth our rough edges.
In my experience, a man’s greatest need is to be admired; a woman’s is to be cherished. Without these, both will be deeply hurt. Not all couples who stay together have the courage for true love. Some couples are adrift on the “Troubled Cs” of criticism, control, conflict and contempt. They store up anger and unleash it periodically. They live like two sides of a military zone, wary and ready to fire back. I was once in a spa steam room which was for men and women. The wife of an elderly man opened the door with a blast of cold air and yelled, “Why do I always have to wait for you? I’m sick of it! We were supposed to go shopping! Now it’s too late.” “Oh, dear,” he said, as he got up to leave. “I always do this to her.” To me this was a perfect dynamic of needless pain and useless misery. Both had other choices. He could have decided to be Trustworthy and made sure he was ready to shop. Or he could have chosen Assertiveness and told her, “I’m willing to shop this afternoon. This morning I’m going to the spa.” She could have chosen Acceptance, knowing he prefers a gentle pace; or Assertiveness, to shop without him. They could easily have negotiated a plan that would have made them both happy. But they chose to feed the demon of discontent.
What keeps love alive and has the power to heal the troubled Cs are the 3 As of Acceptance, Assertiveness, and Appreciation.
- Accept your loved one just as he or she is. Accept their “suchness.” You will never change their basic nature.
- Be assertive about asking for what you need, but don’t make demands, make requests. Not “You’d better or else” but “Would you be willing…” Don’t put all your needs on one person. It puts too much pressure on the relationship. Have a circle of friends and family who can nurture you as well.
- Appreciate your partner often. Admire and cherish them by showing your love in kind acts and loving words. “Thanks for that delicious meal,” or “Thanks for mowing today,” “I saw your courage in going to ask for that new job.” “You sure look lovely today.”
Corinthians 13:4 -7 offers the keys to keeping love alive – patience, kindness, humility and more. It is virtues like these that allow love – and happiness -- to blossom and to keep on blooming.