I am often reminded of how hard it was when my kids were little. Temper tantrums, time outs, crying, exhaustion, and lack of sleep made me quite miserable. Yet I love my kids.
Sometimes marriage is similar. We misbehave, hurt or frustrate each other. We may feel uncared for, unloved, unwanted. Our partner may experience us as too much, too critical or plain wrong. So people feel miserable. The difference from marriage to raising kids is that often partners will conclude “I am not in love with this person anymore.”
Somehow our culture has told us we need to be in love to love and to be happy. I have a different proposition. Being in love is wonderful– butterflies, politeness and romance. All is beauty and nothing is warts. We all want that. Icing on a cake is delicious. But icing is full of calories and not much sustenance. Meat and vegetables are nutrient rich — they are what keep us strong and with energy for life. Humans need genuine connection, not just icing. To be in love with your partner is like wanting to eat just the icing, forgetting that your body also needs meat and vegetables. Humans need true connection that feels safe, and love that sees our faults and still keeps on loving. Loving someone means we can verbalize our needs and desires and reasonably expect that our partner will respond. In healthy, loving relationships, partners who feel lonely can share that they need more nurturing. When they feel criticized, they can verbalize the need for softer words. When they are angry, they can share their need for less pain, less hurt or less frustration. I suppose Brene Brown and Susan Johnson would call this vulnerability.
When we love we can be vulnerable. We also change our attitude. We decide that being in love does not sustain a marriage. So here are 3 suggestions on how to stop being in love and start LOVING instead.
- Your partner is not your parent. Parents love no matter what. Partners make the daily choice to love each other. Parents take care of their children; partners take care of each other.
- Humans are imperfect. Your partner is not perfect, and neither are you. Let go of unreasonable expectations. Let go of judgment. Share your feelings, not what you see wrong in the other person. Life is complicated so give each other the benefit of the doubt.
- Love is a choice and so is connection. Choose connection. Schedule time for each other. Gottman’s research indicates that scheduling time is a recipe for long term relationships. Practice saying caring words and encourage each other. Slow down — slow down your thoughts and your life. Allow time for connecting. Be genuine but also be kind.
Loving is harder than being in love, but so much more meaningful.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to schedule your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Sabrina today!