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I attended my youngest cousin's wedding on Saturday night, and it was indeed, very reminiscent of the fairytale couple. Meeting her husband to be straight out of high school, courtship leading to co-habitation, eventually to proposal and then finally to the exchange of vows this weekend just gone; all up, they have been going strong for almost a decade. Sitting watching the beautiful outdoor ceremony fresh out of a ten year relationship/marriage that produced two children, and just on the first pages of a new relationship, I had a lot of pondering to do on the nature of "love", commitment and the ties that we chose to bind us together.
One of the most important conclusions I've come to in the last few years as I tried to salvage my failing marriage, then as I processed the fact that it was, in fact, well past the point of no return, is that "in love" is a myth, at least in the long term. Do I believe my cousin still loves her husband? Absolutely. But I don't think she is "in love" with him, in that all consuming, no-longer-have-a-choice way that we feel when first we fall for someone. At some point, love becomes a choice. And this key point is part of my belief that arranged marriages are, in fact, not altogether such a horrific idea as they sound.
When I was a teenager, the occupying factor in my head was: Why do relationships start? Or, put in more accurate hormonal teen-speak: How do I get the hot guy on the bus to kiss me? Staring down the barrel of my thirties, I can answer this one, finally. Relationships start for any reason and no reason at all - they begin because of attraction, fear, boredom, loneliness, the "click" factor, circumstance and convenience. In fact, all things considered, relationships begin fairly effortlessly if you don't care much about the quality or potential of them.
What has fascinated me more in the last five years is the deeper question; Why do relationships last? And in a word, I think the answer lies in choice. Whatever attracts us in the first place, whatever creates that passionately "in love" roller coaster, there is a certainty that the hormonal rush will end, and when it does, we are left with this: Do we CHOOSE to continue to act in a loving way, and therefore love, in an active sense, our partner. Or, do we believe that love is a transient intangible that merely takes us for a ride, dies and we are left with no recourse to save it?
The answer, I think, lies in how you handle that period of awakening as the first flush of in love lifts away and you begin to be able to see the relationship in the greater context of your life. You see your partner as a whole person, with all of their own nuance, flaws and graces. If you can continue to choose to come back to "us" with them, even when you are not feeling loving, you have a recipe for deepened knowledge of each other, respect, friendship and life long commitment. If, however, you blithely assume that the ship will steer itself so long as you cling on to the transient emotion of love, you have a recipe for disaster and divorce.
This is where it is crucial to realise that true love - that life long partnership we are aching for - is a verb, not an adjective. Love is not an emotion that waxes and wanes of it's own volition. Love is a verb we can choose to undertake every day - even when we are not feeling so loving. Especially when we are not feeling loving towards our partners. When it all seems too hard and we don't want to. When we feel like we shouldn't have to, because what have they done for me lately. When we're tired, and sore, and sick and really why should we bother. Because in choosing to act in a loving way - a thoughtful gesture, a kind word, going out of your way for your spouse - these things will also serve to reconnect us with the inner emotion of love. To reconnect our partners with us, and pour another layer that will cement our bond to each other even further.
Because let's face it, ultimately building your relationship with your partner IS doing yourself a favour. If you plan to spend your life together, any effort you expend to build your relationship will be repaid to you in the greater joy and connection you share together. Put yourself back into the "us" and you'll both reap the rewards.