Is the premise of your love strong enough to support a lifetime of stories and challenges? Or is it dependent on a few conditions?
A friend of mine was recently put into the position of counselling a man she knows about the future of his engagement. Cue the horrified screams: absolutely NO ONE in their right mind wants to be the arbiter of someone else’s relationship, ESPECIALLY as it pertains to the “to marry or not” question.
So she listened patiently to his criticisms and concerns about his fiancée and when he was done very gently told him that while his feelings on all subjects were both valid and understandable, exactly NONE of what he had just complained about would really matter if he truly loved the woman in question.
She relayed this story to me with her head in her hands—such a critical moment in his life and she felt she had entirely whiffed it. I disagreed; I thought she had given him the most crucial tool available to help him decide his future: the true love litmus test.
Is the basic premise of your love strong enough to support a lifetime of stories and challenges?
When you are deciding whether or not to spend the rest of your lives together, it can’t be about managing the symptoms—if you quit doing this, I’ll stop doing that—it has to be about the core sense that EVERYTHING about this person works for you on some level.
I remember when a male friend of mine who was debating the marriage question asked me how I knew my husband was “the one” (a concept I don’t believe in, btw). I told him I decided to marry the man because being with him was like being alone—only better.
In other words, good company in the no-judgment zone.
In our goal-oriented society, we are taught to “keep our eye on the prize.” I’m not going to comment on whether or not this is the “best” way to achieve success, but I am going to say that being goal-oriented in a relationship is a really inorganic way to approach it. Think about the evolution of your greatest friendships; the natural growth and deepening of bonds over time, the absolute certainty that even when you are not in constant contact the relationship remains whole, intact and available when needed. We are able to maintain these joyful connections because we were never out to “get” something from each other; the sharing of the journey was the entire premise.
Now what if we could experience romantic love in the same way?
If the “self-help” era has convinced us of anything, it’s that being ourselves is a LOT of work; it only stands to reason that our love relationships should be a lot of work, too. There is a whole industry banking on us believing that books, seminars, getaways and gurus are the answer to our relationship woes; but the bottom line is, as anyone who has ever been in love can tell you, a healthy relationship is what happens when two people prioritize each other’s well-being because that is what makes them happy. That is what love is.
I grew up in the house of a happy marriage; my parents adored each other and that was clear in their language, touch and actions. That doesn’t mean there were never any challenges; it just means that the baseline of respect for and delight in each other was always evident and informing them, even in anger, even under duress. I have been through many divorces with friends and family alike, and while it is never much fun, it is always the product of the honest conclusion that those two elements—respect for and delight in each other—are either missing or in serious deficit.
Our “self-help” headset has led us to believe that our problems with our partners (or potential partners) are just that: OUR problems. We are too finicky or controlling or insecure or needy or suspicious, etc. etc. etc. Here is my take: while it is perfectly acceptable to “work” on elements of your personality that you do not feel are making a positive contribution to your daily existence, if you are making those changes to please another and not yourself, you are on a very slippery slope. Conversely, if you are choosing a mate that you feel needs to be “fixed”? Let me advise you that those kinds of fixer-uppers become a lifetime of disappointed expectations.
I was recently told a sad, weird but uproariously funny (at least to me) story about why a local club does not accept membership applications from women, even though it is family oriented. The justification for not allowing ladies-without-spouses to join was that the wives in the club would not like it very much if some hot divorcee started hanging out at the same club bar that their husbands frequent for an after-work drink. Hand to God that was the sell on this particular brand of discrimination.
After I dried the tears of laughter, I jokingly devised a plan to start hanging out at the bar without my wedding ring and/or set up a card table outside the club offering quickie, pre-emptive divorces.
Because seriously? If your marriage is so fragile that a divorcee hanging out at the same bar as your husband threatens you, it’s probably time to pull the plug.
Why are we so willing to overlook the obvious? Is the fear of being alone that powerful?
Here are 5 really obvious signs people often ignore that the love in their relationship is lacking (or even nonexistent):
If your spouse/partner feels the need to read your e-mails, monitor your texts or track your phone? There is no trust or respect in your relationship.
Does your mate sabotage your diet, your friendships, your dreams? This is both insecure and controlling and should not be tolerated.
Lack of interest
This may seem silly, but because most couples are comfortable with divergent interests (he loves baseball, she’d rather see a movie) it can be missed. Glaring examples would be a spouse who is a performer (musician/actor/dancer), artist, or an athlete who has a partner who never attends shows or games; more subtly it can be a rejection of suggestions for outings, activities or even book and movie recommendations.
The people I know who have the strongest relationships are ALL IN with each other, even when there is good-natured teasing or eye-rolling involved, they vote with their feet.
Unwillingness to compromise
Here is the real “work” of relationships and the heart of mutual respect: compromise. It is NOT about not standing up for yourself, it is NOT about not maintaining healthy boundaries; it is about having a clear headset that “what is good for the goose” is in fact “good for the gander”. Love understands that compromise actually opens up your options and gives you a greater freedom to experience life and each other more completely.
Body and/or sexual shaming
Run, run, run!
At the risk of being termed naïve, I am going to call it: true love is the top of the mountain. When you are there, YOU KNOW IT.
There are a lot of self-help gurus out there who will disagree, but I’m going to side with lady-boss Bonnie Raitt, who sang “I can’t make you love me if you don’t.” You can’t make yourself love somebody and you CANNOT MAKE SOMEBODY ELSE LOVE YOU. So put down the credit card and take off your Spanx—if a man doesn’t love you, fitting into those skinny jeans will not be persuasive. And conversely, if he does? Go ahead and puke in his car.
Because when a man loves a woman, it just doesn’t matter. He’s all in.
Photo: Getty Images
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