What Makes Love Last?

Bev and Dick 2017 (3)

As my husband and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary I started to wonder what has caused not just our relationship but our love to last.

 The number one ingredient has been acceptance, which comes from not criticizing each other and valuing each other’s uniqueness. 

The second ingredient is being able to empathize and telling each other that we do understand the other’s perspective.

The third ingredient is letting each other know, every day in many different ways, how much we appreciate each other.

Of course, it probably helped that we also have some qualities in common, a curious intellect and an adventurous spirit.  And we learned the importance of acceptance, empathy, and appreciation early in our relationship.

“Well”, you may ask, “are those ingredients unique to my relationship or is there some scientific evidence that supports their importance in any loving relationship?”  The first two ingredients were demonstrated in the research of Carl Rogers.1   Appreciation, or gratitude, also has been shown to help love last.2

 

  1. Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person Boston. MA: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 342-344.
  2. Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8, 425–429.

When the Unpleasant Feelings Emerge

love and hate

In a truly intimate relationship, the rejections, irritations, and disappointments are as much a part of loving as are the securities, pleasures, and dreams.  No marriage is made in heaven and no relationship is built on only the heavenly feelings.  But no one ever forewarns us about the trials and tribulations.     Instead we believe that if it’s really love it will be sunny days forever, with no dark clouds to muddy up the horizon.  After all, we were always told that love is never having to say you’re sorry.

So, with our trusty aphorisms tucked deep within our hearts, we rush off to find the perfect love or, at least, a lover who will never hurt us.  And we begin spending a lot of time and energy just trying to avoid any unpleasantness in our newly-found relationship.

What never bothered our partner before, nor bothered us about our partner can become exasperating.  We notice he isn’t paying attention when we are talking (has he ever?).  Or she has left the door open to welcome the flies again (such a generous spirit).  Each morning he leaves her lists of things to do (does he think he is her boss?).  She tells him he is headed for diabetes if he doesn’t lose some of that weight (as if she has any control over this).  These little quirks and sins against the relationship gradually slip out, with the cumulative effect being disillusionment, resentment, and hurt.  What was comingled starts becoming unmingled.

Often, when this inevitable unpleasantness creeps into the relationship, we don’t know how to deal with it.  We leave our lover (either emotionally or physically), hoping to find a new love, one which will finally measure up to our ideal. Anyone who has ever been left by a lover knows that love hurts but, by then, it’s too late.

But, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, nor does it have to be a relationship of shared misery. You could use your unpleasant feelings to begin a conversation with your partner.  This conversation can help each of you understand the other’s point of view, and even draw you closer together.  Or you could realize that you can get past the irritation into a more accepting attitude towards your partner and yourself.  Yes, sometimes your partner is selfish and sometimes you can be selfish.  So, it is important to let your partner know how his or her behavior affects you.  But it is up to your partner to change this behavior, not up to you to constantly complain about it. So why not just accept your flawed partner instead of trying to change him or her?