Where has all the love gone?
Isn’t it ironic that we have so many metaphors for failing relationships? Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, he has the seven-year itch”? Have you ever heard the song, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”? The idea of “friends with benefits” (indicating no real commitment at all) is quite common these days. There are others that we could name, and we might even laugh about them, but the reality is our relationships need a lot of attention to remain strong. Every relationship is unique because each individual is unique. I would even say that our individual needs are unique. That being the case, there is no magic bullet to help make every relationship work. If there was, I’d like to think I would have figured it out, and if not me, then surely someone else would have. So that leaves us with the question, what can we do to strengthen our relationships?
Do you understand your partner? I ask because great relationships begin with insight. I’m a big fan of Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. In fact, one of my favorite seminars goes into how I ended up reading the book. The short version is, I read the book and it didn’t do much for me. I really didn’t see much value at first, but I was struggling in my marriage at the time. After a while, it started making sense, and then I started applying the principles in my own relationship (I gained insight into the problem). In the end, I realized Gary Chapman was spot-on. Now, I don’t get a dime for endorsing him, so I hope you believe me when I say go read that book, take the test, and then apply it to your life. The reason why is it gives us insight into ourselves and our partner. I’m also a huge fan of the Myers–Briggs type indicator (MBTI). There’s a lot to be said for personality and how we are hardwired from birth. Understanding something as simple as the need to recharge for introverts versus extroverts is huge (and there is so much more with sixteen personality types to learn about). That insight drives understanding in my own life and also provides teachable moments when I help others with their relationships. Research it, take the test, and start applying the principles. Again, these tools provide insight for the individual and for their partner.
Do you invest enough time and effort? This is the second element of a great relationship. The single biggest challenge to a relationship is finding the time and effort to nurture it. Let’s be honest, when we are dating, we find every opportunity to plug in some sort of visit, date, or even a momentary drop in to see our sweetheart. Isn’t it obvious how important that is? Don’t most people reminisce about those early days of dating and often express regret that those days are gone or less frequent? Consider that we spend eight to ten hours a day engaged in some sort of work activity. After all, we’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed, right? Work becomes the priority, doesn’t it? We spend about six to eight hours each night sleeping (or we might have other problems if we don’t). That leaves us less than eight hours a day to take care of kids, repair the car, mow the lawn, shop for groceries, and run other errands. It leaves little time for our spouse, friends, and loved ones. The lesson here is that we absolutely have to schedule time or there won’t be any leftover. It is an investment, and as such we will reap what we sow, so to speak. Should we make a date or take time to coordinate for every special occasion? Absolutely! Put these events on your schedule and lock them in with some sort of reminder. The last thing you want to do is forget your significant other on their birthday or your anniversary. Making the effort is like putting money in the bank, and failing to do so will bankrupt your metaphorical love bank. Even a simple dinner date or quality time watching a movie will pay nice dividends over time. Remember that we can choose to invest or not, but we can’t choose the consequences that follow.
Intimacy is the bellwether for relationships. How is the intimacy in yours? Each person has intimacy needs and limits. There’s nothing wrong with asking about those needs and limits to set proper expectations and boundaries. Most often, I think people are a little afraid to ask if variation in the typical intimacy plan is acceptable. It can be taboo for some. As a result, we tend to settle for the same old routine. Truth be told, a simple discussion can lead to new ideas and exploration. Things don’t have to get crazy or kinky to try new and exciting ideas, but for many people, a little crazy and a little kinky is very acceptable. How will you know if you don’t ask? The real point here is in making the effort. Holding hands, kissing, and even snuggling are important. Try not to skip over those things. Don’t be in a rush to get back to work or to get back to your favorite TV show. Anticipation is another element we should never overlook. Taking time before intimacy is just as important as connecting after intimacy. Once intimacy fails, the relationship typically follows.
Love evolves over time. In the beginning, there is attraction. That alone isn’t enough to build a relationship. Attraction must surely evolve into longer-lasting and stronger aspects of love, like trust and respect. Do you trust and respect your partner? If not, why not? Look for reasons to respect who they are and what they do. The opposite must be avoided at all costs. Avoid any form of disrespect to include name-calling and denigration. Do you admire your partner? If not, why not? You might admire how they look or how they act. You might admire their financial responsibility and stability. Whatever it is that first attracted you to them, look for those characteristics today. Have they changed or evolved? In the beginning, don’t we look for the good in everyone? Has that changed over time? I think it’s important to remember that when it comes to long-lasting relationships, we often take each other for granted. Didn’t we take our parents for granted until we were more mature? Don’t we take our co-workers for granted until they’re gone and we have to fill in for them? We must use caution and not take our loved ones for granted. People want to feel appreciated (loved). Even the small things are worth a smile, a pat on the back, or a warm embrace. Are we grateful? Failing to be grateful definitely leads to taking others for granted.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about forgiveness. We all make mistakes. In many cases, we give each other a second chance. What happens when we need a third or a fourth chance? I tend to see couples struggling when they run out of forgiveness. It’s more than just accepting someone’s apology. It really is a function of accepting their flaws or loving them in spite of flaws. Some of you might be thinking, “Well, when is enough, enough?” My answer is simple. When you’re ready to end the relationship, the easiest way is to stop forgiving. Conversely, doesn’t it make sense to continue to forgive as long as you want the relationship to remain alive? What about infidelity? Is that unforgivable? I have seen couples come back from infidelity and remain loving and intimate long after, but it takes time, effort, and forgiveness. It might not be easy for some, and it might not be possible for others, but for those who can forgive and love in spite of flaws, there really is no unforgivable scenario. You get to decide. If you are wondering “Where has all the love gone?” perhaps you might also ask, “Have I done my part to keep love alive?”