Many people make the mistake of thinking that their relationship should be easy. I know I have. There is this idea of love that makes people think that everything is just going to fall into place. We feel that our partner will meet all of our needs and fix us in a way we haven’t been able to fix ourselves. Some people think that they will just find true love and it will be easy. They view challenges in their relationship as reasons to question whether their partner is really “meant” for them.
True Love is not Real
I sometimes hear people say that they just don’t feel that excitement they used to feel with their partner. Well…Duh! What do you expect? There is no such thing as “True love.” What we feel at the beginning of a relationship is just chemical reactions that have evolved over thousands of years to make sure humans continue reproducing.
Real Love Requires Work
We all recognize that anything worthwhile in life takes work, effort and time. If I want to feel healthier I have to go to the gym and eat better. If I want to make more money I have to work towards that goal. If I want better friendships it will take time and dedication with those people. If I want a better relationship with family members I have to make them a priority.
Somehow, we tend to believe that our marriages don’t require the same. Shouldn’t my wife just make me happy all the time? The reality is that to be satisfied with your relationship takes a lot of effort.
I have seen many couples who have been together for years or even decades and feel like they have no connection. When looking at divorce statistics there is a huge surge in divorces for people over 50. Once the kids move out there is not as much to distract couples from their problems with each other.
The Reality for 20 Years From Now
- If you want to be healthy and live longer you have to be active, eat well, and reduce your stress.
- If you want good relationships with family and friends you have to call, spend time, and make those people a priority.
- If you want to be secure financially, you have to make a plan, be disciplined, and save.
- If you want to be satisfied, happy, and fulfilled in your marriage you have to make it a priority, sacrifice, and put the effort in every day.
It is so sad to see people who work hard, save up financially, and spend years looking forward to when they can finally enjoy their life together. They get there and realize that they can’t stand each other. They don’t feel excited about finally being able to spend time together.
Making the Relationship a Priority Does Not Mean Codependence
The problem with the idea of “True Love” is this sense that our partner should satisfy needs we have that we can’t satisfy ourselves. When we put too much pressure on our partner to fulfill our needs we will almost always be disappointed.
Famous author and speaker Esther Perel says, “we come to one person, and we are basically asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence, and mystery, and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.”
If you are not happy in your relationship, chances are you need to start by looking at yourself, not your partner.
We get caught up in the rat race of life, taking no time for our relationship. We come home and expect that our partner is going to give us both comfort and novelty at the same time without putting any effort into it. It just doesn’t work.
What Can You Do?
The following are a few ideas for how to make your relationship a priority:
- Foster a spirit of open communication. A lot of couples I see feel like they are tiptoeing around each other. There has to be openness. It is better to have a difficult conversation than to hold everything in year after year.
- Be accepting. Accept that your partner will not satisfy all of your needs. You are not perfect for each other. You will not resolve all of your problems. John Gottman found that 67% of couples were arguing about the same issues 4 years later. We all argue, the key is to repair quickly.
- Take care of yourself. Stop blaming your partner for your own frustrations. The more you can do things that bring you joy, the more energy you will feel that you can put into your marriage. Don’t feel guilty about going for coffee with a friend, taking a bike ride alone, or even just taking a nap.
- Carve out time to have fun with each other. Once you can accept the fact that your partner isn’t perfect, maybe it will be easier to just relax and enjoy each other for who you are. Dedicate time to spend with your partner just like you dedicate time doing whatever else is important in your life.
Remember that love is not easy. It shouldn’t be something that just falls into place. Your partner is not here to fix you. If you want a fulfilling relationship it is going to take work.
20 years from now you will thank yourself.
Shane Birkel is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with offices in Dover and Portsmouth New Hampshire. He specializes in couples and relationship issues. If he is not working with couples in counseling he loves spending time with his wife (an exception that is real true love) and two kids who are 5 and 3. To learn more check out shanebirkel.com.