Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

How To Keep Love Alive

February 23, 2009

Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is hard. It seems at times harder than it should be. Here’s why.

Acts of thoughtfulness keep love alive. Sacrifice requires us to set aside self-interest for the happiness and well-being of one’s partner. It may require limiting one’s life dream to further the life dream of one’s partner. Sacrifice requires an act of faith - faith that sacrificial love is a choice that will end up blessing the relationship.

Sacrifice requires a willingness to set aside one’s agenda, timing, and convenience because one cares for another’s happiness instead of one’s own. The temptation is to reject, ignore or to negotiate - none of which come across as love. The challenge is to integrate the other things we love - such as work - with the love we feel and show for our partner.

Work is seductive. It competes with love for time and attention. It can be captivating and engrossing. It involves caring about something deeply and attending to the details to be successful. It also involves ego, pride, accomplishment and may also benefit the world.

Friends, colleagues, and even strangers will applaud our visible contributions. We may amass riches and financial security. In the long run, work can choke off love that also needs to be nourished with that same kind of dedication and attention.

Accepting differences will keep love alive. Yesterday’s attraction is today’s complaint. Our partner’s traits that we found so appealing - and left us with wonder and awe of their beauty and power - can become a cause of annoyance, hurt and conflict.

These traits won’t go away. We may wish they would be moderated a little - or a lot. It is up to us to accept differences with generosity and surrender. To fight against them is to fight against the very reasons for falling in love in the first place.

Live with imperfection. Differences bless our lives. To love another "as is" is profound respect and kindness. "Love who I am, not what you need me to be." Our partner needs to feel loved and lovable, warts and all.

Accepting the flaws and limitations of each other is as important as having appreciation for the gifts of each other. Differences will help bring out the best in each other. Embrace differences - don’t fight against them.

Being there for each other keeps love alive. When self worth is low, it is easy to misperceive or react in negative or self-destructive ways. It is easy to focus on another’s faults, cast blame and expect our partner to magically accept us and heal our wounds. He or she wants to be loved for who he or she is, not because they are needed.

Weaknesses make us unreliable and occasionally unloving partners. We need to manage personal stress well. We don’t need to be a source of aggravation and worry. When we are needy, demanding, angry, abusive, addicted, lazy, rigid, selfish, dishonest, moody, or disengaged, we need to take responsibility for our behavior and

do something about it.

Instead, we need to be viewed as a source of safety and security. Love needs to be trusted. If our weaknesses interfere with our partner’s willingness to confide, to turn to us for comfort and love or restrict his or her way in the world, we are the problem.

Taking time for each other will keep love alive. There are so many ways to nurture love. It is through friendship, companionship, common interests, affection, expressions of love and appreciation, daily acts of love, conversation, kindness, generosity and sacrifice. Each partner takes responsibility for nurturing the relationship.

Love dies down when this doesn’t happen. Like a plant without water, it dries up and withers away. The challenge of our busy, engrossing world is that couples go their separate ways, do not merge their lives with enough togetherness, coordination and enjoyment and become surprised at how empty and dull their love has become.

When friends, work or other countless priorities become a more exciting source of pleasure than the marriage, then the relationship will be robbed of energy, focus and time. Love needs to be nurtured, not neglected or taken for granted.

Relational skills will keep love alive. In an effort to fight for love, we drive it away. When we are upset, hurt or angry, we often impulsively respond in a way that is demanding, brutally confrontational or disrespectful. Our own emotional flooding robs us of the awareness of what the other person needs or can handle.

We may even be right, but the way we go about trying to correct the problem does not take into account the other’s feelings or needs. The relationship may need protecting more than the issue we care about. Sometimes absorbing the hurt or the unfairness is a loving thing to do. Some fights are not worth it.

Couples have a hard time remaining close and affectionate if they struggle with problem-solving. The unpleasantness connected with explosive outbursts, avoidance, defensiveness, unfulfilled promises, resentments, blame, poor listening, attacks and accusations, criticism, stonewalling, contempt, and other negative emotions takes a huge toll on marriage.

More effort needs to go into learning the skills of communication, the art of listening, the art of gentle persuasion, soothing, de-escalating conflict, apologies and forgiveness, accepting influence, and being unfailingly respectful. How our partner feels after a discussion is more important than the problem being solved.