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FALL IN LOVE STAY IN LOVE
By WILLARD F. HARLEY, JR.
Fleming H. RevellCopyright © 2001 Willard F. Harley, Jr.
All right reserved.
I've been counseling couples with marital problems for over forty years, and during that time I've learned what makes marriages succeed and what makes them fail. But I sure didn't start out knowing that. In fact my first ten years of marriage counseling taught me only one thing-that I was not qualified to counsel. Although almost every couple I saw was sincerely grateful for my advice, I cannot think of a single couple I actually helped. Most of their marriages ended in divorce, and the rest continued to have serious problems.
One couple I counseled was my pastor and his wife. The choir director and my pastor's wife were having an affair, and I tried to help end it. I explained to her how the affair was threatening the happiness and success of their children and ruining her husband's ministry, and how the choir director's wife and children needed him just as much as her husband and children needed her. But she replied that since God was a God of love, he had approved her relationship with the choir director by giving her the feeling of love for him.
I had come face-to-face with the irrationality that the feeling of love can create, and I didn't know how to handle it. Eventually my pastor's wife and the choir director divorced their respective spouses and married each other. The children in both families suffered greatly throughout the entire ordeal, and to the best of my knowledge are still suffering. The church began a downward spiral from which it never recovered and it eventually disbanded. This tragedy took place because my pastor's wife had fallen out of love with her husband and fallen in love with the choir director. (Incidentally, after a few years of an unhappy marriage, the choir director had another affair and divorced my pastor's former wife.)
My pastor was not alone in the tragedy of divorce. His was just one of a host of marriages caught up in a wave that was overwhelming families in the mid-1960s. This trend toward divorce would escalate over the next twenty years until more than half of all marriages were ending in divorce. I didn't know that at the time. I thought that this failure was, at least in part, due to my inexperience. I blamed myself, thinking that I should not have tried to give advice, that I should have left it to an "expert."
Over the next few years, couples kept asking for my advice regarding marriage, especially after I earned a Ph.D. degree in psychology. So instead of turning these people away, I decided to learn enough about marriage counseling to help save their marriages-I decided to become an expert. After all, if scientists could send men to the moon, surely they would know how to save marriages.
I read books on marital therapy, was supervised by experts in the field, and worked in a clinic that specialized in marital therapy and claimed to be the best in Minnesota. But none of it helped. I was still unable to save marriages. Almost everyone who came to me for help ended up like my pastor-divorced.
But in my effort to become an expert, I made a crucial discovery: I wasn't the only one failing to help couples. Almost everyone else working with me in the clinic was failing as well! My supervisor was failing, the director of the clinic was failing, and so were the other marriage counselors who worked with me. And then I made the most astonishing discovery of all: Most of the marital experts in America were also failing.
What made me unique among marriage counselors was my curiosity to know if my efforts really worked. Hardly any other therapist I knew wanted to know about the outcome of his or her therapy. Many did not know they were failing because they never followed up on their cases to see how the marriages were doing. But I had access to their cases, so I did the follow-up for them. In the clinic where I worked, I couldn't find any therapists who were actually saving marriages. And to make matters worse, many of these marital experts were divorced themselves. The director of the clinic, and creator of their "successful" marital therapy program, was divorced shortly after I left the clinic.
Was I working with a particularly inept group of therapists? Or were the problems I witnessed only the tip of the iceberg? To satisfy my curiosity, I did what I should have done in the very beginning of my venture-I read studies that evaluated the effectiveness of marital therapy in general. To my surprise, I learned that marital therapy throughout America had the lowest success rate of any form of therapy. In one study, I read that less than 25 percent of those surveyed felt that marriage counseling did them any good whatsoever, and a higher percentage felt that it did them more harm than good.
Searching for Answers
What a challenge! Marriages were breaking up at an unprecedented rate, and no one knew how to fix them! So I made it my own personal ambition to find the answer, and I looked for that answer not in books, scholarly articles, or experts but rather among those who came to me for answers-couples who were about to divorce. I stopped counseling and started listening as spouses told me why they were ready to throw in the towel. What did they have when they decided to marry that they lost somewhere along the way, and what would it take for them to find it again?
By 1975 I had discovered why I and so many other marital therapists were having trouble saving marriages-we did not understand what makes marriages work. We were all so preoccupied with what seemed to make them fail that we overlooked what made them succeed. Couples would come to my office for counseling because they were making each other miserable. So I thought, as most others thought, if I could simply get them to communicate more clearly, resolve their conflicts more effectively, and stop fighting with each other so much, their marriage would be saved. But that wasn't the answer.
Couple after couple explained to me that they didn't marry each other because they were communicating so clearly or resolving their conflicts effectively or were not fighting with each other. They married because they found each other irresistible-they were in love. But by the time they came to my office, they had lost that feeling of love. Many actually found each other repulsive. And one of the most important reasons that they were communicating so poorly, resolving their conflicts so ineffectively, and fighting so much was that they had lost their feeling of love.
If your marriage was in trouble and I asked you what would it take for you and your spouse to be happily married again, what would you say? My guess is that at first you might not imagine that ever happening. You might think that the only way you could be happily married would be if you were married to someone else! But if I persisted, and you were able to reflect on my question, you might say what others have told me: "We would be happily married again if we were in love."
Over and over that's what couples told me when I asked that question. But what they didn't tell me was also instructive. They didn't tell me that if they communicated better or resolved their conflicts or stopped fighting so much, they would be happily married. Granted, poor communication, failure to resolve conflicts, and fighting all contribute to the loss of love. But these are also symptoms of lost love. In other words, I began to realize that if I wanted to save marriages, I would have to go beyond improving communication. I would have to learn how to restore love.
With this insight, I began to attack emotional issues with couples rather than rational issues. My primary goal in marital therapy changed from resolving conflicts to restoring love. If I knew how to restore love, I reasoned, then conflict resolution might not be as much of an issue.
My background as a psychologist has taught me that learned associations trigger most of our emotional reactions. Whenever something is presented repeatedly with a physically induced emotion, it tends to trigger that emotion all by itself. For example, if you flash the color blue along with an electric shock, and the color red with a soothing back rub, eventually the color blue will tend to upset you and the color red will tend to relax you.
Applying the same principle to the feeling of love, I theorized that love might be nothing more than a learned association. If someone were to be present often enough when I was feeling particularly good, the person's presence in general might be enough to trigger that good feeling-something we have come to know as the feeling of love.
Success at Last
I could not have been more correct in my analysis. I found that this hypothesis proved to be true-and it's the key to being a successful marriage counselor. I began to encourage couples to try to do whatever it took to make each other happy and avoid doing what made each other unhappy. For the very first couple I counseled with my new approach, the feeling of love was restored and their marriage was saved.
So from that point on, each time I saw a couple, I simply asked each of them what the other could do that would make them the happiest, and whatever it was, that was their first assignment. Of course, not every couple really knew what would make them happy, and not every spouse was willing to do it. So I wasn't successful with every couple I counseled, but I was on the right track.
As I perfected my approach to marriage counseling, I began to understand what it is that husbands and wives need from each other to trigger the feeling of love. So I helped couples identify those needs. I also became increasingly effective at motivating them to meet whatever needs were identified, even when they didn't feel like doing it at first. Before long, I was helping almost every couple fall in love, and thereby avoid divorce.
Up to this point in my career, I was teaching psychology full-time and counseling part-time. I did not charge couples for my services because I knew I had been ineffective in saving marriages. But as soon as my new method proved to be successful, I quit my secure job as a professor and took the risky step of earning my living as a marriage counselor. After one month it was clear that I had made the right choice-my schedule was full and I was saving marriages.
The reason my pastor's wife was willing to sacrifice everything that was important to her-her marriage, her children, her career, even her faith-was that she was in love with the choir director. If I had been able to redirect her feeling of love from the choir director to her husband, their marriage would have been saved and the tragic events that followed would have been avoided. It was her feeling of love that got her into the mess she was in, but the feeling of love would also have saved her. I only wish I knew then what I know now.
And I want you to know what I know now. I want you to fully understand how important your feeling of love, and your spouse's feeling of love, is to the survival of your marriage. Whether you know it or not, or whether you believe it or not, your marriage depends on the love you and your spouse have for each other. But I want you to do more than understand the importance of love in marriage. I want you to be able to re-create it, if it's been lost, and sustain it, if you are still in love. By the time you finish reading this book, you will have the tools to do just that. I've written this book to help you turn a potential disaster into a personal triumph!
Since the feeling of love is so important in marriage, I will begin by helping you understand what the feeling of love is. I'll do this by introducing you to the first basic concept I created to help couples understand the rise and fall of their love for each other. I call it the Love Bank.
• The feeling of love is such a powerful emotion that to sustain it people are willing to sacrifice almost anything-their marriage, their children's happiness, their career, and even their faith.
• When spouses are in love with each other, there is no risk of divorce because they want to be with each other at all costs. But when they are not in love, they lose their most important emotional reason to be together, and the risk of divorce is very high, even if they have learned to communicate effectively with each other.
• Marriage counselors who focus attention on communication skills and conflict resolution cannot save marriages if their efforts do not lead to triggering the feeling of love in couples they counsel.
• To save their marriage, a couple must learn how to fall in love and stay in love with each other.
Let me ask you a very personal question. Why did you decide to marry your spouse? Did you discuss the pros and cons with friends and relatives? Did you take a test to determine if you were compatible? Did you find that your spouse met criteria that predicted your marital success?
Maybe you did some of these things, but I doubt that they had much effect on your decision to marry. Most couples marry each other because they are in love. And when you're in love, you cannot imagine living without each other. You probably married your spouse because you found him or her irresistible.
That's how it was for my wife, Joyce, and me. Long before I asked her to marry me, we both knew that we were unhappy when we were not seeing each other regularly. We broke up a few times so that we could date others, but whenever that happened, we missed each other terribly. We were in love.
We eventually came to the conclusion that life without each other would be a tragic mistake, and so to avoid disaster we married much sooner than we had originally planned. Joyce was only nineteen; I was twenty-one. Thirty-eight years later, with two married children and four grandchildren, we still cannot imagine what life would be like without each other. And we still find each other irresistible.
Joyce and I do not have a good marriage because we were meant for each other. It may seem that way, but it isn't true. The reason we are still in love with each other is that we have deliberately done what it takes to stay in love. We are living proof that a married couple can be in love throughout their lifetime as long as they follow the "rules."
But before I explain these rules that will help you fall in love and stay in love, you need to understand how love works.
Excerpted from FALL IN LOVE STAY IN LOVE by WILLARD F. HARLEY, JR. Copyright © 2001 by Willard F. Harley, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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