Read an Excerpt
My husband was just about to wake me with a cup of coffee when my eyes popped open at four o'clock the morning we left for the Virgin Islands. As I slowly eased myself into a semiprone position to get the caffeine to my lips, I could hear him singing in the bathroom. Smiling to myself, I reflected on the absurdity of me, the night owl, living with Spanky, the lark. Twenty minutes later, as I shuffled past him shaving at the sink, I couldn't help but chuckle at the dance routine he had added to his vocal performance. His eye caught my amused look in the mirror and he gave me that smile that still creates butterflies in my stomach all these years later. In this fleeting moment of connection, I was filled with appreciation and gratitude to be living in a state of true love for this has not always been the case.
I can vividly remember when I had little understanding of the true nature of love. The despair of one particular night many years ago still stands out in my mind as if it were yesterday. It began with an all too familiar conversation with my former husband.
"Are you coming to bed?" he asked.
"Umm, a little later," I replied.
Translation: "Do you want to make love?" Answer: "No." The scene was familiar, but this time I felt a hopelessness that set this exchange apart from all the other invitation-and-refusal scenes we'd enacted before. When I finally got to bed the space between us was like a demilitarized zone, bunkered by two cold backs facing opposite directions. The positions were familiar but the numbness was new. It seemed only a night ago that we had gone to sleep in our peacetime position with his arm around me and my head snuggled between his shoulder and neck. That night I knew what I had not accepted before. We would never sleep in that luscious slumber of lovers again. Tired of the conflict, guilt, and inadequacy and feeling like a failure as a wife and a woman I gave up hope and collapsed into despair. I couldn't have felt more alone. I knew then that the loneliest night you can ever spend could be lying next to someone you love.
I don't know if you can pinpoint the exact moment when hope goes out of a marriage, but looking back, that night seems like a turning point to me. I had never felt such desperation. Before then, we had always managed to surmount our difficulties and get back to a loving connected place, but after that night, it was never the same. Although it would be years before we would separate, I think the grieving began with this incident. A relationship that started with such high hopes and optimism had slowly turned into a profound disappointment.
To this day I find it hard to accept the way that relationship ended. Anyone looking at our early life together could easily have seen us as the perfect couple. Our courtship was old-fashioned and romantic. We spent long hours walking, talking, and getting to know each other before we even shared a kiss, and we took time to deepen our friendship through sharing experiences like swimming in a nearby stream and taking part in volunteer projects. With the energy between us, we could make even the most mundane activity interesting.
In the early years of matrimony, our excitement fueled by strong sexual desire and great lovemaking quickly spread to numerous new adventures afforded by marriage: moving, traveling, visiting relatives, entertaining, making new friends, and later conceiving our first child. Shortly after giving birth, however, I noticed that my sexual desire had dropped out of sight and, frankly, I didn't miss it. I was busy being a full-time mother, plus trying to manage all the responsibilities I'd had prior to the birth. I didn't have time to think about sex. My lack of interest was not a problem for me, but it was clearly and rightfully a problem for my husband. At the time, I silently blamed him for being inconsiderate enough to desire me when the feeling wasn't mutual. We got into a pattern of withholding. I withheld sex; he withheld intimacy. I quit sharing my body; he quit sharing his feelings. We both managed our fears and loneliness by repressing our needs and staying very busy. Sadly, over the course of time I began to believe that we were trapped in an unbearably incompatible marriage that doomed one of us to everlasting sexual frustration and the other to rejection and withdrawal. These convictions led to an action that remains the deepest regret of my life: an unnecessary divorce from a thoroughly decent, loving man and the father of my two children. We believed we had fallen out of love. Now I know that we had simply entered a different stage of love.
Psychological pain can paralyze or motivate you. For years I was emotionally frozen over the sorrow and remorse surrounding my divorce, but over time I became driven by the need to understand how it happened and then to prevent it from happening again to myself, as well as others. First, I enrolled in a doctoral program and began studying marriage and family therapy. After receiving my degree, I accepted a graduate faculty position where I could continue to focus my attention like a laser beam on the subject of love relationships. I also began working with couples through workshops, couples therapy, and lectures. I became an outstanding example of "you teach what you need to know." Over the past twenty years I have continued my study and gathered a wealth of information from research, colleagues, clients, and my own life experience. This book is a culmination of the knowledge that has now helped thousands of people including me understand the truth about love and create a love that can last forever. I am delighted to be sharing it with you.
To begin our journey toward understanding the true nature of love, let's take a closer look at marriage, because during much of the twentieth century, love and marriage were inexorably linked. When two people fell in love, they got married and settled down. Matrimony was a rite of passage into adulthood and nearly everyone took that route. Today, that is not always the case. In l999, the Rutgers University National Marriage Project reported marriage to be at a forty-year low, with more and more people not only delaying marriage, but not choosing it at all. The main reason people give is fear that "they won't be satisfied." Sadly, research bears this out. The percentage of people who reported being "very happy" in their marriages fell from 53.5 percent in the years from l973 to l976 to 37.8 percent in l996. This is such a cause for concern that the federal and state governments are enacting marriage covenant laws and urging Congress to eliminate marriage penalties in the tax codes. In addition, some high schools are beginning to add marriage education skills to the curriculum, which is a long overdue effort.
There are many reasons that the structure and quality of marriage is being called into question today more than any other time in our history. Only a few decades ago the model of marriage was quite simple. The woman was the homemaker and the man earned the wages. The goal of marriage was to establish a home, have children, and get ahead economically. Success was easily determined. Today, this Happy Days model of marriage comprises the minority of U.S. families. During the past fifty years traditional marriage has been affected by free love in the 1960s, open marriage in the 1970s, the acceptance of cohabitation in the 1980s, and finally a 50 percent divorce rate in the 1990s.
Families now come in a wide variety of models, and most would agree that matrimony has gotten more complex. This is both good news and bad news. Today, there are a lot more entrées on the marriage menu, but it's a tall order. We now expect friendship, support, fun, intimacy, and good sex not to mention personal growth and life fulfillment. The job description for a long-term partner might include cook, housekeeper, dry cleaner, masseuse, therapist, best friend, sex surrogate, nurse, mind reader, coach, mechanic, carpenter, lawn specialist, entertainer, social secretary, chauffeur, accountant, automatic teller, and loan officer. Unfortunately, a marriage license doesn't come with a job description or a set of instructions. There is definitely "some assembly required." In fact, putting together a modern-day marriage can be likened to assembling an airplane in flight.
It is clear that while the number of options for relationships has gone up, the satisfaction level has gone down. Despite this fact, there is evidence that marriage is still highly valued. The vast majority of us still marry and remarry in spite of the terrible odds. "Having a satisfying love relationship" is cited as the number one goal of mature adults ahead of wealth, health, and satisfying work. There is good reason. University of Chicago researcher Dr. Linda Waite discovered what she calls "the marriage mortality benefit." Statistics show that married men and women live longer. They also drink less alcohol, use fewer drugs, and have more money. A good marriage can help protect people from illness and disease, and it can help them bounce back more quickly if they do get sick. A divorced man is twice as likely to die in any given year from heart disease, stroke, hypertension, or cancer. Death for the divorced is four times more likely via automobile accidents and suicide, seven times higher by cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia, and eightfold greater by murder. Single women are two to three times as likely to die of all forms of cancer. No wonder we continue to tie the knot even though the divorce rates give us a 50-50 chance that it won't stay tied.
But in order to gain the numerous benefits marriage or any relationship can offer, you have to know the truth about love. The evidence is clear that without proper information and guidance, you can easily make serious mistakes. For example, you might make the same mistake I did and confuse a normal stage of love with the end of love. When my sexual desire for my husband changed and started to wane, I believed I was falling out of love. I now know the change in my libido was normal. Most women will feel little sexual desire right after the birth of a baby. This is nature's way of focusing your attention on caring for the infant instead of conceiving another child. But because I believed sexual attraction and love were synonymous which is not true I thought there was something seriously wrong with the relationship. Once I started to believe this, I began to look for other problems and, of course, I found them.
When you hold a negative belief and have no facts to offset this perception, subsequent thoughts tend to follow that point of view. This is called confirmation bias, meaning we have the tendency to pay more attention to information consistent with our beliefs. If you believe your relationship is in trouble, you will be looking for all the signs to validate that position. Once the seed of doubt has been planted, you may find yourself gathering evidence to support your case. When the majority of your thoughts are negative, you don't feel like you are in love. Most of the serious problems in relationships stem from the fact that people do not understand the true nature of love. Misconceptions can lead to destructive conclusions. For example, many of us have been led erroneously to believe that happy, stable couples:
- Never argue.
- Are not dependent on one another.
- Both want sex equally.
- Never get angry.
- Get all their needs met.
- Share responsibilities equally.
- Never feel lonely.
- Always agree.
- Think alike.
- Never get bored.
- Always know what the other wants.
- Resolve all their problems.
None of these statements is true.
Today, thanks to research, we know more about the true nature of love and satisfying relationships than ever before. The last five years have given us more sound information than any other time in our history. We now have a high degree of certainty about what makes marriages work and what doesn't work. We know that love doesn't last; you have to make it last. We also know that love goes through predictable cycles and that each has unique characteristics and purpose. Understanding the true nature of love is the key to happiness in relationships.
Most of us do not have an accurate picture of what a true love looks like. I don't know about you, but I came into adulthood without a clear vision of a healthy love relationship. My parents divorced when I was in first grade, my grandparents were divorced years before that, and the family members who had loving relationships lived too far away to visit. Without examples of true love at close hand, my models of love had to come from songs, books, friends, movies, and television. Isn't that a scary thought! Just take a look at this list of "love stories" from our culture and what they teach us about relationships:
Romeo and Juliet
The English Patient
Bridges of Madison County
If you credit the models set forth in these screen examples, you believe that true love will be short, intense, forbidden, and unrequited. In order to stay in love, you must die or never live together! Furthermore, every one of these relationships is limited to the very earliest stage of love infatuation. We know that true love requires basically three elements: chemistry, compatibility, and commitment. The lovers in these stories certainly had chemistry, but they never stayed together long enough to determine whether they were compatible or committed. They barely got to first base.
A couple years ago HBO was premiering Bridges of Madison County and touting it as "the love story of the century." The first time I heard that ad I thought to myself: "This is great job security. As long as our society believes that Bridges of Madison County is the love story of the century, I will have a job!" If a brief, clandestine encounter is equated with true love, no wonder marriage is in trouble. It's easy to spend three days with someone and then pine away without further contact. We did that in adolescence. How hard can it be?
One could argue that there are movies about couples who live happily ever after like When Harry Met Sally or Runaway Bride but they never show you how they did it! We get to see two people go through an hour and thirty-seven minutes of misunderstanding and frustration, then go romantically off into the sunset. We never get to see what happens next. This is not to say the motion picture industry is entirely to blame. Movie moguls are simply responding to a public that seems largely interested in falling in love, not staying in love. However, this limited perception of love and marriage has led us to serious misconceptions, such as:
- Infatuation equals love.
- If it isn't perfect, it wasn't meant to be.
- Once love dies, you can never get it back.
- Chemistry is all that matters.
- There is one true soul mate for everyone.
- Love conquers all.
- If a relationship is tough, it means you have the wrong partner.
- You can't rekindle passion.
- If you are really in love, you won't be attracted to other people.
- If you meet the right person, you will live happily ever after.s
These and other delusions have contributed to the inflated sense of discouragement many couples feel when their relationship hits a normal and predictable challenge. They can also lead individuals to give up perfectly good relationships only to find that the same difficulties show up the next time around. Until we understand the nature of love, we are destined to live in a state of disappointment. This book can prevent that from happening. In fact, no matter how long you have been together or how unrewarding your relationship may be, at any point you can change it for the better. One person can transform a relationship. If you change your behavior, the relationship cannot stay the same. Another common misconception about love is that it is a static state: once you fall in love, you get on a high and stay there forever. This is not true. The course of true love consists of a series of highs and lows. You can gain comfort not only in knowing that the peaks and valleys are inherent to love, but that they are shared by millions of people around the world. You are never alone in your relationship.
Understanding this was enough to help one young couple I worked with. Heather called me frantically trying to get into an upcoming couples seminar I had scheduled. The workshop was already full to capacity, so I suggested they come to the next one. "We have to come to this one," the woman pleaded. "We are supposed to get married in two weeks, and right now the wedding is canceled. Please, please let us come. We'll sit on the floor if we have to."
Hearing that, I couldn't refuse.
The morning of the workshop they arrived and took a place in the group of couples ranging from their own age to the age of their grandparents. Throughout the two days Heather and her fiancé, Jason, sat quietly and hardly said a word, but it was clear they were taking in the information. At the end of the weekend, they got up and told the story of canceling their wedding and begging to get into the workshop. Then they proudly announced that the wedding was back on. The whole workshop burst into applause. I was feeling quite proud and a little curious about what particular skill or experience had given them the confidence to proceed. The bride-to-be answered my question. "After sitting here for two days and listening to everyone's problems, we realize that our problems are just like everyone else's. If you all can make it, so can we."
This young couple came to the workshop with a lot to learn about the nature of true love, and they needed a frame of reference that included an understanding of their highs and lows as a natural, normal part of the continuing story of every relationship. Once they attained this perspective and saw that their experience was no different than that of fifty other couples, they were able to relax and comfortably move into the commitment of marriage and begin their journey toward enduring love.
Another common misconception related to love is that it is one-dimensional, or that it takes only one form. Most people tend to equate love with the behaviors and feelings common to the initial stage of infatuation, when, in reality, this is just the beginning of love. The purpose of this book is to guide you through all the stages of love, from infatuation to the deep connection that is the hallmark and destination of true love.
If you are reading this and wondering if the relationship you have now could possibly qualify for the love I describe, the answer is yes. The final misconception is that love is a feeling and you either have it, or you don't. The fact is that love grows in response to getting your needs met, and there are specific, proven strategies that can help you create the love you long for. This book is a step-by-step guide for developing each skill you will need to set forth on your own path to true love with the partner you already have.
I consider it part of my mission in life to set the record straight concerning love. A large part of the passion I carry for this subject has come from mistakes I've made in the past, as well as the heartache I have seen in the lives of my clients and friends. I am convinced that much of the distress I've observed, as well as experienced, could have been prevented had the truth been known about love.
This book is my attempt to pass on to you the information that can help us all live happier lives. My vision is twofold: first, to describe the nature of love, which will enable you to navigate the highs and lows plus gain the lessons each of love's stages has to offer; and second, to serve as a guide for creating relationship strategies that will lead to long-term happiness. The book is directed toward those of you who are in a committed relationship and desire to make it more satisfying. It is also written for those of you who are just starting a relationship, or are trying to gain an understanding of the phenomenon of love before you find a partner. If I had had the information contained in this book, it could have changed the course of my life. My fondest hope is that it will do that for you. I hope that soon you will be living your life intimately connected to a loving partner with a love far deeper than infatuation; enjoying the pleasure of mutually gratified needs; fulfilling one another's expectations of love; and reaping all the benefits of true love.
Copyright © 2001 by Patricia Love