Our spouse is the easiest person not to love. No one person has as much influence over our daily lives; the points of friction in our long-term love relationships are magnified by constant repetition. Part of this truth can be illustrated by the analogy of the new car that loses its luster when the newer, improved model is released. The same holds true for partners, especially as intimacy deepens to the point when you know about your partner his or her good, bad, and ugly. Attractive people, strangers to you, have an advantage: their flaws remain unknown and therefore their beauty is not tarnished. The tallest structure, being closest to the sky, gets struck by the lightening the most, just as from the person closest to you, you get their worst. Maybe you’ve noticed that when your partner is in a foul mood, you’re the one most likely to get it. It is not fair, but it is real. These truths making loving another very difficult. Love heals wounds, but in the process, it also first awakens them.
This column is devoted to a discussion of our love relationships; both the way we love and the way we struggle to love those with whom we are committed and share our lives. When we speak about the romantic love of partners, so many different loving efforts are possible to strengthen a loving bond. Love is that essential but nebulous ingredient, which defies easy definition. Yet it transcends the mundane of our daily lives by offering a cause to celebrate our very existence, but at the same time is evident in the smallest gesture of respect, consideration and sensitivity. The risk is ever-present: to act in non-loving ways.
Being in a relationship, being loved, and giving love is among life’s top priorities. So much so that the obvious question about why we love and choose to form relationships is rarely asked. Yet loving and relating endure as cornerstones of what we live as human lives. Lately, we seem to be doing this less well.
The divorce rate is high, such that divorce is becoming as common as an expected rite of passage. So impactful is this development that the younger generation’s reality incorporates failure of love and marriage as the inevitable conclusion of every potential love connection. But still most long for that special partner with whom lasting love endures. What goes wrong such that love doesn't last but instead deteriorates into hurt, disappointment and lingering self-doubts? That discussion, and solutions will be ongoing focus of this column.
The state of our marriages and long-term relationships is troubled. The number of broken marriages hovers near the fifty percent mark. If the flu were as widespread as the failure of committed love relationships, the Center for Disease Control would declare it an epidemic of historic proportions. Couples, who represent the smallest social unit greater than our individuality, are the simple cells that make up our culture...and they are failing. If 50% of your body’s cells were disintegrating, you would be dying.
Statistics are available for those couples who have tied the knot. Marriage licenses and court divorce records give us numbers with which to measure the erosion of enduring love connections. Less measured are the endings of couples not married, which I suspect are a much larger number. Excluded from the statistics on failed marriages are those spouses who stay together for the kids; those who choose to stay together as roommates, and those who wish to avoid the inconvenient lifestyle change brought on by divorce. Think about the couples you know and have known. Have any divorced or separated? How many shine as examples of a happy, loving couples? Routinely I am asked to help the couple who point out that their social circle regard them as “the perfect couple.” A couple’s public face is a poor representation of what goes on behind closed doors. Love is tough.
This is not shared with the intention to depress you. This column is the space in which some answers may lead the way out of the frustrations and hopelessness that can accompany the risk of loving another. We can love more fully and deeply.
Among the pitfalls that couples face, sex and its associated difficulties rank highly. Sex and love, while not the same, go together beautifully and must be combined to pass the widely held test of what is moral. Commonly, couples poorly negotiate the treacherous, shame-laced waters of sexuality. A large discrepancy exists by how sex is portrayed in the media versus how people feel about their own sexual selves; the net effect of which is wide-spread shame, sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction. These problems rarely get the attention they need because for most people sex is also embarrassing. Even with every conceivable sexual fact publicly available on the Internet, many people still lack basic sexual information. Others suffer the disappointment caused by lingering misinformation. Most seek safety to their sexual insecurities by asking the most common sexual question, "Am I normal?" Sex is a normal part of being human; as normal as eating. You wouldn’t be reading this column had not your countless ancestors had sex, a fact highlighting the potent truth that sex is of primal importance to our physical, emotional, existential and relational well-being.
It is hard to have a healthy view of sex, because the line of balance is so obscured by negative emotions and highly-charged moralistic debates. Sex is a topic that provokes discomfort; for that reason it is a weak link in many couple’s relationships. Sex and love are inextricably connected with our deepest human purposes and needs, hence the topic sex and sexual problems, love and love relationship difficulties will be risked in this column. Andrew Aaron, LICSW 508-997-6091 x106