As a marriage counselor, couples have come to me for 27 years in all stages of their relationship. Some come at the first sign of trouble; others have been battling the same old problem for years. Some are just getting serious about each other, while others are in their second or third decade. Some couples come because one or both of them wants to be able to say "I tried everything, even counseling" before calling it quits. Others come because they want a professional to give them permission to end the pain.
Every couple in trouble, to paraphrase Tolstoy, has their own story. But most of my couples trying to stay together have one thing in common - they try to persuade me that they love each other, they love each other very much. And I gently tell them I'm not so concerned about that. There's other things about them that interest me more, other things that better predict whether they'll be able to stay together:
* do they like each other?
* do they share common values?
* do they have a joint vision of what they want this marriage to be?
Supported by the mass media and a century of conventional wisdom, people believe that how much they love each other is crucial to the success of their marriage. "Love conquers all" is the ultimate myth about this. People actually think, "it doesn't matter that we want different things, or treat each other poorly, or don?t have the skills to create a healthy relationship. We love each other, and so everything should work out." And indeed, ending up in my office is how it often works out: with frustration, disappointment, loneliness. And sometimes with tremendous anger. Interestingly, many people feel that if they love each other, they're entitled to a satisfying relationship. It doesn't matter if their desire to be together is unrealistic or mutually exploitative they love, therefore they deserve. If only it were that simple.
When people date, they're continuously collecting information about each other: How does he treat me? Is she nice to her friends? Does he respect my privacy' Is she late half the time? Does he get too much pleasure from gossip? As long as there are no deal-breakers or red flags, people typically keep seeing each other and learning about each other. But then something unfortunate happens: one or both of them decide they?re in love, and the data collection stops. Now instead of noticing "hmm, when she doesn't get her way she becomes mean and selfish, we say ?oh, she has a strong personality and likes getting her waybut it's OK, I love her.?
Once people are in love, they are very hesitant to evaluate what they see or experience in a partner negatively. They rationalize, ignore or dismiss things. You don't know him like I do, we tell our concerned friends. If we make decisions based on this kind of denial we shouldn?t expect that they'll work out.
Marrying someone because you're in love is a big mistake. You should marry a person because you share the same vision of what you want, you agree on how to pursue that vision and because you really like this man or woman. If you don't, love can?t repair the mess that often results.
Believing that love conquers all (for example, that it conquers a lack of respect, contrasting values, differing visions of how you're going to live) trivializes the importance of what people continually claim is important to them. Yes, love can help keep people together when things get rough, if they have other things going for them. If they don't, love may keep them together when times are hard but it won't help them enjoy the relationship, and it won't keep them together when things improve. Surely, we've gone beyond the idea that merely staying together means a relationship is successful.
If your relationship is in trouble, don't go assessing how much love there is. Look for like. Look for respect, shared values, joint vision.
Am I against love? Of course not. Love is a treasure. Just don't expect it to carry a load it can't support. And don't stop thinking the minute you fall in love. There's still information to learn, decisions to make, and a life to be shaped ? yours.
Copyright Marty Klein via website www.loveandhealth.info