Relationships are hard.
That’s a simple fact – borne out by divorce rates which continue to hover around the 50% mark.
And then there’s that additional question – for every relationship that “makes it”, how many are actually happy?
How many people get up each and every day, and actively CHOOSE their partner? How many are grateful for what they have?
Instead of that, I really wonder how many are just going through the motions and living day by day. Still married on paper, but no longer in mind or soul?
All couples are different, but I think the story of a failing marriage is all too familiar.
A couple meet, and fall in love. Everything is great, or at least good enough that they decide to get married. And those first few years they are pretty happy.
Then over time, life starts to get in the way. Jobs, mortgages, bills, kids, extended families. All the stresses of “everyday life” happen, and this person who started as your friend and lover morphs into something more like a business partner. Instead of fun and exciting, things become safe, and mundane. And instead of actively showing each other how much we care about them, we often start to take each other for granted.
Fact for you – MOST couples don’t do a very good job of keeping the romance and the fun alive.
And then one day they wake up, and realize the passion is gone.
What Makes a Couple a Couple?
Let’s rewind a bit, to the early days of a relationship; and think about what it actually is that makes a couple a couple.
Is a couple defined by two people who live together? No, you can live together and just be roommates. Conversely you can be in a relationship without living together. So living together has nothing to do with it.
Is it because you are close friends? Again, no. Yeah, friendship is an important *part* of a relationship but being a couple implies something more than that.
The term “friend zone” is used to describe when one person is looking for a relationship with another person, but in return they are just viewed as a friend.
When you have feelings for someone and you are stuck in the friend zone, this is seen as a bad thing.
Having it happen with someone you are hoping to have a relationship with is one thing – if things don’t develop into anything more you can just move on. But when it happens when you are already IN a relationship (or worse, married)?
Well, that sucks all around. And realistically, I’m pretty sure it’s not what anyone thought they were signing up for when the relationship started.
No, when you are a couple it is implied that each person views the other as something more, something special. There is a degree of connection that exists, and often this connection is tied to feelings of closeness, affection, and trust.
Triangle Theory of Love
A while back I came across the idea of the “Triangle Theory of Love”, and I think it’s brilliant. Love is a really difficult concept, and if you ask people to describe love, you are liable to get a different answer from every person you ask. That’s because there are different elements to it.
This diagram breaks love down into three basic components:
When we look at “romance novel” or “movie” love, the focus is always on the passion. THIS is the part of love that people are often led to believe IS love.
But it’s not.
It’s a starting point, and a component of love. But passion on its own does not make a sustainable relationship. If a relationship is based only on passion, eventually it will burn itself out. So there has to be more.
Although passion is great, I think Intimacy is actually a MUCH more meaningful part of love. Intimacy is vulnerability. This is where you have let down all the walls, and truly let the other person in.
Passion is a physical connection, which often seems emotional as well. Intimacy however is something deeper. I think of intimacy as almost a spiritual connection.
Lastly you have commitment. People talk about commitment as if it’s this great thing, but I’m not so sure if it is. Commitment is simply saying “I will always be there for you, no matter what”. It’s the “in good times and in bad times” part of a relationship. And that part IS important, because there will always be bad times. There will always be challenges. So commitment is what keeps you together, even when it’s not easy. Even when maybe you don’t even want to be.
Common complaint for couples in trouble is that they feel like nothing more than roommates. They are still together, but they are more two individuals occupying the same space.
The passion is gone. The intimacy is gone. And the connection is gone.
All that’s left is commitment. And when that’s all you have left, it’s a very hollow and lonely way to love.
Robert Smith (The Cure) sums it up beautifully in the song Bare
But holding onto used to be
Is not enough
Memory’s not life
And it’s not love
Think about that for a moment – memory is not life, and it’s not love.
When all you have left is commitment, you have empty love. You have history, memory, and nothing more.
I think THIS is the biggest challenge in long term relationships. THIS is the problem that happens to SO many couples.
And THIS is why so many relationships fail.
Commitment, when both the passion and the intimacy have gone.
When you have Passion, Intimacy AND Commitment all together, you have a beautiful, incredible thing.
But it’s something that is SO easy to lose.
How does this happen? WHY does this happen? And what can we do about it?
A while back, one reader (apensiveheart) gave me this comment, and I think it sums things up beautifully:
Love isn’t a feeling. Love is a verb. It is action. It is work. Part of the reason it is so successful and feels so good in the early part of a relationship is because we are willing to put in the work and make the effort to do what our companion desires. Over time, we lose that need or that desire to put that same level of effort in, and things begin to deteriorate. I think we forget just how hard we tried in the beginning simply because the feelings made it feel so easy and natural. We go from asking what can I do for you, to instead asking what can you do for me. The whole dynamic changes because our perspective changes from caring about them to caring more about ourselves.
This is one of my core beliefs about love – it’s an action, a choice. If we want to maintain intimacy and passion, we need to work on it.
And I guess this is the real value of commitment.
Commitment ISN’T about staying together no matter what. Commitment does not mean accepting empty love.
Commitment means always choosing your partner, each and every day. And not just choosing them, but also putting IN to the relationship.
Working on it – working on intimacy. Working on passion. Making ALL aspects of love a priority in your relationship, and doing your best to prevent it from failing.
When relationships fail, couples often say that they “fell out of love”. Or they still love each other, but they were no longer “in love”.
I think they are talking about empty love. Commitment, without passion or intimacy.
When that happens, I think the fault lies with the person who fell out of love. Because love is not supposed to be passive. It’s not just something you “feel” one day, and not another day.
Instead, I believe each person in the relationship is responsible for their feelings of love for their partner. Part of that commitment involves nurturing that love.
Waking each day, and looking at the good side in the relationship. Appreciating their partner for who they are, instead of who they aren’t. And working together to improve the things that need to be improved.
When people “fall out of love” they often believe it’s some sort of incompatibility with their partner. Or it’s a sign that something is wrong in the relationship.
But love isn’t just a feeling. It’s not supposed to be passive.
So if they aren’t actively choosing love, each and every day; the person they should really be blaming – is themselves.