Hollywood and the media are obsessed with romantic love.
We get blasted with movies and news stories telling us that all we need is love for the perfect marriage. There's an element of truth in this. But, occasionally it helps to have a reality check about what makes real love, not the romantic drivel we get in movies.
Romantic love is a wonderful feeling, a sense of euphoria that life couldn't be better. But, romantic love is not necessary for the start of healthy marriage. In fact, many couples date for a long period of time and slowly begin to realize that they love each other, although they've never experienced the hormonal rush associated with falling in love.
There is even a down side to romantic love: When the hormones that cause the euphoria give out after six to 18 months, there can be an emotional crash. In “All-in-One Marriage Prep,” author Sheryl Paul warns couples of a “jolt down to Earth” when the romantic bubble bursts and there is a sudden “realization that their partner is not perfect.”
Paul lists six points that define real love and which can help couples build stronger marriages:
1. “Real love accepts that your spouse is fallible.” Your spouse is flawed, and so are you. Real love is a choice to love someone who is not perfect. It accepts his or her flaws, just as your spouse accepts yours.
2. Real love is not static; it “ebbs and flows.” Paul notes that real love has periods when “things work effortlessly,” and passion comes naturally. At other times, however, your marriage “seems quite ordinary and unexciting.” This is normal, not a sign that you no longer love each other. Real love holds on during these periods, recognizing it may have to begin the process of warming things up again.
3. “Real love is based on shared values and a solid friendship.” Successful marriages involved people who enjoy spending time with each other, have common interests and respect each other's opinion. Without shared values and friendship, this is not possible.
4. Real love is an action verb. It is based on what you can give, “even when you don't feel like giving” and is more concerned with what you can give to your spouse than what you get from your spouse.
5. Real love involves focusing on what you need to change about yourself, not how your spouse needs to change. It finds “healthy and constructive ways” to deal with your spouse's annoying foibles. As Paul explains, “when you change in positive ways, the relationship will positively change as well.”
6. “Real love is a lifelong practice.” Sadly, we live in a world of instant gratification. If things don't work out perfectly from the start, then it's time to cut our losses and try again. Many couples simply give up too soon, which explains in part why the divorce rate is so high during the first five years of marriage.
It takes time to learn how to give and receive love and to act as a couple and not as just two individuals living together. There's a lot to learn about the person you married, and there will be surprises even after 30 and 40 years, which will give you even more opportunities to practice your skills at love.
Paul warns the romantic comedies we get from Hollywood can cause you to begin “doubting if you love your wonderful, supportive, honest, loving spouse enough.” If that happens, remember: That's why these movies are called “comedies” and come under the title “fiction” — they aren't about real love.