Remember the old Beatles song whose lyrics promises that love was all we would need. While I love the song I don't agree with the lyrics, especially in relationships. We often believe that love is essential and adequate to maintain a healthy, committed relationship. Professionally I have found that while love is very important, couples also need like and in-love feelings in order to have a successful marriage. Many of the couples I work with have for various reasons lost both the friendship and passion in their relationship, and the love feelings are barely hanging on. Contrary to popular culture, love is not enough to sustain a relationship and couples tend to drift apart over time when they lose the other two components of their relationship. While all relationships wax and wane in their levels of connection and passion, healthy couples take action when they sense a gradual decline. They may work at spending more time together, reading books/articles to hone their skills or seeking professional help. Unfortunately, many couples who enter my office have ignored their problems for months or years until a crisis hits. A good analogy is ignoring the check engine light in your car until the engine seizes up and the car is unable to be driven. All to often relationships self-destruct like a seized up car when not maintained and serviced.
Sometimes we are so busy that everything else takes higher priority than our marriage. We often focus on children, work, community involvement or individual needs and neglect the most important relationship. Why do we seem to neglect or hurt those closest to us, especially our spouse? Maybe because we assume they'll tolerate it and forgive us. Or maybe since they're around us all the time we take them for granted and figure they'll understand. Sometimes people assume that commitment and loyalty to the relationship will supersede any neglect or mistakes. Others assume that they can get away with poor or inappropriate behaviors. Sometimes these behaviors are learned from observing your own parents' marriage as a child. You may not have seen much affection between your parents or witnessed significant conflict, leaving you with a void and without an example of what a healthy and committed relationship looks like. Or maybe you believe that being a good provider or caretaker of the children and household is sufficient to sustain a marriage. Today people want and expect more from a relationship.
So what does a successful marriage look like? In addition to being in love, the couple need to spend time together doing fun activities, talking regularly and respectfully, and encouraging each other. Couples need spontaneous affection and times when they can be honest and direct with each other to work through conflict. Healthy couples are able to forgive each other when a mistake is made and apologize with the intention to change bad behaviors. This fosters the like feelings in the relationship. The in-love feelings encompass the passion in the relationship including physical intimacy and excitement in shared activities and conversations. Trust is an essential part of a healthy relationship and is built through consistency in words and actions over time. Healthy partners challenge each other to be better in life and lovingly call them out when they are going wrong. Lastly, positive relationships share openly and allow each spouse to be vulnerable and intimate. Recognize that while marriage absolutely needs love, like and in-love feelings are also necessary to grow and deepen the relationship. To read more about this topic consider one of my books available on my website www.drferretti.com