Alongside the adolescent view of love we hold in this culture that says that love is a feeling, we also believe that love should be easy. Of course, this attitude of effortlessness and ease extends far beyond the bounds of love; more and more, people seem to believe that life itself should be easy. We shouldn’t feel pain or discomfort, jealousy or frustration. We shouldn’t struggle through transitions, or should only feel happy emotions around death-and-rebirth thresholds like becoming a wife/husband or a parent. In short, we should, somehow, always be fine (“How are you?” and “I’m fine.”), which is another way of saying that anything uncomfortable is pushed underground and we shouldn’t have to work for wellness.
I have a feeling this expectation of effortlessness is connected to modern technology, where everything is easier and faster. From the automobile to the vacuum cleaner, from online shopping to texting, modern conveniences facilitate a mindset that says: whatever we want should magically with the press of a key. Hungry? Pop a pre-made meal into the microwave (no need to meal plan, grocery shop, and cook). Hungry on the run? Head to a drive-through for a quick pick up (no need to even stop your car). Need a new pair of sunglasses? With two-day shipping they will be at your front door almost before you can snap your fingers.
Don’t get me wrong: I love many modern conveniences. But I also long for some of the actions in earlier days that led to greater connection to soul. I’ll never forget when email first hit the circuit and I vowed that I would never jump on board, knowing that, if I did, it would mean the death of letter writing. I had been an avid letter-writer my entire life, and I still have several three-ring notebooks filled with my correspondences with pen pals, friends, and family over the years. When one of my closest friends in junior high moved to the other side of the country, we wrote extensive letters to each other every three days the entire summer. We would meticulously pick out the stationary and spend hours pouring out our thoughts, feelings, and observations with beautiful pens, then seal them up in mindfully picked envelopes and detailed stamps. The entire process was an expression of heart and soul. I treasure those letters to this day.
(Of course, I did jump on the email bandwagon, but there’s a space in my heart that still grieves for traditional mail. There is simply no replacement for the personal care and details that we put into letters, one that can’t be replicated over a computer.)
All this to say that we expect life to happen quickly and effortlessly, and nowhere is this expectation more dangerous than in love. When two people get married, they’re conditioned from the time they’re young to ride off into the proverbial sunset and live happily ever after. This is literally how fairy tales and Hollywood movies end, so we’re imprinted early with this misleading message. For most couples, even if they’ve been together for many years, marriage is when their real inner and inter-relational work begins.
I’ve written about this concept before: marriage is a work-in-progress. Relationships take time to unfold and mature. But I want to express it here in a slightly different way.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, said that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master in any field. While this has since been refuted as an oversimplification (the ten-thousand-hour rule is catchy but not exactly accurate), the basic principle still applies. As Ericsson and Pool write in Salon.com:
Gladwell did get one thing right, and it is worth repeating because it’s crucial: becoming accomplished in any field in which there is a well-established history of people working to become experts requires a tremendous amount of effort exerted over many years. It may not require exactly ten thousand hours, but it will take a lot.
Research has shown this to be true in field after field. It generally takes about ten years of intense study to become a chess grandmaster. Authors and poets have usually been writing for more than a decade before they produce their best work, and it is generally a decade or more between a scientist’s first publication and his or her most important publication — and this is in addition to the years of study before that first published research. A study of musical composers by the psychologist John R. Hayes found that it takes an average of twenty years from the time a person starts studying music until he or she composes a truly excellent piece of music, and it is generally never less than ten years. Gladwell’s ten-thousand-hour rule captures this fundamental truth — that in many areas of human endeavor it takes many, many years of practice to become one of the best in the world — in a forceful, memorable way, and that’s a good thing.
I find it fascinating that few people apply this same principle to love. We think of mastery in areas like chess and violin, science and poetry, but what if we also applied this to love? What if we expected to spend 10,000 hours becoming experts at love – if, after the initial infatuation and it’s corresponding free ride wore off (if there ever was one), we expected to spend many, many years – decades, even – learning about love? What if we started out expecting to know nothing, expecting to feel awkward, expecting to doubt, expecting to wonder if there was a better match out there yet holding the course with our current choice? If we flipped our expectations around relationships, everything would change.
Here’s the thing about love and any other endeavor we wish to master: it’s not only time that hones our skills. We all know couples who have been together for several decades and don’t know the first thing about real love. It’s time plus dedicated attention where we practice the healthy and effective habits of love that then grow our ability to open our hearts, to feel genuine attraction, and to feel in love. Some people inherently possess these love-skills; most others need to learn them. We learn the skills, we practice the habits, and then we become adept and fluid at loving each other. These skills and habits are what I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner.
Love is work, yes. I know firsthand how much work is required to cultivate a loving marriage. I’ve logged at least 10,000 hours in my journal and in therapy, working through my own shadows, fears, and intergenerational patterning that have prevented me from opening my heart to love. Both together and separately, my husband and I have slogged through our dark matter as we’ve fallen, crashed, and gotten up again a thousand times. But when I look out the window on a gorgeous summer day and see my two boys running in the yard while my husband tends to the house, my flask is filled with so many liquid solutions that rise and bubble to the surface I cannot count them all – gratitude, warmth, joy, affection, stability, comfort, and, of course, love – and I know deep in my being that every hour, every minute, was worth it.
As I say on my blog and in my courses: Don’t give up. Hang on. Do the work. It’s worth it. It’s worth it a thousand times over. It’s supposed to be hard. All good things in life require tending and laboring, falling and working. It’s how we grow and it’s how we learn to love.
My ninth round of Open Your Heart is now open for registration, and the course begins on August 27th, 2016. Learn more by clicking here.