10,000 Hours of Love

image (2)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.

53 comments to 10,000 Hours of Love

  • Rachel

    Thanks Sheryl. Today is my 12th anniversary and after reading through some ecards (i’ll be writing a paper card later today instead for sure) I was feeling kind of down. They all talk about “You complete me” or “Some people fall in love but I reached new heights” and I’ve never felt the feelings the media portrays as LOVE/romance. My husband wrote me a note that discussed his appreciation for our trust and commitment to slogging through the messy times, communicating, and sharing our lives together. It’s this that I married him for–the communication, vulnerability, and commitment–but with two little kids and life-stress it certainly isn’t easy. I’ll do Open Your Heart again sometime, but too much is going on right now–but it’s always good to get your blog each week and to hear the message that’s an alternate to what I read on facebook even just today–“If you have to force it–leave it”….hard work and stress and discord can feel like forcing and it can be hard to know what’s forcing and what’s real good work. I still feel like a novice…but there’s something that keeps me committed and trying to connect. xo

    • Beautiful, Rachel; thank you. All of us in intimate relationships are love-warriors, but those of us with young children carry special badges of honor. There is NOTHING easy about this, which is why we see marriages falling apart in these early years all the time. Hang on, Rachel. Forcing is a confusing and spikey term (much like “settling), but I see it as forcing ourselves to move past these concrete blocks of fear and negative habits and working, continually, to soften ourselves into more tolerance and compassion, both for self and other.

    • Rachael

      Rachel! You have spoken the words my heart longs to hear, my partner always says things like I’m his everything? I alwsys worry that because I wouldn’t describe him as my everything, that it means I don’t love him etc. He isnt my everything but he’s my partner. He makes me want to be me, because there’s a new side of me that he brings out and supports. It’s these messages the world needs to hear & I want to Thank you for spreading them around!

  • E

    Hello Sheryl

    Thank you for this. My sweetheart, M, and I separated almost two weekends ago. I leaned that I was not respecting him to his core, and he was showing me Love but in his own way, so I didn’t see it. He spent time trying to love me, and sometimes he was very distant or avoidant. He has insecure attachment issues and so do I, but I’ve worked hard on mine with counseling, reading, your work, etc. He started working on his by loving me I suppose. We have a strong Christian Faith, and I am open to anything positive in the world. I pushed him into saying goodbye, and now he’s saying it’s just a break. I’m working hard waiting on God to reveal the answers. I’m not the best at waiting. 🙂

    My question is, how do I do this waiting–not reaching out too much–but still loving thing???

    Thank you!

  • Northernlass

    Very interesting the timing of this, as I was watching ‘Cinderella’ (the 2015 version) with my sister (I’m a big kid at heart lol!) and the part jumped out at me where the prince asks Cinderella if she’ll take him as he is, an apprentice in his trade. I feel like I need to be more patient with my partner and take him as he is too, an apprentice in his trade as partner and lover. We can’t expect perfection in a relationship, especially when it’s our first serious one, and we are both learning ‘on the job’, so to speak. I do believe it takes years and years of practice, effort, making loving choices and working on fear, to grow a healthy, loving relationship. Thanks for this Sheryl!

  • Liz

    Friday was my 1 year anniversary, and approaching it I was definitely heightened. The first year has been joyful, but not easy, not sunshine and rainbows. But your post, and our celebrations together this weekend reminded me of that joy and that the hard work, combating negative, intrusive thoughts, nasty self-doubt, judgements and critics… it’s all so worth it. Thanks for this well-timed post, Sheryl. I had a great weekend celebrating with someone I love, who acknowledges that relationships are work, and reminds me of that when I think they ‘should’ be easy. Really, I know there isn’t anyone who I’m more excited, and content to do this work with then him.

  • Al

    What is the difference between working for love, and ‘just not feeling the same way’? What is the part that requires 10.000+ hours? Can love/care/genuine interest all be cultivated as long as your partner shares values and is a good living person?

  • Lifelines

    Wow Sheryl, you have many great articles but this one blew me away!! So beautifully put 🙂 I feel so grateful that I am learning what I am learning from you and others on here at the age of 23. I feel incredibly sad when I hear so many couples divorcing. I work in a very public environment see hundreds of customers a week and so many have the attitude that divorce for them was the right thing, and they carry the attitude that they are owed real love by the universe, okay, I know we don’t how what happens behind closed doors and if there were red flags, but I wonder how many of those marriages ended because they were not educated enough, how sad to realise that a lot of people’s relationships could go turned into real mature love, but they chose to give up because it was hard.

    Thank you so much for everything. I hope you never stop doing this work because I am eternally grateful and would of left a loving, solid and healthy relationship with a lovely and wonderful man if I didn’t find your work. I am feeling blessed.

    Take care X

  • Eleonora

    Thanks again for words which gives me a deeper breath. I found it so interesting the thought about that if we had expected difficulties from the start, our whole perception, expectation and interpretation of a relationship would change. That is how powerful our preconceptions of things are. Thats is why it is so valuable that we talk about these things. Thank you Sheryl!

  • Marlene

    Thank you Sheryl for this wonderful post. This article was comforting and a bit anxiety provoking since my husband and I will soon be having our 10th wedding anniversary. I took the OYH course once already but still struggle with many of the things you wrote about in this post. At the end you say it’s worth it to “hang on” “do the work” and “don’t give up.” I’ve been doing the work for a while now and sometimes still wonder if it’s even possible for us to have more chemistry or spark since we’ve been together for almost 10 years. I have moments when I feel like it’s all going to be okay and others when I can see how this is going to work out. Thanks for the encouragement and love you share.

    • Yes I remember when you took the course. I would suggest going through the material again and again, or consider joining this round so that I can guide you through the forum and on the calls so that I help you identify where you’re getting stuck.

  • Marlene

    *can’t see how

  • Anna

    “More and more, people seem to believe that life itself should be easy”. I like how you draw the line between modern life and modern love – I think it’s so true that this ‘everything should be easy’ attitude affected our collective thinking about love a lot, and people confuse working on their relationship with something being wrong.

    For me, ‘everything should be easy’ also meant that I thought: everything should be spontaneous in love. If I even for a moment don’t feel an instant spark of happiness when I tell myself I should, I set off this whole cycle of anxiety again.

    But luckily I’m doing better gradually since I found this great website and started moving past the “shoulds”, and I started working on myself and listening to myself extensively. The wheel exercise in “I Wish He Was Funnier” also helped a lot! Though I know I still have a long way to go, I am positive this is the right track.

    Thanks so much!

  • Steph

    Wow Sheryl this is exactly what my partner has been telling me especially the part about thinking that love should be easy which it’s not. I’m also sttuggling with staying in the relationship with a loving man because i am convinced that i want to leave. when the intrusive thoughts came i wanted to overcome them and learn to love but i couldn’t get a grip and it became so powerful that i am convinced that i want to leave and that the only reason I’m staying is because I’m afraid of hurting him or being alone. I even started doubting my feelings before this started and thinking all that was a lie. But everytime I’m at the point of breaking up i talk to my partner and he tells me “Steph what will you achieve by breaking up and giving up? You’ll feel relieved yes, but have you learned what real love is? Have you overcome those anxious feelings? ” and that makes me realize that i would probably get to this point with any other partner if i don’t resolve this. And why not do it in this relationship where I have all the support and love and my bestfriend as my partner. Some days are hard yes but instead of thinking “oh I’m onky looking for reasons to stay because im afraid to leave or hurt him” i think “I’m lstaying to learn to love him because he deserves my love especially after standing bh my side and not giving up on me”. He’s not perfect but no one is, we found each other and we can build a healthy relationship when i overcome this and together we will learn to love each other. We’ve been together fpr 3 years and maybe we didn’t build the right relationship but we can start now and growing our real garden of love. And yes by leaving i may have conquered my fear of being alone but i don’t think i should give up on a good man just to do that. I can overcome it with him as well.

    • Kyle

      Hi Steph,

      I read your post and I can say Sheryl’s Breaking Free From Anxiety course would help you TREMENDOUSLY. I had almost the exact same thoughts, but if nothing else, the course finally and completely showed me that the issue is not with my significant other it’s with MY own perceptions. It seems maybe you still struggle with knowing this fact, but don’t let that spike your anxiety 🙂 We all are here learning together. Our culture propagates a spirit of individuality, anxiety, and confusion. It is HIGHLY likely you are projecting negative feelings onto your partner, when in reality, there is nothing wrong. You may think, “No but my situation is different. He does this or that to make me doubt.” Everyone here, including myself, has struggled with thinking that about their partner in many different areas of the relationship. Anxiety wants you to believe you’re the exception; don’t believe it. Chances are the doubts you have are just extensions of the sensitive, anxious mind. And that’s okay 🙂 You will benefit SO MUCH from doing the course. It does cost money, but I’m telling you it is one of the best investments you’ll ever make if you have always struggled deeply with this, like I have. Please get yourself this loving gift.

      • Steph

        Dear Kyle,
        Thank you for your response. I am currently saving up for the course! You are right i know that it’s not my SO but i can’t seem to accept it and i definitely do think that sometimes that my situation is different and I’m ready to learn and move past that. Leaving my loving partner who is willing to work through everything with me wouldn’t be the right thing for me as i didn’t resolve anything i didn’t learn anything i didn’t grow from the situation.

  • Jo

    Hi Sheryl, my husband and I have our 10 year wedding anniversary next January and as we get closer to it, I remind myself often that we are still novices and we don’t have it all figured out. Having a 4 and 7 year old who love to interrupt your conversations whenever we look at each other is another challenge. We are very proud of how far we have come and the start of this year was particularly challenging. There were a lot of tears and arguments around division of chores, hours at work, sick parents, the list goes on.

    The family we have created is our life and we hold that very sacred in our hearts, but know we are the centre and foundation of it. There is a lot of love and respect there and we will keep learning, growing and fighting for it as the years go by. So when you say, don’t give up, I definitely know what you mean.

    • I don’t think we can ever know at the onset of marriage how challenging it can be, but when both people have two feet in (and their whole hearts), we stay the course, work through the hard times, and are ultimately rewarded with the sacredness of a life that is only yours.

  • Nicole

    Wow!!! Just what I needed to read this week. I have a friend who was dumped because he “lost feelings” for her and it brought up some fear in me. What if I lost feelings for J? What if he decided to just leave me? I love this blog post- seriously just what I needed!! I hang on because I love my great partner and I want to work for a great future- even if it’s really hard sometimes. That’s gotta be love right?!

    Great post, Sheryl! Spot on for your followers this week.

  • Brittney

    I’m sending this to a soldier…thank you, beautiful read

  • Miru

    Thank you Sheryl!

    Your work helped me so much to build my marriage, to make right decisions and to open up my heart to my Husband. I’m still learning it and very greatful that once I met such Teacher as you ^^

    Now I’m trying to implement this truth towards work, long way to go still but i’m on the Way 😀

  • Angela

    Sheryl, This is my favourite blog! You have done the hard yards and that gives me so much hope and relief from your anxiety journey. Nothing in this life is easy. I found my hubby at 42, and now trying to have a baby. Relationships are not easy you have to put the work in constantly. Its my birthday 2morow and I am blessed and very lucky I am healthy and breathing. Being married is far better than being single. I am truly loved and truly love my husband even if my ego tells me sometimes that im fooling myself.

  • Angela

    Thank you so much, You made my start of the morning a really good one.? Happy Birthday to Everest your beautiful son ?

  • Stef

    Hi Sheryl,

    This blog has great timing as just 2 days ago my anoxety sparked up again when my partner and I had an argument and it made me think.. ‘Why is our relationship so hard’. From that thought alone I was sent down a whirlwind of thoughts.
    I understand that relationships are hard work and take lots of effort and I do admit that during my anxiety that I have wished for the feelings to just be there like they once were and that I wouldn’t question every thought or feeling I have.
    My relationship has always had something hard to go through from the very beginning.. Things like not being together at first because we were too afraid we would hurt one of our friends who had previously dated my partner — to my parents not approving of a same sex relationship– to my anxiety of her leaving or cheating on me and now my anxiety of not being certain if I should stay.. And everything in between in clouding my partner recently flirting with another women for w few weeks..I have felt we’ve always had something to struggle through and have not really in 4.5 years had a easy run or a time where we felt settled. This plays on my anxiety so much..

    I also as I’ve mentioned in a comment before, have lost a bit of myself through out my journey with anxiety.. The last time I felt truly happy and content and settled was when we were first together which sparks up fears that I only got with my partner because maybe she made me feel more alive and that’s the feeling I’m still looking for..
    I have tried so many things to be responsible for my own aliveness from the transition from honeymoon phase to real love and nothing has really worked..
    I have thoughts that maybe the reason why I’m so stuck and nothing is working for me is because I’m resisting breaking up with her? I really don’t want this to be th case but I can’t help feeling it because nothing has helped me so far..
    I don’t know if it could be a case of not wanting to be responsible for my own aliveness that is creating a blockage..

    My thoughts go so far that I get taken back to when we were first together to nit pick at everything that happened and see if there were doubts back then and if it was my intuition or just fears..

    I guess I’m wondering why I’m still so stuck and if it’s because I’m trying to choose to be settled with the decision of staying with her but can’t seem to get to a place where I feel content and at ease…

  • Bra77

    Hey Sheryl! I’m currently just about to begin a long distance relationship because of schooling with my honest, caring, lover that can is someone who I can learn about what love truly is. This past week I’ve been struggling a lot as I don’t miss my partner and feel very numb, disconnected, and bored. I’ve tried to talk to her and it’s almost hard. I don’t feel the motivation/excitement to talk to her, but I just want to be with her. Sheryl do you have any idea on what this could be? Lately I’ve been struggling with if we talk enough (in terms of times in a day and length, if we talk about enough things, and if we have too much “sex” even though we are abstinent) Btw I’m planning on buying the break free from anxiety course this month. Thank you

    • Kyle

      Hey Bra77,

      I don’t know your exact situation, but let me give you some encouragement if I can. My fiancee went back to her country almost exactly a year ago. During this time, we have been going long distance, and have seen each other in person only on 4 separate occasions. We are not getting married for over 2 more years. It has been an absolute ROLLER COASTER of a relationship, especially for the first two years before I sought professional help. Like everyone here, I struggle with relationship anxiety. I talk to her almost everyday, but it’s always over facetime and it often gets choppy, or she is not close enough to the mic, etc. And it sucks being away from her- it SUCKS. And I know you feel the same. But what I want to tell you is that no matter how much you talk, no matter what you talk about, even if you do not have a moment of physical romance for months on end (we are also abstinent), you CAN do what you want to do and not allow fear to drive your life. It is your choice alone to love her, and if something is keeping you in it (which it sounds like there is, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here), it sounds like you have unconsciously been putting the tools you have to good use. To answer your question, there are MANY days I feel nothing. Sometimes, yeah, I feel bored. I can’t tell you how many times I have not had motivation or excitement to talk to my fiancee; it’s the same stuff day in and day out: “what happened at work today?” But that’s life. And the course will teach you that those feelings are okay. And I promise those feelings eventually come to be what you WANT to feel (oddly enough) because they teach us that this is a partner with whom we are walking through life with; not an entertainer who is here to keep us amused. I’m glad you will be doing the e-course soon; it is the #1 thing that helped me to see that there is nothing wrong with our relationship and that my love for her is my choice no matter what. No one and no thing, can take that away from me. I can hear anxiety talk, but I don’t have to agree with or listen to it. It will take a back seat.

  • Newly Married

    I cant say how many times I feel sad of how life is changing so fast. I sometimes feel so sad that life used to be so much more fun before, for me at least like sewing your cloths, do decorations for you home instead of buying them, playing outside with the dirt and the animals. It just feels for me as if technology has made things just boring, I love also a lot of the things that technology has but you are right sheryl, I used to have pan pals and send each other cards and letters, I couldnt wait for the mail to receive correspondence, I dont know how to explain it the feeling that those things felt like, sometimes my husband and i talk about it and we get sort of sad about it, the fast passage of time is so present in me since I turned 30 I have become very sensitive about it.

  • Silver

    It’s almost two years in the relationship. I still feel something weird about my partner. My relationship feels like an obligation, I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong so that I don’t see it this way. I’m 22 and still learning. What I’m scared about is that I might be using my partner as a placeholder until I found someone who I would be willing to love. It’s just my partner is just their to help me grow and not fully see her and just using her because having someone’s company feels nice. I totally sometimes do my best to stay away from her, getting busy, watching television, etc. Which why I don’t trust my actions. And it feels like I don’t being honest with myself and just pleasing her to the extent.

    • Silver

      I do also wait for her to become someone else, not loving for who she is.

    • Hannah

      Silver, I don’t mean this to be rude but perhaps you need to stop posting on every single one of sheryls blog posts looking for reassurance. Perhaps if you feel the urge next time, try to stop? The only way you will start to heal is if stop looking for reassurance from others and start with yourself. Unfortunately nobody can tell you what will happen in the future of your relationship but if you really want to stay, then stay. Even if it’s really hard, work work work! You can do this. Just because your thoughts are telling you can’t, don’t believe them. If you want to, you can 🙂

      • Silver

        Sorry, I don’t have the motivation all the time to pull myself up. This is my first relationship and I don’t have ample experience like most of you guys thought. Sometimes it’s easy to say that but I try myself not to post. Don’t you think that I haven’t try to let myself heal/

        • I think what Hannah is suggesting is to practice being your own loving parent, which means learning to provide comfort, guidance, and reassurance to yourself when you’re struggling. We certainly need support at times to pick ourselves up, but we also need to practice being our own support system. As an experiment, how would you respond to your first comment above if you were to practice being your own loving inner parent?

  • Worrier96

    Hi Sheryl, how do I register for OYH? Do you pay when you register or do you pay later? Thanks!

  • Wondering

    Hi Sheryl,
    I love your work and I always head to your blog when I need a special comfort.

    I’m taking your Motherhood course before I conceive & i am really enjoying it. Something I’d LOVE for you to explore would be being a daughter of a Narcissistic mother (and father), and how so much of that pain as their daughter is coming up for me as I prepare to be a mother. I feel both a need for a mother who was never really there (in Presence) and also fear about my own future success as a mother. I would love to hear your wisdom there.

    All the best to you….

  • Angela

    Sheryl, im not having a good weekend, because it was my birthday on wednesday, my hubby thought it would be nice to get away and that is his gift, which is nice but I dont like how treats me, he is putting me down and picks on my driving, i am an excellent driver, been driving for years. I feel upset with him. I dont deserve to be treated this way, i always treat him with respect.

  • Angela

    Thank you so much, ??

  • Bee

    What if you think you love your partner than they love you? Should you not worry about it? Is this part of the anxiety that says run?

  • Nikki

    Sheryl- thank you. This is just the reminder I need- every day, all the time. Always. We are always good enough. Your words always bring such support and encouragement. There’s so much more I want to say but don’t know how to say it. Thank you again.

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