There have been countless times over the many years of my marriage when my husband will say something that makes me feel loved or do something that gets us back on track when we’ve been in a negative feedback loop and I’ll think, “Oh, so that’s how you love!” It could be something as small as walking me to the door to say goodbye instead of being satisfied with a kitchen goodbye or apologizing with a hug and an “I’m sorry” instead of just the words, and I’ll look at him with a certain amount of awe because he seems to know innately these simple ways of loving and repairing that I’ve had to learn. My husband has shared with me that he also marvels at certain ways that I intuitively know how to love.
This is how it goes in marriage: we teach each other how to love. We don’t teach by manuals or workbooks (that’s how it happens in school). No, we teach by example. We teach by action. We teach by modeling what love actually looks like. Through trial-and-error, through countless cycles of rupture and repair, my husband and I have created a relationship where we spend more time in the positive feedback loop than the negative. We’ve both said at different times that, while there are many things of which we’re proud in our lives, the thing we’re most proud of is our marriage. We still stumble and fall, of course (and we always will; healthy marriage will almost always include some conflict), but we get back on track faster and faster and the time between ruptures is longer and longer. And it was no easy task getting here. As two very passionate, highly sensitive people, our levels of reactivity have been off the charts at times. But we’ve stayed the course, sought help when necessary, and learned, day-by-day what it means to love.
In “101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married” in a section titled, “You don’t have to be able to love well to get married; the training occurs on the job”, Charlie Bloom writes about how intensely overwhelmed and inadequate he felt the first several years of his marriage, to the point where several times he packed his bags (but never left). He says:
“What I couldn’t see as a twenty-five-year-old was that it was okay that I wasn’t “fully cooked,” that if I just hung in there and did my work, the experience itself would eventually grow me up. And it did…
…Those who are unwilling to risk falling never learn to ride. No amount of preparations, workshops, therapy, books, self-help tapes will be sufficient to prevent the breakdowns that the development of the capacity to love requires. We don’t become a loving partner prior to getting married; we bring our unfinished, un-grown-up self to the marriage and finish the job there. If you wait until you’re ready, you never will be.” (pp. 177-8)
You’re in a committed relationship (whether married or not) because you’re willing to risk falling. And yet once here you look around and wonder, “Shouldn’t I be feeling more than this? Is something missing? Is this right? Is there someone better out there for me? I’m not very attracted to my partner and sometimes I’m so irritated I want to jump out of my skin. This can’t be normal.” It’s all normal, and it’s all part of the learning that must occur when you “hang in there and do your work.”
But what is this “work”? While there are no step-by-step instructions and there’s especially no manual for your particular relationship because the unique configuration of the two of you has never existed, there are signposts that can point the way, arrows that those of us who have slogged through the muddy terrain of long-term, intimate partnership can offer to help along the way. The Blooms’ book is one such roadmap. You can find other books on my Recommended Reading Page. And my Open Your Heart course is another.
For many of us, we have to learn how to love. Either we didn’t see the actions of love modeled growing up or our fear-walls are so thick and high around the castle of our hearts that the feeling of love is kept at bay. And by “the feeling of love” I don’t mean shooting stars and butterflies. I mean the calm oatmeal love that sits warmly in our bellies and gives us that sense of security and home. When fear overpowers the love, we lose access to that warm feeling, and we have to learn the counter-actions that shrink the fear and grow the love. It’s these counter-actions – Love Laws and Loving Actions – that I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner.
It’s action that breaks down the walls and teaches us what real love and real attraction are all about. We think we can figure love out in our heads, and while there is an element of cognitive truth that we need in order to dispel the damaging distortions we’ve all absorbed living in Western culture, the real work must take place through action. For nothing cuts through fear and reduces its power more effectively than doing the very thing fear tells us we shouldn’t do. If you’re ready to learn these Laws and Actions, please join me for my eleventh round of Open Your Heart. The course begins on August 26, 2017, and I won’t be running it again for six months. I look forward to seeing you there.