I know it seems weird for a marriage counselor to say, but it is true. After years of working with couples as a mentor and now as a marriage counselor, there are certain factors that are more important in marriage than “feeling in love.”
Please don’t get me wrong. “Being” and “feeling” in love brings us together in our dating, engagement, and early years of marriage.
It is so important, even after 40 years of marriage, to experience the closeness that makes us feel “as one.”
But the euphoria cannot last forever. And if our understanding of a successful marriage is dependent on this feeling, we are in for a real surprise.
So Where Does Love Fit In?
To say that “feeling in love” is not necessary is a misunderstanding.
“Feeling in love” creates in us a type of “intrinsic” memory. A memory that not only is associated with events we remember, but also helps us experience again the closeness and safety of our relationship.
Think for a moment how sometimes a song, or a sound, or even a smell can create in us a warm feeling. We may not remember why or when, but it still happens. Consider the fragrances of Christmas or a favorite song that your mother or grandmother use to sing to you as you were falling asleep.
So “feelings” are absolutely important. But a successful life-long marriage takes something more.
How to Know if There’s Hope.
Couples seek out help for a number of reasons.
For some, there has been some type of infidelity.
For others the frequency of their arguments is growing and they seem more intense.
For others, they seem to have simply lost interest in each other.
I have them describe their last argument. For some it is easy (the discovery of infidelity), but many couples cannot even remember what triggered the argument.
I ask the question: When you remember that argument and perhaps even experience it again, what happens to you? How does it affect you?
In most cases, they are so consumed with anger, that nothing else seems to matter.
Or perhaps they simply say that they are miserable.
My comment? That is a good sign!
Why? Because if they did not still care about each other, in spite of everything, these argument would no longer matter.
So that provides hope. Even when they feel hopeless, I tell them, “I have enough hope for all three of us.”
The marriage counselor can help a couple navigate a new pathway. With help, the couple can create new patterns in their relationship that are biblical and actually work.
But the counselor cannot give them the “want to.” Only the couple can decide if they are willing to walk this new pathway.
They have to trust the counselor and the fact that since they are miserable, there is still hope.
Commitment Trumps “Feelings of Love.”
When I meet with a couple for the first time, I listen to their pattern: How their arguments begin, who is the one who keeps pursuing the argument, and which one simply shuts down.
They are both sending the signal to the other one that something is wrong. The message that each one receives is “You don’t like me. You don’t want me. You don’t even want me around.”
The most dangerous statement is “I can’t do this anymore.”
In most cases, “this” does NOT mean the marriage. It simply means that they cannot keep up this pattern. It is so miserable. And they forget what “feeling in love” is like.
This pattern has been evolving for so long, that they truly believe that there are no other options.
- Continue on with their relationship like it is
- Separation or divorce
- Work on their marriage relationship in a completely different way.
Why Separation and Divorce are a Last Resort.
Let’s face it, marriage can be difficult. Many times, the option to “give up” seems so attractive. Why? Because the arguments, and yelling, and anger are so painful.
Why are these so painful? Because they do still care about each other. Otherwise arguing and walking out of the marriage would have happened months ago.
So even though every day seems more difficult than the previous one, they still want it to work out. They just do not know how.
When a couple is at the peak of an argument, harsh and damaging words are exchanged. Words that are meant to hurt the other person in the moment, but do note truly reflect their relationship.
One question that I often ask is “What do you think it would be like to say ‘goodbye’ to your spouse tomorrow, never to see them again. What would you experience?”
This question often causes a long pause in the session.
In most cases, this reality has not been considered in this way. When they begin to imagine what life would be like without their spouse, the atmosphere in the room often begins to change.
Why? Because they don’t want to say goodbye. They simply want to re-experience what they first had – that feeling of being in love.
They just want to feel better! And although divorce may make them feel better in the short term, the loss of this person with whom they have experienced life together is not the solution they desire.
Commitment Becomes First Priority.
It doesn’t sound very romantic. In fact, it sounds a little dry and boring.
But unless a couple commits to change, no matter what, they will become discouraged and quit.
It doesn’t really matter the reason for their commitment. It often it involves their kids. Or they do not want to begin over again. They do not want to lose the shared memories. Or their vow to God and each other was a promise that they still take seriously.
What ever the reason, it is enough.
What Does It Take?
There are two simple, but difficult commitments that are critical to a couple regaining the closeness in their relationship:
The first is a commitment to each other and their marriage relationship itself. Even when they lose hope, they must promise not to quit.
The second is that they are so committed to their marriage, that they are willing to take risks and create a new pathway – a new journey to the destination that they desire.
Are you committed to your marriage for a lifetime? Not just the legal or moral commitment, but the commitment to pursue God’s design for marriage?
Are you so committed that you are willing to take the risk of creating a new pathway – a new journey to the destination you desire?
A marriage that is safe, close, and often includes “feeling in love” can be the result. The process requires commitment, but the rewards are worth it!