While waiting to pick up a friend at the airport in Portland, Oregon, I had one of those life-changing experiences that you hear other people talk about — the kind that sneaks up on you unexpectedly. This one occurred a mere two feet away from me. Straining to locate my friend among the passengers deplaning through the jet way, I noticed a man coming toward me carrying two light bags. He stopped right next to me to greet his family. First, he hugged his three children, one-by-one. After several moments, he handed his baby daughter to his oldest son and declared, "I've saved the best for last!" and preceded to give his wife the longest, most passionate kiss I ever remember seeing. He gazed into her eyes for several seconds and then silently mouthed. "I love you so much!"They stared at each other's eyes, beaming big smiles at one another, while holding both hands. For an instant they reminded me of newlyweds, but I knew by the age of their kids that they couldn't possibly be. I puzzled about it for a moment then realized how totally engrossed I was in the wonderful display of unconditional love not more than an arm's length away from me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, as if I was invading something sacred, but was amazed to hear my own voice nervously ask, "Wow! How long have you two been married?" "Been together fourteen years total, married twelve of those," he replied, without breaking his gaze from his lovely wife's face. "Well then, how long have you been away?" I asked. The man finally turned and looked at me, still beaming his joyous smile. "Two whole days!" "Two days?" I was stunned.
By the intensity of the greeting, I had assumed he'd been gone for at least several weeks – if not months. I know my expression betrayed me. I said almost offhandedly, hoping to end my intrusion with some semblance of grace (and to get back to searching for my friend), "I hope my marriage is still that passionate after twelve years!" The man suddenly stopped smiling. He looked me straight in the eye, and with forcefulness that burned right into my soul, he told me something that left me a different person. He told me, "Don't hope, friend… decide!" Then he flashed me his wonderful smile again, shook my hand and said, "God bless!" (A Fifth Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul by M. D. Hargrove; www.bluinc.com)
Love is a decision of the heart. Lovers, family and friends emotionally challenge us in ways that make us question the strength of our love ~ the size of our heart. This is the nature of love. Love demands that we grow and stretch ourselves in ways we never imagined. This is especially true when it comes to romantic relating.
In the beginning……
When we first fall in love, we are infatuated with our lovers' looks and ways of being. Even, their idiosyncrasies are dear to us. We hang on every word and relish the chance of losing ourselves—sexually, emotionally, and spiritually. There's nothing quite as exhilarating as the early stages of a romantic relationship. We can fall emotionally hard and quickly. But, who is it really for whom we are falling?
We are falling for our own fantasies of the ideal lover. There is an idea of an Adonis or a Venus inside all of us. We wait just for the right lover to come along who is a perfect match with the lover of our minds. Never mind that they talk with food in their mouths, are messy, refuse to put the cap on the toothpaste, or close the toilet seat after using it. It is easy, at first, to conveniently overlook features of our lovers that show them to be less than Adonis or Venus. They are so adorable to us. At least, this is the situation for now.
Falling in love is not hard. But, staying in love—growing and deepening it—is. Most of us are not taught how to emotionally stretch ourselves in order to grow and deepen love, unless we were raised by the couple in my opening story. The honeymoon phase of love, when nothing else matters, fades after a few months or a few years of being together (The Early Stages Of Falling In Love: Euphoric, Endangered, Exhausting). Now, your relationship differences seem undoable to you, like you are trying to force a square peg into a round hole. This is often the point where people break up, because the next phase of love asks them to love the person they have found, rather than the person they first imagined their lovers to be. For some people, this is too hard of a task, psychologically and spiritually. It is not easy to develop love beyond a state of good feelings to a promise. It is not that you stop feeling love. It is more that to keep that feeling alive, love is asking you to decide for it.
How Deep Is Your Love?
No matter how much love there is in the beginning of a relationship, raising children, money pressures, and never ending needs and desires emerging in our romantic partners, and in us, have to be considered and negotiated so that the relationship continues to thrive. Everyday we are asked to decide for the relationship—for its future. The needs, desires, and requests of our partners often conflict with ours, so that the integrity of our commitment to each other is challenged. How will we decide? Will we find solutions that make them and ourselves happy? Or, will we dig in our heels and say no to the relationship?
The answer to these questions is no easy task, as many of you know. It means that we may have to loosen up our fixed ideas and beliefs and emotionally stretch ourselves in ways we never thought we would or was possible. But, when we decide to love, we can move mountains—inside of us.
As many of you know, I've been with my husband 26 years now, 24 of which we have been married. Through the years, daily stresses and changes going on inside of him and me have repeatedly led us to ask: "And, today, how shall we decide?" Does this mean that we haven't loved, because we have to ask ourselves the question as to the meaning of our love as the relationship is challenged? No. It is our conscious decision to love each day that leads us to emotionally stretch ourselves enough to preserve the integrity of our love.
Reflections On The Decision To Love
If you are in the midst of a relationship stress or trouble that is making you question the depth of your love, I want you to ask yourself the questions that follow. Only you can decide what this difficult period in your relationship means to you. But, let the questions that follow deepen your appreciation of all that is involved in growing a romantic relationship, so that you can DECIDE consciously what is right for you.
Is your idealization of your lover waning? Is the trouble you are having now that you cannot reconcile the person whom you have really found versus the person who was a projection of your fantasy lover? If so, remember, this is a normal transition period in a romantic relationship. This doesn't mean the relationship wasn't meant to be and should end. Whether it is meant to be is really up to both of you. What are your reactions to this seemingly negative change in the quality of your love? Do you feel hopeless and taking this change as a sign that the relationship is over? Hold on! You may be jumping a ship that isn't sinking; it's just moving to calmer, deeper waters.
Examine perceptions of your lover, today. How are you DECIDING to see him or her? Are you viewing differences between both of you as unmovable roadblocks? Does your intolerance of who they really are speak more to YOUR unwillingness to grow and change than to their actual imperfections? The way that you are deciding to see the person or situation may be only a justification for running away from your commitment to the relationship. Remember, losing ourselves to the couple, the partnership, isn't easy. It takes great ego strength to be able to let go of the normal defenses that have protected us up through this point in life. The fears you feel about your partner may really be fears about letting go–giving yourself wholly to the partnership.
Identify emotional obstacles inside of you that stops you from loving fully?There may be something you are holding onto that is making you run away from the hard task of having to move your relationship forward.A way of life or fixed attitudes and beliefs that say to you; "I can't change." "I'll lose the life I know." Remember, when we choose to positively service our romantic relationships, it doesn't mean that we give up on personal goals. It just means that we have to become more creative in finding ways to express ourselves in the context of the romantic relationship. Your problem solving skills are being challenged, now. You have to consider more than your frustrations, needs, and desires, when solving problems. When you get used to thinking about problems that affect the relationship, you will be amazed at how you can turn mountains of resistance into molehills. Resistances start to fall away.
These questions are not easy for us to answer. They ask us to look deep within ourselves for defenses that prevent us from finding and strengthening love. It is always easier to see what is wrong with other people than with our own selves. Thus, if you reflected upon these questions, only thinking about how your mate isn't emotionally stretching him or herself enough to preserve the relationship, then, you have gone about these questions all wrong. These questions are asking YOU about your resistance to move to the next phase of a love relationship. If so, go back and answer the questions as they concern you, alone.
Love is a decision of the heart. It is an unconditional commitment that says: "I will do all I can to protect, grow, and honor the integrity of our relationship." I will grow away from narcissistic self-concerns to concerns of my mate, children, and anything else that preserves the integrity of the family life that we have built together. Have you made this promise?