From the moment you come into the world, you immediately realize that you need love, nurturance and care. Without it, you, the infant, the most helpless of newborns for the longest period of time, won’t survive. As a result, you learn that the presence or absence of love is truly a case of life or death. By approximately 6 years of age, that’s not necessarily a fact physically, but emotionally, the need for love will exist until the day you die.
It’s no wonder that many of you and millions of others relate to and become enamored with tales of legendary lovers such as Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Pocahontas and John Smith, Scarlett and Rhett Butler; and more recently, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. People want to believe in fairy tales. They want to think that good triumphs over bad; that evil always is punished and, most of all, that it’s really possible to live happily ever after.
Thus, it’s not surprising that, when Brad and Jennifer or Ben and Jennifer announce their breakups, many people react emotionally. After all, their divorces destroy your dreams and leave you feeling disillusioned. Instead of perceiving two lovers walking barefoot on a beach, you are faced with the image of two marriages ending prematurely. In 2005, People magazine reported that Matt Damon summed it up best: “Even if the syntax went a bit astray, Brad and Jen are the couple you want to be – young, lean and sexy. They shared a special bond, a relaxed chemistry that generated a nice, soft glow, but to look back at them now is to sigh a little. Pity, isn’t it? Things just didn’t work out.”
Somehow, those words tend to trivialize the matter. “A pity it didn’t work out” is trite, superficial and lacking in compassion. Their breakups deserve more significance than that, because it left too many people despondent and holding a dim view of love. It also did something else. It sent several important messages that need to be taken to heart if couples are ever going to learn to create healthy long-term marriages. Those messages are:
1. Love, the fairy tale, may be a myth, but every married individual initially experienced that myth, at least for a brief period of time. Understandably, it has a relatively short shelf life, but it can and does exist. What you need to learn, however, is that passion, alone, isn’t sufficient to sustain a relationship. Love is more than heated emotions. It also consists of commitment and intimacy.
2. Having said that, you need to know that the initial attraction that you experience, the electricity and the feeling that you are on the same wavelength is a manifestation of that passion. Although it is only one of the three ingredients required to create a healthy marriage, it does provide a charge that ignites emotions, fuels romantic feelings and helps you to prevail during difficult times. So, don’t even think of marrying someone with whom you don’t share those emotions.
Let me also add that if passion was there initially, even though it may wax and wane in the course of your marriage, there are ways to energize it once again.
3. The second essential ingredient is commitment to the vows you made on your wedding day: to love and honor your spouse and to be there during the good times, the bad times and in sickness and in health.
Commitment is not a complex process. It is simply a decision you must make before you marry and have to reinforce ever day thereafter.
4. Don’t expect that you’ll agree on every issue, or that your goals will always be the same. One of you may want children, the other may not. One of you may be dedicated to your career, while the other is more involved with children and family. At one time or another, one or both of you may even find you are attracted to someone else. It is essential that you realize that these attractions are normal, mostly short-lived and, more often than not, primarily stem purely from physical attraction. The attraction may be tantalizing to think about, but it should never be acted upon. In most relationships, your differences and attractions are merely factors that need to be dealt with. No more, no less. They are not reasons to break up or to divorce. Successful marriages are long-term relationships between two different people, not an interaction between clones. Living with your clone eventually would be dull and boring, whereas, living with a person different from yourself breeds new ideas, varying opinions and intellectual stimulation.
5. To resolve differences and promote healing require the third ingredient. Intimacy consists of the ability to interact with, discuss, communicate and share who and what you are with your partner. It necessitates that you first have the courage to introspectively examine yourself and then to be brave enough to share what you discover in you with the individual you’ve partnered with. It may sound simple, but let me assure you, true intimacy is as rare as happy marriages.
The best definition of intimacy is the word itself: “Into-me-see.” When you can see where a person is coming from, he or she becomes less threatening, because they are more understandable. It is this understanding that provokes closeness, because it dispels emotional fears and promotes the feelings of warmth and love you desire.
6. The most important message of all is that healthy marriages needn’t be a fairy tale or an anomaly. Most individuals initially are attracted to people who are potentially good candidates for a long-lasting relationship. In most instances, the problem isn’t who you marry, but how effectively you deal with the person you marry. If you don’t know how; if the role models you had for loving were lacking, or if you’re out of touch with your feelings, it’s never too late to learn.
7. Forget about Brad and Jen. Much as Matt Damon, said, “It’s a pity they didn’t make it,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Instead, resolve to make passion a part of your relationship, commit to the person you are already married to and, most of all, strive to develop emotional intimacy by sharing who you truly are and what you honestly feel with the person whose love you desire.