Latter-day Saint Life

Love is meant to change: 4 questions to help you find (or save) your happily ever after

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If we expect romantic attachment to be constant and always intense, we may be setting ourselves up for serious struggle. That moment when romance settles can be an opportunity to deepen our commitment, rather than running away.
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A moment of feeling less romantic excitement can be uniquely challenging—even terrifying—for both dating and married couples today. That’s because so many of us now take for granted, as one writer says, that “if human love ever wanes, then it wasn’t love in the first place.” In one study of romantic beliefs, 65% of people reported believing that “the intense passion of the first stages, if it is real, will last, or it should last, forever.”

Is that something you believe too? If so, don’t be surprised if the experience of diminished attraction or settling passion ends up feeling more like a crisis, prompting foreboding questions like: “Did we ever truly love each other? Was this relationship wrong to begin with? Is there any hope for us in the future?”

Like with depressive and anxious rumination, this kind of over-analysis can end up hurting us if we stay trapped in it. It can be so relieving to push back on these kinds of fearful thoughts and feelings and learn to approach everything inside mindfully and compassionately, rather than being driven by whatever we are feeling (or not feeling).

The truth, as emphasized by renowned author Dr. M. Scott Peck, is that “No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough. This is not to say that we invariably cease loving the person with whom we fell in love. But it is to say that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes.

Did you hear that? “Always passes.” That’s true for Brad and Angelina. And for you, too. The real question is what you’re going to do next. The sad reality is that many beautiful couples today are being hijacked and sideswiped—with their own possibilities for wonderful future happiness together overwhelmed by the belief (and demand) that they’re supposed to feel more right now. As summarized by philosopher Simon May at King’s College in London:

“We expect love to be a ... journey for the soul, a final source of meaning and freedom ... a key to the problem of identity, a solace in the face of rootlessness ... a redemption from suffering, and a promise of eternity. Or all of these at once. In short: love is being overloaded.”

By requiring love to reflect “superhuman qualities,” May continues, we force relationships to “labor under intolerable expectations,” ultimately “demanding from the loved one far more than they can possibly be.” Historian Stephanie Coontz likewise describes “unprecedented goals for marriage”—saying, “Never before in history had societies thought that such a set of high expectations about marriage was either realistic or desirable.”

4 Questions for Reflection:

  1. Have you ever felt your own marriage or dating relationships weighed down by these kinds of heavy expectations?
  2. How do you think that relationships could be different if those expectations and demands were lifted?
  3. Have you ever—now or in the past—experienced a shift in your own feelings of attraction or romantic excitement toward someone you love?
  4. If so, were you able to approach that with wisdom and patience—or were you tempted to do something more drastic and dire?

Practice: The good news is you don’t have to approach evolutions in romantic attachment as a crisis or tragedy. Instead, try approaching a softening of feelings as another opportunity to show love. That’s exactly what Dr. Peck suggests next: “It is when a couple falls out of love [that] they may begin to really love. ... True love happens after the love starts to fade.”

Compared to when the body’s hormones are giving a couple all the rationale they need to love each other, this introduces a new phase of maturing love: one where two people get to use their agency to choose to love someone. Will you?

For many, the answer is … well, no. The story of always-intense, hyper-sexual romance is just too alluring. They want to experience that more even than they want to stay for good with an amazing but imperfect human being.

But for many others, especially those seeking to move forward on the covenant path of discipleship, their answer will be … absolutely yes. Yes, I will. This person is really worth it and important to me—including when the artificial highs of infatuation settle down.

In that moment, they choose to deepen their commitment rather than allowing it to erode. This becomes a wonderful chance to affirm your desire to be there for each other and seek to increase your happiness.

And right there—you know what that is? True love—the kind too good even for most Disney movies.

It’s this which leads to a truly happy and lasting marriage. As President Gordon B. Hinckley once taught, these sweet relationships are based not on romance alone but instead, the “anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.”

Remembering his own marriage half a century earlier when Marjorie had “the wondrous aura of young womanhood upon her,” President Hinckley recalled. “She was beautiful, and I was bewitched.” But then he describes eating dinner with her at the age of 92, “As I looked at her across the table, I noted her face and hands. Once they were so beautiful, the flesh firm and clear. Now they’re wrinkled and a little bony and not very strong. But are they less beautiful than before? No, in fact, they are more so”—reflecting, as he put it, “a love that runs more deeply and quietly than ever before.”

This is the “pure love” that Jesus taught as well (and Paul and Mormon), which “never faileth”: it “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” This definition does not mention “and feels intense romantic exhilaration, always.”

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate the sweetness of pure romance—as you might see in a young crush—as something that has an almost divine quality. It’s holy and beautiful.

It’s simply a reminder that this isn’t the same as the true love it can one day become—the kind you see in the cute old couples holding hands on the park bench.

To repeat: the idea you have to feel intensely for someone, with hypersexual arousal, in order to “truly love them” is simply not true. And if you believe that, you’re going to have a hard time ever making anyone truly happy, let alone committing to any relationships for longer than a few months or years.

Why? Because every person you meet—and each relationship you start—will eventually be crushed by impossible, intolerable beliefs and expectations that no human being and no love can possibly meet.

This larger, overwrought narrative of romance is no respecter of persons. It afflicts all of us. Young and old. Married and single.

And too many beautiful couples with wonderful possibilities ahead have been crushed and gutted by an impossibly sexualized story about how we’re all supposed to feel.

If that’s where you find yourself today, it’s time to fight back—so your heart can be free to love the precious human beings around you.

Fairy tales are nice. But there comes a time to move beyond them and live in reality. To paraphrase the poet Rumi, may we all “put away thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which is true.”

So, whether you’re married or dating, listen carefully: When the feelings ebb, when the excitement isn’t as intense, when you start to notice an emotional settling, rather than signs of reconsidering this relationship, let them be signs it’s time to begin truly loving the human face in front of you.

Approach love as a craft and practice as rich as Zen—something you can get better at over time, something you can grow in more deeply with each passing day, and something you can pray “with all the energy of your heart” to receive.

Don’t miss out on receiving this gift. It really is the “greatest of all”—and it’s available to all of us in the eternal future. You will regret turning it down for anything else, even if it stretches your heart now.

You can do it. You really can.

Don’t let any Hollywood nonsense tell you otherwise.

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