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It is the subject of songs and the theme of movies; it has created an industry in fiction writing, the romance novel. The beginning of love is wonderful.
But the test of love comes over time, the time beyond the courtship and honeymoon phase. It is in the long-term relationship that our capacity to maintain the vitality and energy of love is challenged.
The Road Ahead
The challenge goes beyond simply getting along. There are lots of couples who get along but whose relationship lacks spark. Some of these couples have excluded anything controversial from their relationship to keep the peace. It is a peace that comes with a price. Not being truly open because it may “stir things up” is precisely the wrong thing to do. The spark comes from being emotionally open in a relationship and allowing the other person to do the same.
Being open requires that we make our feelings known when we talk about things that are important to us and that we stay emotionally connected to our love partner when he or she thinks, feels, and believes differently; we don’t waste our energy trying to change or fix each other. Yes, creating and maintaining a vibrant love through the process of revealing yourself, warts and all, can be a frightening prospect.
Ditch the Caution
To do otherwise, to play it safe and avoid the risk of being open, or to discourage your partner’s openness because it doesn’t conform to your views is the biggest risk of all. It will, with certainty, drain the relationship and leave it empty.
The excitement of the early days will become a distant memory to be mourned. This is so because the liveliness of love relationships, the very core energy of love, is fed by the openness that comes from the heart.
Every experienced couple therapist will tell you that openness is at the root of the strongest love relationships. We also know that deception in all its forms is the enemy of a rich and vibrant love because it is the antithesis of openness.
Like a terrorist who wears no uniform and who strikes in unexpected ways, deception is a tough and tricky enemy. The training starts innocently enough with the little white lies of childhood. We learn about white lies from our parents, our peers, neighbors, and the other adults surrounding us.
Fake, Fake, Fake
We see tears streaming down Mommy’s face and we ask, “What’s the matter?” Mommy responds, “Nothing, I’m fine.” The phone rings and Mommy answers. Dad signals to her and whispers, “Tell him I’m not here.” We hear Mom and Dad badmouthing their friends Fred and Andrea Johnson.
“He’s boring and monotone; she’s self-centered and grandiose.” And then the Smiths come over and we observe our parents greet them as if they are best friends: “Oh, we’ve really been looking forward to seeing you.”
Like an Infectious Virus
Easily influenced as children, it is not long before—whether our motives are well-intentioned or not, conscious or well-defended—deception becomes part of our existence. It wears countless faces and sometimes like a seasoned actor, it transforms to the point of slipping into our lives barely noticed.
The Need for Approval
It’s ironic that people who are sharing their lives are often less open with each other than they are with other people who are not as important to their lives. And therein lies the rub. It is because a person is important in our life that we become guarded.
Their view of us matters more; they are central to our lives and we want their validation. We want them to see things our way, especially those things that are dear to us. If one is excited by a movie, he or she wants the other to be excited as well. If one has a difficult experience and is upset, and the other is not, that may cause a problem.
Which Are You?
When I go into a restaurant and glance at the couples, there’s a palpable difference in energy levels. Some couples are animated; others are staring past each other. Often the energized couples are dating and the stale couples are married.
The married couples have already talked about the kids and gossiped. There’s not much left they’re willing to get into. Does your relationship have that dating energy, or has it been whittled down to topics that are safe?