The Art of Staying in Love

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What is more exciting and exhilarating than falling in love? Is there anything?

Sadly, though, many of us have learned that it's just as easy to fall out of love as it was to fall into it. And while finding love and affection is one of our greatest personal needs, why is it that so few seem to stay in love?

Falling in love can be the start of a loving relationship, but lasting relationships don't just happen; they grow. In many ways nurturing a relationship is like tending a garden. Neglect it and it dies. Constant care and cultivation – including the following suggestions – are needed to keep love alive and growing.

Love is being there. One of the chief ingredients of love is to give another person your presence. Without presence, as Dr. David Augsburger says, love receives an invitation to die.

Presence is not only spending physical time with another person but also giving him or her your undivided attention when you are with them. It includes being sensitive to his/her feelings and aware of his/her needs. It means not only hearing with your ears but, much more so, hearing with your heart.

For instance, recently I visited with a friend who spent the entire time talking about his interests and concerns. I tried to share some of my interests, too, but felt as if my words fell on deaf ears. There was no experiencing of mutual presence – the basis for all meaningful relationships including friendships.

Love is understanding. Most behavior is caused or motivated. Once we understand this, we can be much more accepting and loving. For example, one father I know was having difficulty with one of his two children. One was the "perfect" child, the other constantly rebelling.

"Is one of your children a favorite?" I asked the father. With a tinge of embarrassment he admitted the "good" child was. "Do you think this could be the cause of your difficult son's negative behavior?" I asked again. The answer was obvious.

Loving relationships don't just happen: they grow.

Much negative behavior in adults as well as children is caused by not feeling adequately loved. This may have its roots in present relationships or from unmet childhood needs. Either way, when people are acting negatively or yelling, they are hurting and, in a way, however clumsily, are yelling for help. If we can see this and take the time to understand the real cause behind their behavior instead of taking it personally and yelling back, we can go a long way in strengthening our love relationships.

Love is accepting responsibility. Most of us bring the excess baggage of unresolved issues from the past into our close relationships. For example, the man who didn't get along with his mother and is still angry at her, will inevitably take out his hostility on his wife and family. Or the woman who felt mistreated by her father or some other significant male and is distrustful of men will take out her hurt and anger on her husband, and so on.

If we desire to stay in love, it is imperative that each of us accepts the responsibility for resolving our inner conflicts that cause dissension in our present relationships. We were not responsible for our upbringing but we are now totally responsible for what we do about resolving any negative effects our past had on us.

Love is more than sex. Love is much more than a physical relationship. It is also an emotional relationship. The man who ignores the emotional needs of his wife and expects to receive a warm response in bed is inviting frustration. Women are not machines to be turned on at will. Sex starts in the kitchen at six, not in the bedroom at nine. A long-lasting physical relationship is the result of an ongoing healthy emotional relationship.

On the other hand, the wife who no longer shows any interest in her husband's life outside the home feels totally shocked when she discovers that one of the younger women at the office has. Many men (and women too) who get involved in extra-marital activity, don't do it so much for sexual reasons but for companionship–someone who will listen to them and make them feel important and appreciated.

Love is romance. I read about one woman who had been married for 25 years. She was in her front yard when the newlywed man from across the street arrived home from work. His wife rushed out the door to greet him and they stood embracing for a long time.

The observer got the message. When her husband came home that evening she did likewise. The rewards of all such romantic gestures are well worth the effort. And men, don't forget that our ladies love a rose from time to time and other "little things" that make them feel loved and important. A good tip for keeping romance alive, as one person suggested, is to have an affair – with your wife?

Love is a commitment. Love that lasts is a commitment of one imperfect person to another imperfect person. It means that no matter what, I am committed to you and to your growth. I will be what you need me to be – not necessarily what you want me to be. If you need me to be loving and affectionate, I will be loving and affectionate. Or, if for your growth you need me to be tough and firm, I will be tough and firm. Within the bounds of my own imperfections I will always strive to do and be what is best for your growth.

True love is a commitment of one imperfect person to another imperfect person.

This kind of commitment means that one will not try to manipulate the other person to get his or her own way, but will at all times maintain gut-level, open and honest communication. It isn't easy, but it is the way of love.

Love is spiritual. Love is not only physical and emotional, it is also spiritual. For instance, sociologist Steven Nock of the University of Virginia, studied the link between religion (the spiritual) and the family. He concluded that couples who attend church regularly are 42 percent more likely to be still married for the first time than couples who don't go to church.

However, it’s more than just going to church that makes a marriage happy. It's commitment that make the difference. Those truly committed to their spiritual faith are 23 percent more likely to have a "very happy" marriage than couples who don't go to church.

The point is when we respond to God's love, he gives us "a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline"1 – all essential for cultivating loving relationships.

So, if you don't attend church regularly, why not start this week. Find a church where love, friendship, and affection are expressed. This, too, can help to greatly enrich your love life.

1. 2 Timothy 1:7.

Written and © 2001 Copyright by Dick Innes

© 2001 ACTS International. Used by permission.