The British novelist Iris Murdoch once remarked that falling out of love was an important and valuable human experience. Most would disagree. While it may be useful material for a great novelist, others merely find it painful and sad. Is there a secret? Or would everyone eventually fall out of love, given enough time? The poet Shelley certainly thought so, famously writing that “love would die/if we did not.”
Whether or not Shelley was correct, steps can be taken to at least maximize your chances of maintaining a deep, loving bond.
Withdrawal and Distancing
Marriage guidance counsellors often find that the trouble starts when one partner withdraws their affection. This frequently begins as a kind of punishment for some perceived slight or failing. For example, imagine a couple who have been married for 12 years. During those 12 years, both earned very good incomes and were happy. Then they had a child. The wife is an intelligent, educated lady, but she decided to give up her teaching career and stay at home until their son began school. She didn’t want to do this, but her husband persuaded her. He also reassured her that he would be there to help. In fact, he continues to work late at the office, stays behind for a drink with his colleagues, and then at weekends does little around the house. When his wife confronts him, he tells her that he earns the money and she can’t expect him to run the home as well. The wife is furious. She feels cheated. And so, deep inside, she begins to withdraw her love. At first, this is done through anger, then out of sulky spite. But soon it becomes the norm. The withdrawal then turns into what counsellors call ‘distancing’. One partner detaches themselves from the other, severing the deep emotional bond and drifting away. Lately, even when the couple argue, all the fiery passion has gone. Before, she would oscillate between love and hate. Now there is mere indifference.
Most couples argue. In fact, arguing is healthy. As you can see from the above example, when love ceases, couples don’t care enough to bother. But arguments are like crashing waves on the surface of an ocean: they come and they go. So long as the deep, intimate bond persists beneath the surface, love will continue. And if it is to persist, there must be intimacy. Many relationships limp along for decades without any real intimacy at all. Never assume that sex alone is enough, at least not sex as understood by most people. Your sex life should involve more than the sexual act. Men in particular tend not to understand this. A sex life includes hugging, kissing, even simply holding hands. Intimate acts need not even be sexual, nor must they be deep and profound. Simply watching a film or DVD boxset together may be enough.
Keep it Romantic
Every man in a relationship with a woman should be continually reminded that she is not his mother! Time and again men, especially as they approach middle-age, expect their partner to replace their mother: to make a fuss of them when they are ill or depressed, to boost their confidence and self-esteem, and to generally subordinate themselves to him. Naturally, women resent this. Of course, this isn’t the only danger. Other relationships gradually morph into something resembling a business partnership, with each obsessed by securing promotion, bigger incomes, a bigger house, and a higher rung on the social ladder.
More generally, romance can be spoilt by the arrival of children. This is often due to the sheer exhaustion. Children are time-consuming and often leave their parents little time for one another. There is also the danger of transferring all your love and affection to your children. Children need love, nurture and attention of course, but you should never make them your whole life. They may be your priority, but that is different. Maintain your physical appearance and health. If possible, have a ‘date night’ two or three times a month. Leave your children with their grandparents, and go out for a meal together. If you can’t afford an expensive restaurant, buy a bottle of wine and watch a DVD instead. And give your partner your undivided attention. Don’t talk about mundane things, and don’t talk about the children or work. Focus instead of renewing that deep, emotional bond.
When people decide to settle down and commit, they often read all they can on how to make relationships a success. And many are surprised to find the word ‘trust’ repeated over and over. It may not sound very passionate or romantic, but trust is vital. Without trust, intimacy is impossible. And trust takes many forms. Obviously, someone who has been unfaithful or compulsively lies cannot be trusted. But trust involves much more. Can your partner trust you to be there for them when they have a bad day? Does your partner trust in your strength and love? Can they be certain you will support them if they get ill, or if their parents get ill? Make sure that your actions match your words. Relationships can be irreparably damaged by how one person behaves during a crisis. A husband, for example, may be shocked at how petty and selfish his wife seemed when he was made redundant. A wife may never forget her husband’s thoughtless insensitivity during her pregnancy.
Loss of love often begins with a loss of respect. Everyone has their failings, but some of these are easier to forgive than others. Laziness, moaning, cynicism, ignorance, and lack of ambition, for example, are all forgivable traits. They may irritate your partner, but they probably won’t ruin that deep, fundamental respect. Other traits are less forgivable, however, and may well destroy it forever: be wary of cowardice, cruelty, spite, pettiness, and jealousy. Always be conscious of how you appear in your partner’s eyes. And it needn’t be something you do; on the contrary, it may be something you don’t do. Women often lose respect for men who are too weak, soft, and easily pushed around. Hypocrisy is another deeply unpleasant flaw. Do not say one thing behind closed doors and then say the opposite in company.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Love is a strange beast, one that has bewildered poets and philosophers for centuries. Sometimes people simply grow bored of one another. Sometimes the love just dies, for reasons no one can ever understand. In a sense, it is hardly surprising. Living with the same person year after year, sharing a bed and toilet, seeing them at their worst as well as their best, takes effort and endurance.