“Love is an ideal thing; marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.” -Goethe
But I propose that Goethe isn’t suggesting that marriage is loveless; rather, he is pointing out that marriage—or relationships— take a lot of work. Certainly, this is not a novel concept.
Love can be a fantastic emotion. In fact, Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who researches the biology of love, has discovered that brain activity during the early stages of love resemble the same brain regions that are triggered when being high on cocaine. Imagine that.
Yet, I must refer back to the popular saying: What goes up, must come down. And when the “high” of love has come down, the work begins. In order to maintain the love and to achieve a successful relationship, we have to reevaluate certain concepts and put them to use. If Goethe is right, it’s time to take matters into our own hands and make the ideal of love a little more realistic.
One of the easiest (okay, kind of easy) ways to improve your relationship is to work on communication skills. One change you can make is to actively use I statements. These can be powerful, because as soon as one person changes the way he/she responds, the other person’s response naturally changes too. An I statement uses this formula: I feel ___when you __ . So, instead of, “Honey, you are really inconsiderate of my feelings about your in-laws,” we change it to, “Honey, I feel hurt and unsupported when you talk about your parents.” Voilà! The blame is removed, and a successful conversation can proceed.
Also, listening and having respect for your partner are essentials to a loving and happy relationship. Real or active listening implies that you are listening with a purpose. For instance, you genuinely care what your partner is saying, or you want to help your partner. Pseudo or pretend listening means your intentions for listening are all wrong. This might include listening so the person doesn’t get upset with you, or listening because you hope your partner listens to you (McKay, 1995). Pseudo listening can be lethal in a relationship.
Showing respect is vital as well. Famed relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman found that when a partner receives contempt (i.e. mockery, sneering, disgust), he/she shows a decrease in T-cell production. Meaning the person’s immunity becomes compromised. Aretha Franklin was a wise woman to ask for a little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
While there are many more methods to nurture your relationship, I digress—for now. Goethe’s words are a reminder that we have to fight for and to work for one of the greatest emotions a human experiences, in order to achieve a relationship or marriage that keeps us happy. So, at the end of the day, when you ask, “Where is the love?” instead, you may want to ask, “How do I make this real and lasting so I can always feel the love?” —