Falling in love is easy. Or, I should say falling into infatuation, which is what people mean when they say falling in love is easy. A certain gaze, an intoxicating scent, an invigorating conversation, and the lovers are riding off into the proverbial sunset to begin their idyllic and romantic life together.
This is, of course, what we all grew up seeing depicted in movies. The road to the last scene may be filled with bumps and roadblocks—all of which makes for a scintillating plot—but once the star-crossed lovers finally swashbuckle their way to each other and land in bed or at the altar, the film or novel ends.
What happens next? We assume that they live happily ever after. But we know, from our experiences in actual, real-life relationships, that it's never that easy.
There's nothing wrong with falling in love. It's a perfectly acceptable way to begin a relationship. Not all healthy relationships include an infatuation stage, but when they do, only one thing can be certain: The high of the infatuation stage will inevitably end. It's at that point that the real relationship begins. No longer buoyed by the infatuation hormones, the partners now have to rely on a good dose of skill and a dash of art to sustain their love.
But who teaches you these skills and who guides you in the art of loving? If you're extremely lucky, you grew up in a family where the art and skill of loving were modeled daily through your parents' marriage. You witnessed first-hand the skills of initiating loving reunions, or expressing gratitude, or focusing on what's working and of maintaining a healthy ratio of positive to negative statements. You saw two people who were devoted to their marriage, which means they carved out time for each other amid the busyness of work, home, and family. And hopefully you also observed healthy conflicts and their resolution.
But most people weren't so lucky. Most people enter love relationships without the slightest clue about what it means to engage actively in the art and skill of loving. They gain some mileage when their hearts are open during the infatuation stage in the early weeks or months, but when that fades—or if it was never there to begin with—they stand there staring at each other like two lost kids in the middle of a desert, each hoping that the other is carrying a secret roadmap that will help them find their way home. Culturally, we throw people into the most sacred and difficult of relationships—committed partnership—without training, manuals, or guidance.
Sometimes, sadly, this becomes a valid reason for ending a relationship: "I just wasn't in love anymore." This is one of the most heartbreaking reasons for someone to walk away from a good, solid relationship. Again, what they don't realize is that it's at the point when the in-love/infatuation feelings fade that the real work of learning how to love begins. If only they had the roadmap ...
Here's the good news: There is a roadmap. It's not something you were taught in high school. It's not a class you could have elected to take in college. But it does exist. I've given you a few clues in this article about the love laws and loving actions that, when practiced, nurture and cultivate a long life of love, intimacy and attraction between committed partners.
Let's enumerate them here:
1. Express gratitude.
Loving couples make it a point to express gratitude and appreciation toward one another on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Just one genuine expression of, "Thank you for clearing off the car this morning" or "I really appreciate that you did the laundry this week" goes a long way toward filling the relationship well with positive, warm water.
2. Focus on what's working.
Many people, especially those who are glass-half-empty folks, tend to focus on what's not working in a relationship (and in the rest of their lives). "We're just so different," I often hear in my practice. Well, yes, we're all different; you didn't marry your clone. But I guarantee that there are also points of similarities and places of intersection that make the relationship work. A relationship that basically works is a small miracle, so if you're in one, take time each day to step out of your habit of seeing what's not working and instead commit to focusing on what is working.
3. Notice your need to nag and control.
If you hail from a line of naggers, you'll likely find yourself doing the same thing with your partner. Nagging has its underpinnings in control, but it's also just a bad habit. Change it. Commit to zipping your lip for 30 days, and then another 30 days. Don't comment on her driving. Don't comment on what he's eating or how much he's exercising. Just trust that your partner can handle it and let it be. This new habit alone will revolutionize your relationship.