Our culture romanticizes love. From first kisses, saying those three little words, marriage proposals, walking down the aisle, and growing old together, so many of us want to be in love, experience love, or savor the love we already have. But once we get past the honeymoon phase, once we take off our rose-colored glasses and realize that our partner has flaws, and that our relationship is not as perfect as a fairy tale, then what?
It seems that too many people think something’s wrong if they’re not always happy or even go so far as to swear off love once they’ve been disappointed. Although it’s true that real love is sometimes rocky, it can help us grow—both together and as individuals—and ultimately bring us real joy (instead of merely innocent bliss).
Love is an invitation to grow, but we’re not always fully listening.
If you are married or in a serious relationship, or if you have children or other family members you spend a great deal of time with, remember that these individuals likely know you better than almost anyone else. They probably are intimately aware of your strengths and also of your weaknesses and shortcomings. They know your endearing patterns and your annoying quirks. So when these people give you feedback, take the time to listen!
Hopefully those closest to you aren’t constantly bombarding you with critical messages, but even the most loving and kind person may express that you need to work on something. Not long ago my husband and kids told me a few different times that I needed to work on being a better listener. I was shocked. Don’t they know that I’ve made a career out of listening?! But after internalizing what they’d been saying, I realized that they were right; I did need to work on that communication skill. And we need these kinds of close relationships to help us improve. We have to bump up against others to smooth out our rough edges.
Another way that love helps us grow is that it challenges us to confront our insecurities, vulnerabilities, and past emotional wounds.
Like it or not, all of our issues will eventually come bubbling to the surface. It’s amazing to me how so many of us gravitate toward individuals who make us face those painful issues; we often keep picking the same type of person over and over again, and we get them to play out a situation in our mind similar to ones we’ve experienced in the past. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lend itself to relationship problems (such as a young woman with a neglectful father having trust issues in her romantic life), but it can also help us overcome and move past these emotional raw spots through our connections with others.
A picturesque version of love looks like a dream of romance, beauty, and a perfect life with the other person. But in real life, saying yes to love means saying yes to happiness and tears. It’s something that seasoned couples have experienced but younger couples may not fully understand.
Things will be hard at times. We won’t always look like we did when we were in our twenties, and we may even experience the pain of infertility, financial troubles, or chronic disease. I never mean to paint a negative picture of love and relationships; my family has brought me so much joy throughout the years. Still, let’s remember that real love is more than a picture-perfect romance.
As a therapist and as a wife of 27 years, I’ve had plenty of time to learn and apply these principles and see them in the lives of my clients. Some years have been difficult, and I’ve had to learn unexpected and painful lessons, but we keep moving forward because we’re still growing.
Love is more than a feeling; it’s a verb and a commitment. And when things are not as blissful as we’d like, we can draw on one or all of those meanings to help us see it through.