My friend Tracey wrote an interesting post about love today (you can read her post about making love work here). It spurred some interesting discussion in the comment section, and one commenter theorized that if love feels like work, it’s probably not going to work. I think this is an interesting question : is it really “love'” if it feels like work?
I will confess, I have some strong opinions on this one, but I think it really depends on each person’s end goal. If the end goal is to be in a relationship where you perpetually feel the ease of love and infatuation that one experiences at the beginning of a relationship, then that philosophy of love is probably adverse to feeling like the relationship might involve work. I would speculate, from my years as a marriage and family therapist, that couples who hold these work-free expectations for relationships do not tend to have long-term marriages, but rather tend to seek a new person when the feelings of initial infatuation fade away with their current partner. And, you know? That’s a lifestyle a lot of people choose. We can all think of celebrities (or politicans *cough*) who appear to me on this plan. I had a professor in grad school who had a seven-year deal with his wife. Every seven years, they renegotiated if they still felt like continuing. They aren’t married anymore.
If, on the other hand, your end goal is to be holding your spouse’s hand in the nursing home some day, I think you have your work cut out for you.
One of the most common laments I heard from divorcing couples was “marriage shouldn’t feel this hard.” And while I definitely think there are times when “hard” translates to “time to leave”, I also think that many couples are genuinely shocked to learn that, several years in, marriage requires some sacrifice, some compromise of self, and yes . . . some work.
While I think that marital relationships can and should maintain those warm feelings of love in the long-term, I also think that there are some seasons where that love is going to me more above loving behavior and less about loving feelings. It’s trite but it’s true: love is a verb. It’s a feeling, too, yes . . . but feelings are temperamental little buggers, and shouldn’t be followed at every whim. Some seasons are not as conducive to loving feelings, and it’s in those moments that we have to “fake it till we make it” and work at loving behaviors with confidence that the loving feelings will follow.
Mark and I have certainly had seasons where our relationship felt like work. In our first year of marriage, as two selfish and immature 20somethings, it felt like A LOT of work. We hit our stride for a while . . . and then Mark was in a horrible accident that left him dependent on others for pretty much every function of daily living. During that season, our life was about hospitals and wheelchairs, wound dressings and physical therapy appointments. It wasn’t romantic. It felt like work. Later, after we’d hit our stride again, we dealt with recurrent pregnancy loss. . . a season in which our nightly routine involved Mark giving me progesterone injections – not exactly the kind of physical contact that leads to feelings of passion. Dealing with each subsequent miscarriage made for a dark time for me personally, and our relationship suffered but survived because we worked at it. Then we dealt with the stress of being foster parents, two stressful pregnancies, and the fallout of my PTSD after the Haiti earthquake. Like married couples are prone to do, sometimes we were each other’s buffer in the stress, but other times we took it out on each other.
While it would be nice to say that it’s all smooth sailing right now, we continue to be in a season where our marriage requires a lot of work. We have four small kids . . . WE’RE EXHAUSTED. Sometimes we are short with each other. Date nights are few and far between, and it would often be so much easier to maintain a parallel existence than to continue to push towards emotional intimacy. But there is a statement that Mark and I say constantly when we are making decisions about the kids: pay now or pay later. Parenting children well is a lot of hard work, but we continue to dig in and be present, even when it would be easier to slack off, tune out, or abdicate to screen-time, because we get that the work we do now will contribute to our kid’s well-being in the long-term. I feel the same way about my marriage. The work of our relationship, like so many other things in life, is something I’m willing to do because the payoff is so great.
Edited to add: Tracey followed up about the comments to her original post, and wrote a response from her perspective. Again, a really interesting conversation in the comment section. Check it out.