There's no avoiding it -- creating a lasting and loving marriage takes a lot of work. That's just the way it is. Marriage demands a lot and gives a lot. If you want the benefits of a deeply committed and loving relationship, then you have to be willing to put in the effort to make it happen.
It's not mystical.
It's as simple as preparing for a marathon. If you don't follow a daily training regimen, you won't finish the race. And if you don't train for marriage by working on your communication skills, by learning to give to your partner, by building trust, by expressing your love in word and deed, then you'll have what too many married couples have -- unhappiness.
I am an unabashed supporter of marriage. Not because I have any illusions about it -- I make my living treating problematic relationships. But I have never found any other relationship that has the potential to create such a deep connection and that offers such an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. The challenge of marriage is directly proportional to its potential.
The test for true soul mates is to learn how to create a love that succeeds in breaking down the barriers of ego and selfishness enabling one another to reach genuine intimacy.
To succeed, however, we must make a very clear distinction between the simplistic definition of love that we've been brainwashed to accept and the deeper meaning of love that forms the basis of a true intimate connection.
The Language of Love
Much of our misperception of love is based on how we use it in our everyday speech. For example, take the expression:"We fall in love." Fall means to stumble, to trip, to lose one's balance -- to be out of control. Is love then an accident, an unconscious descent into the unknown? Is love something that bypasses conscious choice and rationality? From our use of language you would have no concept of love as a creative act. Too many of us think that love just happens.
Contemporary language views love not just as an accident; it's madness.
Yet, contemporary language takes us far beyond the falling metaphor to describe the experience of love. It's not just an accident; it's madness. Look how we describe being in love: "I'm crazy about you." "She's mad about him." "He's gone absolutely nuts over her." "I can't live without you."
You would think from these descriptions that love is a temporary state of madness, a delusion, a psychotic episode. One would assume from this process of love that first you have an accidental experience and "fall in love" followed by a condition of temporary insanity called "being in love" in which there is a deep sense that I am nothing without you.
We might also believe that as mysterious as it is to fall into love, it's equally as irrational to fall out of love. Does a person suddenly reach a euphoric state and then, just as quickly, feel it wear off, only to return to a state of emptiness and despair? If this is what love is, then it's not surprising that relationships have such trouble. How can you possibly succeed at something over which you have no control or for which you take no responsibility?
What Love Is and Isn't
We need to come up with a better definition of what love is, one which will help us to understand what relationships are and how we can succeed at love.
First, let me tell you what love is not. It's not a dreamy, blissful state where all fears, doubts, and worries melt away as we merge into one flesh. And it's not those glorious first moments when you were swept away on a wave of ecstasy, though I know that's what the music industry and Hollywood would like us to believe.
Real love is not synonymous with losing control or going crazy. It's not an obsessive state in which another's spirit takes possession over you. In real love you don't lose yourself and in real love you can live without the other person. This mistaken form of obsessive love may serve as a temporary antidote to loneliness, depression and insecurity, but it's not true love.
So what is love?
Love is the constant choice to give to another.
The answer to that question can be found in the ancient language of Hebrew. In Hebrew the word for love is "ahava." Every Hebrew word has its root word from which its meaning is derived. The root word of ahava is hav, which means to give. In other words, loving is synonymous with giving. Love is the constant choice to give to another. You don't fall in love; you create love. You act lovingly, by giving to your partner. As a function of giving, we create love. The more of yourself you invest in anything or anybody, the more attached you feel to that other thing or other person. A house you build with your hands is a house that you love.
Most of us wait passively to let love act upon us. We erroneously define love as need fulfillment, as the experience of being filled up by another. We often evaluate relationships based on how it benefits us, the expectation being that our partner is here to give to us.
This is not love. Love is about taking a quantum leap from being self-centered to other-centered.
The great challenge for each of us -- to borrow a concept from John F. Kennedy -- is "to ask not what my partner can do for me but ask what I can do for my partner." This is how we create genuine, deep love.