Time-tested tactics for staying in love

Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is impressive - and doesn't have to be hard.

One thing that really gets under my dad’s skin is wedding toasts. Granted, the man has a lot of pet peeves, but this one is so true. Your typical wedding toast goes something along the lines of this: “Sam and Sally’s relationship is so amazing, their love is so rare, she is his perfect match, he falls all over himself to do anything she wants, they are blissful 24/7 and being in their presence depresses me because it reminds me that I’ll never find anything that can possibly compare.” This brand of wedding toast is based on the premise that no one in the entire room has ever felt love before, assuming that 200+ guests are all just a bunch of miserable old farts who hate their lives and wish they could be like Sam and Sally but they can’t so they’ll drop a $500 check in the glittery box on their way out in hopes that the next generation might be able to do it better.

To me, the cheesy wedding toast perfectly encapsulates how our culture treats the topic of love. Like it’s a special magical golden unicorn that only the truly lucky can find. The reality is that anyone can fall in love and it’s not really that special (see ‘Teen Mom,’ ‘Brangelina,’ and ‘Conscious Uncoupling’). Staying in love, however, is a true skill. Putting two fully functional adults into a scenario where they are perma-roommates with vastly different interpretations when one of them says something such as “we need to clean our home” or “want to watch an awesome movie” or “give me 5 minutes” is really a perfect formula for the kind of head-butting that you can’t possibly imagine while enacting the cliché of stuffing overpriced cake into each other’s faces and haphazardly kissing it off in a haze of bliss.

This is why we are all so deeply touched when we see a couple of octogenarians slowly shuffling around in the park holding hands. “How have they kept it alive all these years?” we ask ourselves in wonderment, suddenly acutely aware of the text message we sent to our true love about his insulting suggestion of Chinese takeout for dinner when he knows full well that we’ve written off chicken fried rice for life. We don’t assume that they’re hot and heavy because they just met at Bingo night at the nursing home, because we understand that the kind of love that overcomes decades worth of trials and tribulations is at once aspirational and achievable.

It’s aspirational because we know that it’s the real, genuine, and hard-won thing that everyone wants to have at the end of life. I want my old, bald, bag o’ bones husband there with me on that park bench in 60 years and I can’t even explain why sometimes other than the deep belief that life is better when shared with someone who knows you inside and out and can make you laugh harder than anyone. It’s achievable because somewhere deep inside our souls, we know that it is completely within our power to build that kind of marriage despite what the next several decades may present.

Why it’s hard to stay in love for the long haul

Have you ever heard the saying that love is a verb, not a noun? It’s so true. Although it’s easier to think of love as something abstract and out of our control, derived from unique chemistry shared between two people, it’s actually much less complicated. In reality, love is a culmination of choices, actions and habits that are sometimes profoundly easy to do, and other times extremely difficult (such as when you are deeply annoyed by the way the dishwasher has been loaded). Those actions and habits inspire the feeling of love, but the feeling in and of itself means nothing when not backed by the choices themselves. It is my firm belief that anyone married more than a few months has learned that there is a very thin line between loving and loathing your spouse, and the deeper you love someone the higher the propensity you have to throw things when angry.

For me personally, it was a painful process to learn this in my own marriage. I’m convinced our first year was a challenge because I was benchmarking my relationship with Wes against an impossible cultural standard, and it took time to learn that the golden unicorn of a picture-perfect marriage like Sam and Sally’s wedding toast didn’t actually exist. In fact, I’m pretty sure anyone who claims to have a perfect relationship is just married to a bad communicator who deeply detests them. (Sorry.)

What you can do to keep the love alive

They say no marriage is alike, but based on my research (ahem, late night Googling…) there are some common truths to making the love last that are well within our reach. A lot of it is good old fashioned, somewhat antifeminist Mom advice. Most of it is basically just reminding yourself to stop being crazy. (Which we all are, by the way.) All of it is about how the quality of our relationship is 100% within our control, despite what we would rather believe.

If you’re interested in the best-of-the-best of what the interwebs and my mom’s friends have to offer on making love last, please join my email list for access to a bonus post on 8 tried and true tactics for making love last. It covers the basic rules of happy marriages and some delightful anecdotes that you may or may not find entertaining, but will likely make you feel less alone in the world when you inevitably find yourself seething in your car over something you logically understand is utterly stupid but emotionally CAN.NOT.DEAL. (We’ve all been there.)

Ok, that’s all I’ve got. It was a little risky to write this, mostly because I kept having this nagging little thought in the back of my mind that maybe those marriages of sunshine and rainbows we see all over social media are actually the real deal and it’s really just Wes and me who can’t get our act together. But according to surveys of my mom and her gaggle of girlfriends, and most of my married friends and colleagues who answer my probing personal questions, they’re not real and our struggles are the same.

Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts on this post in the comments!

P.S. If you liked this post, you’d probably like this one on what nobody tells you about marriage, and this one with instructions for living a good life.

P.P.S. Yes, I am still asking for your email address. Just like when people don’t really want to be my friend in real life, they eventually break at my merciless persistence. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile and reluctant to sign up, it’s only a matter of time so you might as well just cough it up now. (I promise you won’t regret it.*)

(*You can always unsubscribe if you do.)

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