Marriage is a full-time job. It is 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year with absolutely no vacations or sick leave. In many ways, it is the most challenging job I’ve ever embarked on. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how a piece of paper turned my happy, committed friend-lation-ship into a job. I suspect that has to do with societal pressures. What I have discovered after 9 years is, despite its magic and healing properties, love is not enough. Instead, committed couples need to be gifted a marriage toolkit the day they decide on indefinite exclusivity.
Love is not enough, not even in the relationship you have with yourself. I do not have many answers about life, but I did learn this lesson. There has to be substance, No one believes they will be a martial statistic, but it is possible. It’s also possible to go through multiple impossibly rough waters and still be together and love each other.
If marriage is a table, I now view love as the bolts that hold a table together. It is required for stability and longevity, but it is not the only necessary material. I think many of us go into marriage, believing love is the table, and marriage is the bolt that holds love in place. That belief has too many couples breaking up when the love, inevitably, fluctuates or wanes. And it will fluctuate.
Love is both a verb and a noun; you both feel and do it. As an emotion, it is often manipulated by actions, lack of action, and the fluctuation of other emotions. Meaning, during a rough patch in a relationship, the love can feel weak.
My husband and I had a rough patch that lasted off and, mostly, on for a few years. At some point during the middle, I could no longer feel love. It was overshadowed by frustration, resentment, anger, determination, and pain. I wanted so many things, mostly for the dissension to end in the fastest way possible. If that meant divorce, then so be it. If it meant counseling, okay, sure. If it meant the silent treatment, I was down with that as well. I just wanted peace. It was then that I learned the lesson that love is not enough. Actually, it was during an argument that this truth presented itself. We were arguing about insert BS here, and I asked, “Why don’t you just work with me and help me fix this relationship?” To which he countered with all his thirty-something male wisdom and conviction, “Why don’t you just love me and stop obsessing? We will be okay.”
It hit me. To him, love was the table. To me, communication, trust, harmony, and security were the table. Love was the bolts, and maybe even the legs. To me, the bolts were loose and the table was scratched and dented; we were falling apart. To him, we had a strong table. The bolts (communication, etc.) could be tightened at any time.
I hear you, the naysayers of “love is not enough.” I have seen these counter-arguments before. The bible says love is the greatest gift. True. Most holy books have a similar message. But even in the bible, love is an action. The bible says love is patient and kind; it does not envy or boast. It protects, binds everything together in perfect harmony, covers a multitude of sins, always perseveres, and never fails. And even in a relationship with a deity, one must show their love and devotion. Saying, “I love God,” every now and then does not denote a relationship with your higher power. Instead, it shows an appreciation for the deity’s existence and place in your life. Yet, there is little work on your part other than the occasional acknowledgment. The same could be true for the devote or extremist. True love means basking in the peace and light that comes from your higher power and the relationship you’ve developed. If someone is moved to judge, hurt, or kill others in their god’s name, are they showing love for their god or obsession with the rules of the religion?
And that is the crux of the matter. Love is not passive, nor is it oppressive or obsessive. You cannot love your spouse or your child the same way you love puppies or ice cream. In relationships, love is every bit, if not more, an action; it requires showing, telling, and feeling. Whether you connect your action to love languages or being a good partner, there simply has to be more than feelings keeping your relationship together and healthy.
What should be keeping a marriage together? Well, that is up to the couple. For some, it may be adventure or shared passions, spirituality, or similar tastes in entertainment. However, all parties need to fully invest and participate. There should be equal reciprocity (balanced give and take), respect, security, safe and healthy communication, and room to grow. These are as essential as love.
Back to the scenario of our argument. We were both right. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which part of the table you assign to love because we all know that table will get thrown out if it becomes too old, scratched, and irreparably wobbly.
Maybe we should treat our relationships the way my grandparents treated their dining room table. It was waxed twice a year, checked for scratches that my grandfather would gently buff and repair. Ninety-nine percent of the time it was covered with a lovely tablecloth, and it never moved more than an inch or two in any direction. And if by some off chance it needed to be moved, at least two people picked up the table. No one scooted, pulled, or dragged that thing alone for fear of damaging the legs. That table outlasted my grandparents and their 53-year marriage. It was cared for, protected, and cherished.
Like the table, marriage should be protected and cherished as well. Both people need to do the lifting when things are transitioning or get hard. Both parties need to do what is required to care for the relationship. Make no mistake, love is the greatest gift in all the universe. It is an emotion expressed in every living being, and it may very well be the essence of all of us. However, love is not all you need to sustain a healthy relationship, any relationship. There are great relationships with little love and terrible relationships with a ton of love. While the recipe for a healthy marriage is as unique as the couple, one thing is sure, love can be the main ingredient, but it cannot be the only ingredient.