Romantic relationships are a peculiar thing. They can be deceiving at times. They can be painful and difficult. They can be heartbreaking. They can also be comforting. They can be fulfilling. They can be the source of ultimate joy and satisfaction in our lives.
How can one connection with one human being be so dramatically different and emotionally diverse? How can a relationship be, at one moment so ideal and so full of elation, and at another moment be the source of our greatest heartache and misery?
For the answer to that question, we need to dive a little deeper into the ingredients that make up a relationship. We need to discover what makes a relationship spark and develop. Only then can we discover how to make it persist and grow stronger.
What causes a relationship to spark?
To answer that question, lets first consider what a relationship is. A relationship begins when two human beings find themselves at a point where they start to recognize that they have an inherent need for one another. When a person begins to feel an emotional connection for another person of the opposite sex… a connection that is so strong it causes them to start casting aside their own desire for independence and replacing it with an interdependence on this other person, that is when a relationship is formed. It is that point when a man or woman transitions from being concerned only about their own well-being, and realizes that his/her true happiness and contentment is actually dependent upon the presence and acceptance of this other person in their life.
This interdependence is a good thing. It is what makes relationships work, it is what makes relationships strong and healthy. When this interdependence is functioning correctly, under the glow of love and affection, it causes us to act unselfishly, it causes us to desire not only what we can get from our partner, but also what we can give to them to ensure that their needs are being met.
For this metamorphosis to occur. For a man or woman to transition from a self-serving life of independence, to a cohesive life of interdependence, there are several ingredients that need to be present.
First of all there must be attraction. Attraction is that spark that fires when you first look at that person of the opposite sex, and you like what you see. The hair color… the flirtatious eyes… the shapely body… the way that they carry themselves… or their confident nature. Whatever it is that makes you stand up, take notice and say…”wow… this one is different than the rest, and I have to find out more”! Attraction is the sensual ingredient in a relationship.
The second ingredient is acceptance. When attraction is felt by both sides of a burgeoning relationship, it develops from a platonic friendship into a deeper relationship of romance and intimacy. As intimacy develops and a couple begins to spend more and more time together talking, and sharing their thoughts and emotions, their connection grows deeper and the walls that they had built up begin to crumble as they begin to develop feelings of love for one another.
The final ingredient is gratification. When true acceptance of one another is felt, love becomes more than just a warm fuzzy feeling, it becomes a yearning to satisfy and fulfill the needs and wishes of your significant other. Attraction and acceptance escalate into desire and passion and you soon find that you cannot find fulfillment unless you are in the company of your partner. That is why dating couples spend so much time together, their passion and desire for each other is high and the only way that they can satiate that desire is to be in each others company.
A relationship of interdependence is a healthy relationship. A relationship that is balanced and interdependent means that both individuals have a healthy need and desire for their partner, both for what they can receive from them, as well as what they can impart to them. A healthy relationship should balance somewhere in the middle of dependency and independence. There should be a strong need for the closeness and intimacy of your partner, but that dependency needs to have the counterbalance of independence where you have a life outside of your romantic relationship as well. Perhaps spending some “me” time with your friends, or just some quiet time alone pursuing your own hobbies and passions.
Too strong of a dependency in your romantic partnership can lead to unhealthy bonds. A relationship in which one or both individuals becomes too dependent upon the other for their happiness and fulfillment will often results in one of the partners in a relationship becoming overwhelmed and defensive and looking for an escape. Or worse, it could escalate into obsession and abuse.
Why do relationships die?
We have established now, how relationships are formed. We know that it is a progression from initial attraction… to mutual acceptance… to ultimate gratification. So it stands to reason that if we let our guards down, or become to “familiar” with our relationship and start taking it for granted, then we could inadvertently allow that process to start moving in reverse order. And when that happens, the relationship begins to crumble.
When two people become complacent in their relationship and begin taking one another for granted, they will often begin to progress backwards allowing their interdependence to fade, and letting their love and passion die out. When this happens the promises and commitments that you made at the altar begin to feel distant and shallow. Your desire can begin to decay into annoyance, and your love can degrade into hate.
A progressive dissolution from interdependence to independence by one or both partners in a marriage, will most likely result in one of three inevitable outcomes.
Acquiescence: A scenario where neither partner receives much physical or emotional pleasure, from the relationship anymore, but the two stay together merely for the sake of their children, their beliefs, or to save face in their community, etc.
Adultery: One of the individuals in a marriage breaks their marriage vows and seeks to have their physical and emotional desires fulfilled in a relationship outside their marriage.
Divorce: Frustrations, arguments and resentment boil over into anger and hatred, and one or both individuals in a relationship decide that their marital problems are too complicated to work through together and instead they choose to cut the knot and separate regardless of the consequences.
This dissolution from a healthy relationship of love, respect and interdependence to one of passivity, resentment and independence should never happen, and it doesn’t have to. The key is to…
1. Always keep your priorities straight: (God first; Spouse/family second; Yourself third)
2.Realize that love and respect for your spouse is not always going to be something that comes easy, or something that you “feel” like doing, but it is what you are called to do, and it is what you vowed and made a commitment to do at the altar. You will find that as you walk out that commitment, and love your spouse, even during the times that they may not deserve it, and you don’t feel like doing it… if you just continue to love anyway, soon those actions will reciprocate and you will find that those feelings of love and affection will return.
3. Stay vigilant. Keep an eye out for the weeds of discontentment, passivity, and anger and make sure to pull them out and throw them away while they are still small and manageable. If you are having doubts or problems with any area of your marriage relationship make sure you sit down and talk about it with your spouse while it is still a relatively small issue. Don’t point fingers, condemn, and place all the blame for the situation on your spouse. That will only escalate and elevate the problem. But be sure to let your spouse know how the situation makes you feel and that you want to work through it before it creates any strife in your relationship.
Finally, if you feel that you or your spouses love and affection in marriage is starting to slip away, don’t be afraid to start over.
Take a look at who you are now and ask yourself honestly, am I being the same person towards my spouse that I was when we were young and in love? If you need to change the way you dress or act around your spouse or in order to bring the attraction back, do it! Rekindle the attraction that you once had for each other.
Be sure to schedule ample amounts of time together…dating, communicating, taking walks together, holding hands and touching each other. This will serve to reestablish trust in your relationship and the kind of acceptance that you need for a healthy interdependence.
Sacrifice your own agenda now and again to bring benefit and gratification to your spouse. When you stop being so concerned about always getting your own way, and start loving your spouse by putting their needs first a little more often, you will be surprised the impact that it will have on both their emotions and your own.
To learn more about how you can build a strong foundation of love and interdependence in your marriage, attend a weekend retreat at Power & Compassion’s Christian marriage retreats in northwest Montana. Not only will you love getting away to Montana for a couple of days, but you will come away with a greater love and respect for your spouse and your marriage as well. Call 406-253-6427 for more details or visit http://www.ChristianMarriageRetreats.net