Several times a year I hear stories of people leaving good … not perfect (is that even possible with humans??) relationships because they have developed a deep connection over time with someone with whom they eventually fell in love. Marriage is a fragile affair … keeping love alive … is even more fragile. So, what do we need to understand to help with the slippery slope that leads one out of love? Let’s cover two elements of the love dance – 0ne – Why is marriage and love so fragile these days? And Two – Why are affairs so easy?
Why is Marriage and Love so Fragile?
- We marry for love. We have been doing this for less than 100 years. Up until recently, we married because of family loyalties, property, status, religious mandates, social tradition. Love is a fragile thing … it needs lots of TLC!
- Women and men are now both able to financially and socially care for themselves and their children. This leaves them with less reason to stay in an unhappy relationship. This fact plus the fact that many people have successfully moved on from one marriage into another life, reduces the stigma of divorce. The financial and social pressure to stay married just isn’t what it used to be.
- We live longer than we ever have. The average age of marriage in urban areas is 26 for women and 28 for men. With a lifespan of 85+, it is feasible to be married for 60+ years. There is a great amount of change people can go through over a 60+ year relationship. Do we train people in the emotional and relational intelligence it will take to adapt and change together over these many years? Do we invest any time giving people the skills they need to keep a love alive and vibrant? Do we even know what that means, what that looks like, or how we do such a thing?
- We now live a 24/7 ‘ON’ life. People are working 50+ hours a week, on their communication devices all hours of the night and day, expected to be reachable and attending to multiple demands simultaneously – the email from work, the text from your child, the conversation with your wife, the deadline that is tomorrow, the sale that ends tonight. This is impossible … hello?? … THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE to do without losing connection with those closest to you. To nourish a meaningful, deeply attached relationship with a child, partner or friend, TO NOURISH LOVE – you need focused time to be thoughtfully and solely with each other … in the moment … present in the now … open heart to open heart. That is the only way. Distracted connections become weak connections and weak connections, with nothing social or internal holding them together, will in time, break. There is no magic wishing that will suffice … they will break.
Speaking of how to nourish a deeply attached relationship … time, present, heart to heart … let me move to the next element …
Why are Affairs so Easy?
- There will always be someone out there who will nourish, love and attend to your partner – maybe forever – or maybe just long enough to dissolve your relationship and complicate theirs. So much of what makes our partner wonderful is being shared out in the world with their friends and at their work. If however at home, neither one of you bring ‘your wonderful’ or invite out each other’s ‘wonderful’ your bond will become thin and fragile. When this happens the ‘wonderful’ of another begins to impact the lonely and longing in the fragile partner.
- Secrets build walls – subtle, soft and often invisible walls. But like new cement, they slowly harden and make the distance between partners feel hard, cold and impenetrable. What is tricky here is that these walls are invisible … you will feel them, but you may not understand them. For example, all the people I have met who fell for someone else began by having fun conversations, then intimate conversations, then a consummation conversation … all without telling their partner.
- The development of the most threatening affairs usually go like this –
- You meet someone you really connect with and are attracted to – whether you let yourself acknowledge that or not.
- You have a fun conversation(s), fun experience(s), and then move to sharing your intimate conversations – your worries, concerns, dreams, hopes, dissatisfaction with your marriage.
- Then you have what I call the consummation conversation … you each share openly about your feelings for each other. Now the cat is out of the bag – you learn your feelings are mutual – the conversations begin to shift to how you feel about each other. You begin to construct together a well-honed story about why you are perfect for each other and why your current partners are the wrong people. You emotionally bond and the delicious cascade of brain endorphins that blind you to any red-flags begin.
- You begin to notice with ever more clarity ALL the things you dislike about your current partner. You’re critical of nearly everything they do. You become blind to any of their positive traits. You begin to construct a story about why this relationship can never work – how you need out and how this fact HAS NOTHING TO DO with the person who you are having an emotional affair with. You work this story into a Hollywood technicolor script while you plan how to end your marriage.
Again, not magic … not rocket science … and it happens every day to those who least expect it.
So how do you affair proof your marriage?
You continue to do what you did when you fell in love – you nourish your relationship through focused time to be thoughtfully and solely with each other … in the moment … present in the now … open heart to open heart. You decide each day to be intentional. You treat each other as Beloved … as precious … with an understanding that this is fragile and can and will fall apart if not cared for. You deal with your conflicts and differences carefully – with grace, compassion, brutal honesty and respect. You learn, grow and solve problems, and protect pleasure and fun … every day. All decent relationships are a garden of fertile soil … with care they can look like a breath-taking cottage garden. But when ignored, they will silently and completely fill with weeds and thorns, choking out all that needs light and can bring beauty.
Recently I talked with a young college student who had just encountered her first mini betrayal with her boyfriend. He was texting a girl who had a crush on him and when asked who he was texting, he lied. Rather than accuse him, lose it or bury it and stew … she took him aside and told him what she knew and told him how it felt. With love and kindness she said, “I know how easily things can happen, and I just need for you to know that I don’t want anything to happen to us, and I know you don’t either. Dishonesty isn’t going to work for me – it just feels really bad.”
This was dealt with right away, with love and grace, AND with brutal honesty. While he was very sorry in the moment, he was able to say to her the next day, “I have decided that I will not text her anymore because I know her feelings for me and I know it’s not right to allow this friendship to keep going in this way.”
This is what it looks like to deal with things along the way, to keep growing your own personal emotional intelligence while you strengthen your relationship. It is a DAILY thing – the loving, the honesty, the humility, the compassion, the grace, the LIVED commitment. Cherish your gift of love … and let it grow you and your relationship into more intimacy, wisdom, grace and pleasure.