As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Life Coach, I am often asked what it takes to make a marriage successful. Couples thinking about taking the plunge into matrimony, want the secret key to find marital bliss, dreaming of reaching the Golden Anniversary with one another, as puppy love turns to wedding plans, shadowing the real work to come. Married couples, the experienced, look for ways to deal with the torrential currents common to family life, as the rose colored glasses of the honeymoon period give way to the reality that relating to another person entails. And finally, the one’s who have failed at love, the majority, seek ways to pick up the broken pieces of past relationships, attempting to make sense of what went wrong, so they will not be doomed to make the same mistake twice. If love is such a beautiful event, why is it that this single most important emotion comes with so much baggage?
Like relationships, the answer is simple, yet can get very complicated as the relationship progresses. Let’s start by examining the honeymoon of a relationship.
When two individual connect, a strong bond is formed between them based on factors of physical attraction, common interests, values, and goals in life. In the beginning of a relationship, two individuals develop strong attractions based upon biological needs to choose a life-mate, psychological needs to minimize loneliness, and spiritual needs to realize one’s full potential. During this time, the newly formed union learns about the key interests, value systems, and the driving factors that motivates the individual towards their personal goals in life. The sex is grand, and the emotions are hot, as two individuals begin to realize they may have stepped through the gates to find sustained happiness through the eyes of another. They quickly learn that two can co-exist in harmony for the price of one, and the budding couple begins to engage their future plans with one another. But let’s face it, life doesn’t always go according to plan, and soon after the honeymoon stops, we are faced to work on the very thing that seemed so perfect at the onset.
As life transitions, we too must transition. When the ship pulls into port, the honeymoon stops, and we return home to the life we created before marriage, we are faced with the most arduous journey of learning how to live in relationship with another person. Vows of marriage most commonly reflect this, when we make a promise to another person to love them in “sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in good times and bad.” Let’s face it, we all know that life has many ups and downs, so why would we believe a relationship with another person is any different. We must learn how to relate with that person, growing into the relationship as we undertake our personal journey towards physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing. So with all the work involved, why should we undertake this most difficult, yet sacred journey.
A priest once told me that “God is Love.” I could not fathom this, until I explored it from the perspective of my history with Love. In failed relationships, I have learned to let go. This is a key component of spiritual development, and a lesson we must all face as we learn to let go of the individuals we love, whether in failed relationships or in death. This should not be viewed as a failure, but as an opportunity to pursue further individual growth so that we can learn to relate more with others. Going further into the subject of love, I began to recognize how the love we project on others grows as we progress through life. Love moves from a perspective of being dependent toward independence, only again to return to a state of dependency when the individuals we choose to love learn to care for our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Through this perspective, I saw my wife anew, and began to understand the idea that our personal development is somehow linked to the love we share with one another.
Relationships, like love, grow as we personally mature. We are programmed to seek completion through the eyes of another. Whether this completion occurs through spiritual union with God, physical, and / or emotional attachment with another person, we inherently understand that love fosters our personal journey towards optimal growth. Therefore it is imperative we foster an attitude of playfulness though out our relationship, so that the driving force behind our personal growth does not become stagnant, and ultimately begin to fail us.
Love is a multifaceted and complex emotion. In this blog, we will explore the many faces of love, relationships, and journey we undertake to become whole. As a provider of Marriage and Family Therapy, I have seen that many individuals face difficulties as their personal development begins to interfere with their Marriage, or vice versa. By opening a forum for discussion, we can learn to grow beyond the realm of premarital counseling or marriage therapy, and begin working on our personal journey as we learn how and why we yearn to relate with others.
Dr. Thomas C. Maples, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist, Marriage and Family Therapist / Counselor, and life coach. He practices at The Stockton Therapy Network, Stockton, CA, assisting others to make sense of their life journey as it relates to the pursuit of body, mind, and spiritual wellbeing.