He asked me if passion was worth fighting for. I doubt he’ll like my answer.

“He” could be anyone. In fact, he could just as well be a “she.” That’s how often people tell me the following story. That’s how common it is. It goes like this: “I fell in love with one person. We got married. Now I think I’m in love with someone else. Maybe I wasn’t really in love the first time. I think I made a mistake. I think I’m really supposed to be with this other person. What to do?”

I know what they want to hear. They want me to tell them: Follow your heart! Life is short! Don’t waste it by staying in a loveless marriage!

I never write this. As a result, many people who write to me end up disappointed.

Here’s why: He didn’t marry the wrong person. He’s merely suffering from a very common problem. In Buddhist terms, we call it attachment. In western terms, we call it lust or infatuation.

It’s tricky because it feels so justified and right. In fact, I’m guessing that, if you have some attachment going on in your life right now, you are reading this and you are thinking, “Nope. Not attachment. It’s love. I know it. This person? Soul mate.” Read on. Let’s see.

Pure love is about bringing happiness with you to the relationship table. It’s a decision to put energy into a relationship. When you love purely, you accept that sometimes you will disagree, and that’s okay. You accept that sometimes you’ll both be exhausted and grumpy and not in the mood and all sorts of other things, and that’s okay. The love comes from your daily actions. It comes from smiling each morning, asking your partner about his or her day, making that special meal you know your partner likes, doing that special favor, and being the rainbow in your partner’s cloudy day. It comes from dozens of acts of love committed day in and day out over months and years that build up a strong sense of warmth and affection in your heart.

It’s my firm belief that, as long as two people mutually respect one another, love can bloom. It’s not a magical feeling that we only experience when we’re around someone with the right chemistry or interests. It’s something we create day in and day out.

Attachment is the opposite. Rather than giving happiness, it’s an attempt to get happiness from someone else. You suffer from attachment when you see something you find pleasurable — a good looking and funny person (like this guy), chocolate, or a new car — and you think, “Niiiiice.” Then you exaggerate that person’s good qualities: She’s so funny. She’s so beautiful. She’s so everything. Then you make a leap of logic and assume that you can’t be happy unless you are with that person. You think, “Wow, I want….Wow, I must have… Wow, I need.” You assume the rest of your life will be a total waste until this person is in your life.

And you’re wrong.

People are not living breathing antidepressants. Sure, you might get a dopamine rush when you are around certain people, but that’s not happiness. That’s high. You can get high by smoking crack, but I doubt you’ll ever profess your love to the stuff or call it your soul mate.

And here’s the important part: after every high comes a crash. When you are deep in the thick of attachment, this is really hard to see. You won’t believe that it could ever happen, but it will. Eventually that person will stop serving you happiness. Live with anyone long enough and that person is bound to do three things: 1) change 2) get on your nerves 3) pass gas in your presence.

Eventually you’ll start seeing that person’s faults. You’ll notice that annoying thing she does when she eats that you never noticed before or that way he chews on his lip when he’s concentrating that is so unattractive. You’ll notice so many things that you will just swear that person never did when you were head over heels in love.

And you’ll think, “Oh my Gawd, I married the wrong person AGAIN!”

No, you didn’t. You made decisions made on attachment again.

Before chasing after a soul mate, do something important. Learn how to love. Learn how to bring happiness to the table rather than expect for it to be there when you sit down to a meal.

Learn how to be a complete person who can be happy alone, married, or in a group home. Learn how to bring your loving, generous heart to every moment.

If you do that, you just might find that you can indeed love the one you are with.

If you are reading by email and wish to comment or discuss, don’t forget to click through to the p0st.

Here’s a story I wrote for Babble that I think you might enjoy: The Time My Grandfather Schooled Me on the Meaning of Life.

10 comments… add one

  • N March 20, 2014, 12:12 pm

    I think this is great advice, especially because it’s refreshingly different from the typical “rekindle the romance” advice that assumes all marriages have a ton of romance to return to. Since you didn’t go there, I’m guessing this is also your response to relationships that go from ho-hum to mechanical (not necessarily adversarial) over the years? In retrospect, we both agree we married too hastily, partially in response to our families’ socially conservative expectations. We both had misgivings along the way, but our confidence in our own perceptions had been pretty well beaten out of us. We’ve managed to keep up a good front over the years and now have two gorgeous children and a decent life by all appearances. But I see other couples deeply in love and wonder if that will be forever out of our reach since we didn’t start there.

    • Rosemary March 20, 2014, 1:17 pm

      N – Don’t envy all those “deeply in love” couples. Many couples put on their best appearance in public, just as many individuals do. They may be as happy as you think they are, but, happy or not, most are a constant work in progress. Most couples don’t tell everyone in their lives about the problems they are trying to solve. In the meantime, there may be someone who envies your relationship because from the outside you look so much happier than they think they are.

      Becoming happier together and building a deeper love is possible. People do it in arranged marriages, in marriages that have undergone terrible setbacks, and in marriages that have simply drifted over time. It requires deliberate effort, and possibly some coaching or counseling, but it can be done.

    • Alisa March 20, 2014, 2:06 pm

      Ann LaMott has a great quote: “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” Think about what you really need to be content. Chances are it’s not that much. Then try to be the best spouse you can. Keep outdoing yourself every day. Eventually the “in love” feeling will come from within. You won’t look to the other person to bring it to you. You’ll be able to cultivate it and share it.

  • Brian March 21, 2014, 5:27 am

    One of your best ever, Alisa.

    BTW thanks for helping me (and my wife) over these past few years. Keep up the good work!

  • JJ March 21, 2014, 6:26 am

    Wonderful insight that I’m starting to realize myself after only 2 years of marriage. Bring happiness with you, don’t go to your spouse to glean happiness from them. The way you put it made it look as selfish as it is. Thanks!

  • Gaye @CalmHealthySexy March 21, 2014, 8:39 am

    This is really good. It’s a warning (in a helpful) way of something almost every married person will face at some time in his or her marriage – the belief that the grass is greener somewhere else. Which, in almost all cases, isn’t true. Thanks for pointing that out and suggesting ways to avoid falling into that trap.

  • mk March 21, 2014, 2:12 pm

    I just forwarded this to my hubby, as he felt this same way two years ago and changed our lives forever. After I threatened to leave and split everything in two..literally, we went to counseling. Now after two years, two REALLY HARD YEARS, HE has realized that she wasn’t all that, and was using him to get ahead at work…..she is now clawing into someone else. What a wake up call in our lives! I was so focused on our kids, raising them and getting them into great universities…and he was so focused on work (cough) and other things…we both really forgot about each other totally. I wish more people could realize how really good they have it in their lives and stop comparing themselves to others…the grass is SO not green on the other side…..now if I could figure out now to get rid of the rest of my weeds ;)

  • Deb March 21, 2014, 10:32 pm

    Excellent observation. Absolutely true. Unfortunately, I think that age and experience are the tools required to get to this nugget of wisdom, and many people in this situation don’t have the benefit of either one.

    Thanks for another great post. .

  • Sara March 22, 2014, 10:27 pm

    Wonderful! Thank you Alisa. I’ve heard too many people say, after getting a divorce (and sometimes even after remarrying), that they wish they’d stuck it out in their marriage, and the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. No matter who you are with marriage takes work and commitment. Water your (own) grass!

  • Patty Newbold March 23, 2014, 1:06 am

    One of your best posts, ever, Alisa! Such an important message. Great to have this vocabulary for it, too.


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