Make the Love Last

The Art of Turning Toward Your Spouse

make the love lastNearly everyone marries for the wrong reasons, but successful couples stay married for the right ones.

Think back to what caught your eye about your spouse. Chances are, if you are like the many couples I’ve interviewed over the years, it had to do with something that no longer exists in your relationship.

For instance, maybe you fell in love with the way your spouse looked.

Looks change. Abdomens expand. Breasts sag. Faces wrinkle. Muscles shrivel. Hair disappears from the right places and starts growing in all the wrong ones.

Or maybe you fell in love with that elusive and hard-to-pin-down thing known as chemistry.

Chemistry changes, too. It changes when the wild “in love” brain chemicals settle down, allowing you to think straight and remain gainfully employed. It changes during and after pregnancy and during and after male and female menopause, too.

Or maybe you fell in love with excitement.

Yes, even that fades. It can fade slowly over time, as you both focus on your careers or it can fade in just one day when one of you pushes a very loud, needy and nocturnal family member into the world.

Maybe you married because your spouse was the only person who took an interest in you.

Being the center of someone’s world changes, too. Eventually someone —a baby, an aging parent, a child with special needs — will displace you.

Or perhaps you feel in love with like interests. Those too fall away. If you run together, one of you might get sidelined with a knee injury. If you play chess, there’s dementia. If you play cards, chances are one of you will develop arthritic fingers.

With aging, the superficial reasons for staying together are stripped away much like oversized toiletry items during in an airport security scan. One day you have everything you need. The next you’re wondering what you are doing traveling with this slow-walking, half-blind dolt who can never remember in which bag she’s stashed the jumbo-sized bottle of sunscreen.

And this is what makes life so beautifully and wonderfully tragic because it’s only once the superficial reasons for marrying are gone that you’ll discover all of the reasons for staying together.

If your relationship is weak, aging can cause you one day declare that you have nothing in common, that your relationship is dead, that you were never truly in love, that your spouse has changed, that you’ve changed or that so many things have changed that you don’t know who you are or what love is anymore.

If your relationship is strong, though, your love will spread like dandelions on an abandoned residential lawn.

That’s because, as life gets harder— and life will get harder— you’ll turn toward each other rather than away.

You might lose your beloved red Doberman, and when you start sobbing about it in the middle of a restaurant, your spouse will turn toward. He’ll order an iced tea for you, because he knows, without asking, that’s what you always order. When you smile through the tears, he’ll know you can’t thank him out loud because any attempt to talk will cause your voice sound like Ariana Grande after she’s inhaled 10 helium balloons and you hate when your voice sounds like that. So you will sit in silence and, through the silence, your love will flourish. Then, perhaps a year later, you’ll both look back on that day with fondness, and your love will grow still some more.

Or this turning toward might happen one day when you throw out your back. As you rest on all fours in the middle of your half cut lawn, your spouse might say, “You know that massage gift certificate you gave me for Mother’s Day? I’d like you to have it.” That’s when you’ll know she really loves you. She was really looking forward to getting that massage, after all. And your spouse will know you love her when you say, “No, I’ll be okay. That was a gift for you.” And, just like that, your back might be weaker, but your love is so much stronger.

Over the years you’ll turn toward each other countless times. You’ll do it through hardship and mental turmoil, through financial stress and disappointments, too.

It won’t always be easy. Sometimes it will require a great amount of courage. There will be times when, to turn toward, you have to admit weakness or be vulnerable or patient or just not something you ever would otherwise choose to be.

This turning toward won’t always be fair. For the love of your spouse, you might put in much more than 50 percent.

Maybe it’s more like 70.

Or, if your spouse is dying from cancer, it might be 100.

But you will do it, and you will keep doing it because you know that the alternative — turning away — isn’t an option. And neither is the easy life. On your wedding day — when you were both young, gainfully employed, pain free, and without any sense of loss —you had no idea that life could ever be so hard. But now it is.

So you turn toward and, with every hard and painful loss, you gain something precious: each other.

When do you turn toward your spouse? Or away? How do you stay strong when life leaves you weak? If you are reading by email and wish to leave a comment, don’t forget to click through to the blog.

12 comments… add one

  • Kim May 19, 2014, 8:49 pm

    (just re-read this and omg is it long. My apologies.)
    I love this post. My husband and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary this past Friday. We were lucky to get a weekend away while my folks watched our girls. While in NYC, we had lots of fun and lots of alone time and lots of good conversation. We talked about how much had changed over the last decade and a half of marriage. Certainly we’ve both changed and grown. We’ve had very trying times and our marriage has had a few crises along the way, but overall, we realized that we’re both healthy and happier than we’ve ever been. And we were grateful for that. But then I decided to share something with him. I told him that I had finally realized what marriage is supposed to be. It’s not the culmination of dating, or the finish line or the huge “gotcha” moment that many girls – including 28-year old me – thought it was. I finally realized that marriage is a choice we make every day. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. It’s committing over and over again to be married and to be married to this one person. And while I didn’t use your exact words of “turning toward” someone, I did acknowledge that I hardly ever put him first. Preferring instead to please my family or my friends or myself first. He was always second or third on my list. I never turned toward him. But he always turned toward me. It took me fifteen years, two therapists and one major marital betrayal for me to finally wake up and see what was happening. Now, we’re older and not as cute as we once were :) but I think we’re arriving at a very sweet spot in our marriage. We’re finally turned toward one another. And it feels really good.

    Reply
  • lizzie May 20, 2014, 5:11 am

    Hi Alisa,

    First, I have to say that what you wrote is just beautiful. I think you’ve really captured it in words. But what happens when your spouse doesn’t order you the iced tea even though you’ve told him how you like it? What happens when he bundles Mother’s Day in with his own mother, whom he doesn’t much like or seem to respect, just to get things over with? What happens when you finally are alone in a room with him and he can’t stop looking at his device and can’t finish a conversation without getting up in the middle of what you are saying – when he doesn’t look you in the eye when making love or kiss you on the lips? And you’ve asked, and gone to two different therapists over ten years, and neither one of you has cheated or done anything really horrible, but you just don’t connect any more? What do you do when the other can’t turn toward you- wouldn’t know how if you gave him a manual – and you want what your post describes – and you understand it: that you won’t find someone else who is necessarily good looking or rich but who makes you feel that way by cherishing YOU as a person? That is what is truly hard about (this) marriage. That I don’t – and won’t ever- have that with this decent human being that I married 23 years ago and stay with because I don’t want to hurt him or break up our family.

    Reply
  • Alisa May 20, 2014, 8:18 am

    Lizzie — I think it starts with being honest with yourself: Why are you staying? Is it really *only* to not break up your family and that you don’t want to hurt him? It sounds like there might be other reasons, but only you know that. Then I would accept that he might not be capable of the kind of intimacy you crave–that you might be hoping for him to become someone he just isn’t. But, perhaps, he might cherish you and see you as important. Again, only you know that as well. Maybe he doesn’t show it with eye contact or by listening or by remembering how you like your iced tea, but perhaps he shows it in other ways. Maybe spend a week just searching for the ways he might cherish you — things that might be escaping your notice. Just think of it as an experiment. Sometimes we get so focused on what we perceive to be missing that we are blinded from all the beauty that is still there.

    Reply
  • jeannette May 20, 2014, 10:17 am

    I do so like your posts! We have been married for 30 years this August and let me tell you there have been plenty of times that I feel the way that Lizzie described. And your advice to search for the ways he is cherishing her is very good advice! For example, just this morning I was wishing for someone to spill my concerns about our relationship. And isn’t it amazing how your email appeared!! Anyway, my husband likes to have a glass of wine at about 9 pm while watching a TV show. I wish that we could have a glass of wine sitting on our patio looking at the river, however his wish is to have it while watching TV. I don’t find that very romantic or a way of connecting with each other. Anyway, Iast night he made up some beautiful and delicious horderves just for me along with a cup of green tea with lemon and ginger! This is like bringing the iced tea you mention. And I realized too that while we watched the May Day Parade on TV, he shared some stories about his past with me. We did connect in a way that is comfortable for him and I am just beginning to find that and love it.

    Reply
  • Ron May 20, 2014, 10:53 am

    After 36 years Crystal and I have had our share of ups and downs. There were times when one or both of us just wanted to leave. Outside of a long drive in the country or two (no suitcases) neither did. When the emotions wore off we generally figured something out. Today with the kids grown and retirement looming we both feel like we have come through to the other side. There is a peace and an excitement when talking about plans. There is no more panic when problems arise, just an excuse to go out to breakfast or for a drive to talk about it. Like Alisa said, the superficial reasons for marriage aren’t what kept us together, it’s something stronger; and today we reap the benefits.

    Reply
    • Lois Hjelmstad May 20, 2014, 2:29 pm

      Alisa – This blog was so true and so beautiful that I wish I had written it!

      We’ve been married 65 years, eight months, and seven days. My husband is ill and frail now. Leaning toward him seems like such a great way to express what I am trying to do. I need a lot of patience these days, but I keep asking for “heart of love, just give me a heart of love” and things go better.

      I have loved him so much for so long (and he me) that I don’t want to fail him now.

      Thanks again for the wonderful thoughts and path. Much love to you.

      Reply
  • Mia May 20, 2014, 3:48 pm

    I love this post. July will mark a 10 year anniversary for us (15 years together) and I am finally feeling like I am out of the newlywed stage. I feel like I have a much better understanding of what marriage is and it’s truly something to celebrate. It’s being there through the thin of it all, it’s support when it’s most needed and like an earlier post said it’s a choice we make every day; to stick it out when it seems easier to throw in the towel.

    Reply
  • ab July 14, 2014, 11:45 am

    Please help me with getting my husband back. We’ve been together foe 15 years & married for 10 years in August. He moved out 4 weeks ago which has torn me & my children up. He decided he’s unhappy. Says I don’t love him. Which is Crazy . I love him dearly. I’m an affectionate person & always tell him how great he is. Please help me bring my husband home!

    Reply
  • Regina July 15, 2014, 3:56 pm

    What a wonderful mantra for when I am going through a tough spot, Turn Towards. Thank you. I am committed to my marriage and am finding your blog a most beautiful tool for success.

    I will turn towards when I feel lost and like the only person in the relationship, because he must be feeling the same.

    I will practice not turning away when I don’t feel heard…instead I will listen harder to my husband, because often he is listening, but I am too busy inside my own head to truly get that he is and is responding to me.

    I stay strong by reaching out for help. Thank you!!

    Reply
  • Anonymous September 5, 2014, 1:24 pm

    I love this blog, and I thank all of you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am now on my second marriage — my first husband passed away in his early 40s after a long illness — and I so want to learn to love and be loved as a mature person.

    Sometimes, I feel dismayed at how self-centered and demanding I still feel in my early 50s, and how few relational skills I possess. While my second husband is a strong, silent type who loves and would do anything for me, I often criticize him in my mind and blame my loneliness on his lack of verbalization of his feelings. My goal is to learn to live differently, with more creativity and greater gratitude, while not sugar coating. I pray that my husband and I will reach old age together able to look back on a long, winding, and ultimately loving road we have traveled together.

    Reply
  • Andy Townsend September 16, 2014, 7:53 am

    I believe that love is a choice. It is not something that you just turn on or off. You don’t just wake up one day and say you don’t love the person anymore. But yes, there will be bad days, days when you may want to give up. I think more than love, the best way to make love last is to be friends with your partner because days may come when the love won’t be there but friends will be forever.

    Reply

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