I used to think love was just a feeling, that warmth of affection or romance that we feel in our hearts. Before I married decades ago, I had also heard that marriage was a lot of work, like changing diapers and doing chores.
But I know from hard-earned experience that bills and yardwork are the easy part, and the beginnings of creating a healthy and intimate relationship. The hard, scary, and important work is putting forth the effort to be open to another person’s reality, seeing them with love and acceptance, and adjusting your worldview and behavior to create a safe and nurturing space for the relationship. To do this right requires commitment, humility, openness, compassion and forgiveness for self and other, and usually requires the feelings of love as the motivator or precursor for this hard work.
No easy task, and much underrated.
I don’t think I’m the only one who was this naïve going into marriage. Now that I’ve been long divorced (10 years), and now widowed (close to 2 years), I’m again engaged in online dating. I watch and participate in the mating dances taking place across the internet. I continue to see the same assumption about the workings of relationships being played out at the relationship entry level. There is a range of interest for going beneath the surface exchange of appearance (picture) and other specifications about identity (age, religion, job, gender, etc). I don’t have access to any data, but I imagine those who put little effort into the process are unlikely to have much success in finding or creating successful relationships. Often, the lack of success is a surprise, or a complete mystery: How do I get this to work?
I also hear stories from the divorced men (in part because I’m talking to men) about why their former marriage or relationship didn’t work out. For many, the end came as a complete surprise, terminating what they thought were many happy years together. What? We’re not happy?
How can it be that two people in the same relationship have opposite views regarding the quality of the relationship? Further, how can it be that at least one person has no idea about their partner’s unhappiness, despite the conversations and/or warning signs, until it’s too late and the divorce is pending?
Though it’s natural to want to argue, Yes, we really are happy, one can never really persuade someone else that they really should be happy when it is in fact not their experience. After all, it takes mutual consent for a relationship to be in a relationship, and if one side insists they’re unhappy, no amount of protesting by the other side is likely to change that. It will actually make it more likely to deepen the partner’s dissatisfaction. A real willingness to be open, listen, and be more supportive of the other are ingredients that could help resuscitate the marriage.
What happens at the individual or family level echoes at the national level vis a vis our Black Lives Matter and similar conversations. What? You’re not happy? How can a large swath of America completely miss it or disagree with that relationship status? Arguing that the other should be happy is having the predictable consequence of deepening, not healing the divide. Refusing to acknowledge the other side’s despair just accelerates the trajectory towards a divorce… whatever that means in the cases of race relations in the US.
What’s happening on the national level is also happening on the planetary level with our relationship with Earth. What Mother Earth? You’re not happy? How can we be missing the signs from Earth that she’s not happy and is threatening a divorce, or whatever that means in the case of separation from our planet?
In a marriage, one partner can kick the other to the curb and each goes their separate ways. What does that mean with regard to our relationship with Earth? We can’t exactly kick Earth to the curb but she sure can evict us, even though we no place to go. There’s no inter-planetary match.com where we can post an ad as an Earthling looking for a new LTR with a habitable planet.
I obviously have no idea if Earth would ever actually kick us to the curb, but I do know that if I operated on that belief in my personal relationships, I increase the odds that it will actually happen. Taking our partner and source of life-sustaining support for granted is not likely to promote the behavior that will heal our most intimate and important relationship. It is also likely to catch us by surprise when the inevitable and natural consequences catch up to us and all we can say, in retrospect, is What happened?
Feeling love in our heart is just the starting point. I know we all love Earth, or at least some facet of Earth’s plants, animals, or minerals.
But love is an active verb, and that means we must translate those feelings into behaviors that promote caring, compassion, generosity, and reciprocity in our most important relationships. We’ve gotten by on (or more appropriately, gotten away with) only our feelings of love for Earth (and others) for too long, and it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. Let’s really do the hard work of letting go of our need to make others understand and provide for us, and focusing on what others, including Earth, need from us. It’s the only sensible way to avert the heartbreaking and catastrophic divorces that are threatening us now, and to create something more beautiful and healing going forward.
Written by Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert