Falling Back in Love
Think it's impossible to love your spouse? Think again!
by Kathy Collard Miller
As we waited in the doctor’s office to find out if my husband’s melanoma (the deadliest kind of skin cancer) had spread, I looked at him and said, “I’m so glad this didn’t happen sixteen years ago when our marriage was so shaky.”
Larry nodded his agreement.
I remembered once again those horrible years when I was convinced I had fallen out of love with my husband. Larry was working two jobs and flew airplanes as a hobby; he was rarely home. I felt overwhelmed mothering a two-year-old and an infant all by myself.
If Larry would just stay home more often and help me with these kids, then I’d know he loved me, I thought again and again. As my pleas for help turned into nagging, he stayed away more.
Now as I gazed into the loving eyes of my husband, tenderness welled up inside me. How did God cause us to fall back in love with each other? By teaching us some important concepts. Here are a few of them.
Cycle of love
When I believed I no longer loved Larry many years ago, I had succumbed to the world’s concept of love: If you don’t feel loving, you must have fallen out of love.
God’s kind of love is different, however; it isn’t based only upon feelings but also upon making a choice for the person’s highest good. It can be the same with us when we realize that every marriage travels through three steps in a cycle of love: romance, disillusionment, and joy — repeatedly.
At times we feel loving, with all the wonderful, cotton ball emotions. But then something happens. He or she doesn’t keep a promise. He doesn’t love her according to her definition of love. Anger wells us inside her. Where did all those wonderful emotions go? She can take the next step into joy by making a decision to love.
Taking the step from disillusionment into joy requires that we forgive our mates for disappointing us or for not meeting our needs. Ultimately, only God fully meets our needs and never disappoints us.
Charissa sat across from me in the retreat center where I was speaking at a women’s conference. “I know it’s wrong, but I’m just so mad at John,” she cried. “He won’t watch our daughter’s drill team performances, and it just infuriates me! Why is he so unloving?”
Having learned that emotional baggage from childhood often contributes to our present problems, I asked Charissa about her youth. She mentioned several things and then said, “My father never watched me be a cheerleader. I was so disappointed.”
“That’s it, Charissa. You aren’t reacting just to John but to that disappointment from your childhood.”
Charissa smiled as understanding spread through her mind and tears floated in her eyes. “You’re right. I’m overreacting to John because I’ve never forgiven my father. I guess I’m going to have to forgive both of them for not meeting my expectations.”
Charissa had discovered a concept called displacement, the transference of an emotion to an inappropriate object. Many times we become upset with our spouses and wonder why our frustration is so great. It may be that we’re not reacting just to the present situation but to some incident from our childhood that reminds us of the current circumstance. Healing can come when we forgive the person from our past and healthfully respond to the present.
Whether we’ve been married a few years or many, boredom can contribute to our “fallen out of love” feelings. This can be especially true in our sexual relationship.
I’ll never forget the evening I decided to jazz up our sexual intimacy. Larry was working the night shift at the time and got off work at 2 a.m. I called him at work before he got off and, with my sexiest voice, said, “There will be a surprise for you when you get home.”
When he walked in the door, I greeted Larry wearing a silky nightgown and led him into our bedroom lit with candles.
In what area of your relationship do you find boredom creeping in? What could you do or plan within the next week or month that could jumpstart you out of that rut? Maybe a simple, quick idea would be best rather than planning some extravagant event. Then your enthusiasm won’t wane. But do something!
Larry and I sat across from Dot and Jose at a couples retreat where we were speaking. Dot began, “My feelings for Jose have grown cold because he doesn’t show me love.”
“How could Jose show you his love?” Larry asked.
Dot paused before she spoke in a whisper. “I keep telling him the kitchen needs painting.”
“Obviously, Dot, that sounds very important to you. Could it be that his lack of performance sends you a message he doesn’t love you?”
“Of course,” she replied. “If he really loved me, he’d do what I wanted.”
Larry went on to explain to Dot that Jose’s level of love had nothing to do with his painting the kitchen.
Like Dot, we can put requirements on our love, thinking that our spouse’s failure to meet those expectations means he or she doesn’t love us. We don’t realize, however, that each of us is different, with varying motivations and desires.
If you’re a person who loves people and wants lots of fun and you’re married to a person who prefers a quiet evening at home alone, you may interpret your mate’s desire as rejection, when actually it’s just the way he or she looks at life.
If you make quick decisions but your mate is easy-going, you may be critical of his or her slow thinking. But that’s the way God made your mate! What we forget is that we married the opposite, unconsciously desiring a person who would complement our weaknesses and give us balance.
Understanding and celebrating our differences can diminish our “fallen out of love” feelings.
Don’t major on the minors
Although this concept is most often suggested for parents getting through their children’s teenage years, it’s just as applicable for marriage. We so often get uptight about things that aren’t really that important.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were recalling times we’d been angry at our husbands — then realized we couldn’t remember the reasons! We’d thought the reasons were so important at the time, but obviously they hadn’t impacted our whole future.
Fourteen years ago when Larry’s life was in danger from cancer, small disagreements and tensions no longer seemed so important. Now that we know that no further cancer has been detected and that Larry’s life is safe for the present, small matters can again make me disillusioned. Then I remind myself, Am I making a big deal out of something unimportant? Obviously, we do need to communicate and resolve issues, but often our level of unhappiness is not consistent with the importance of the disagreement.
Can we ask ourselves, Am I feeling less love over something that I won’t even remember a year from now? How about in eternity? Will it be important then? Answering such questions can help us concentrate on what is really important.
As I look back over 34 years of marriage, traveling repeatedly through romance, disillusionment, and joy, I must remind myself to major on the majors, recognize the value of our differences, plan to prevent boredom, and make sure displacement doesn’t add to my unloving feelings. Larry and I enjoy a vitality and unity I once thought was impossible. I’m convinced that even if we fall out of love, God can strengthen us to make a decision to love. Then the feelings of love will follow.