Today we will be discussing a seemingly delicate topic of love and the effects or lack of it in our relationships with our spouse/partner. However, before we talk about love for our spouse, it is important to first love yourself, which is closely related to another very important concept in emotional intelligence viz. self-regard
What is Self-regard?
It is about how much you accept and value yourself as a person. It is having full knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses- appreciating your strengths and accepting your weaknesses. The important thing is respecting yourself the way you are. Self-regard is accepting your negative aspects and still feeling good about yourself. If your self-regard is high you will genuinely empathize and accept others (in this case your spouse) even when they are very different from you. Here again, self-awareness is very important. If a person is not able to feel his/her emotions, it is not possible for them to feel the emotions of others, which in turn will hamper their capacity to show empathy to their spouse whom they claim to love. Hence, unless you love yourself, it is not possible to love your spouse. You cannot give what you don’t have.
How do I love myself?
To start with, one of the foremost ways you can love yourself is to care for your physical body, which includes eating the right food, not having any bad habits (like smoking, drinking) and taking sufficient rest.
Another way, an extension of above is to learn to love your skin- it is not the cosmetic aspect we are talking about, but as a healthy way in which we respond to the sensation of touch. The way you treat your skin and the way you allow others to touch you, literally as well as figuratively- is a great indicator of health.
Romantic Love or addiction?
Having understood self-love it is now important to understand the love that you may have towards your spouse/lover which may be termed as romantic. It is important to understand the physiological changes that happen inside the person’s body when he/she is high on this kind of love. Studies have shown that romantic love can be addictive which triggers the release of hormones dopamine and norepinephrine to produce euphoric feelings when you fall in love. When the person is passionately in love it is extremely exciting and provocative, and if the loved one is not there with you, distressing.
However, in some cases, people who think they are on a high of love and life is so beautiful, fail to recognize this brain chemical reaction and become addicted to feelings of love rather than a more mature relationship, i.e. shared values and a commitment to shared goals and shared life. This is called as a stage of infatuation wherein the love birds are more driven by lust and sexual arousals rather than true love. If individuals fail to be aware of this stage and once dawned upon with the realities and responsibilities of married life, it’s too late. Marriages fall apart or couple’s break-up before marriages.
In her book, A New Blueprint for Marriage author Joanne Tangedahl noted that if “love addiction” doesn’t pass, it becomes worse. She wrote: “You stop having a sense of well-being and that wonderful feeling of oneness. You begin to feel desperate, with a need to be with, to see to possess the other person. This need is so powerful, strong and compelling, people often call this love. It is not, it is addiction.”
Would like to tell my own love story. Yes, we are really a happily married couple for the last almost 26 years. It was love at first sight for me when I was in 12th standard, a ripe case for infatuation. But we both had the maturity, understanding and the tenacity to make it last for so long. From my experience, I can definitely say that you need to work on your marriage to make it successful. There are no quick fix or knee-jerk arrangements to make it work. There is no magic wand either. I think no marriage is without its share of ups and downs. The key to successful married life is aiming for oneness with our partner and continuously working on it. Once you feel that oneness, you would never look down on the partner’s money fears, driving fears, back-ground and from where he/she is coming from, fear of aging, etc. If your reaction to your partner’s fear or any other form of distress is that of disdain or irritation, you do not want oneness or even friendship with your partner at that moment. (Thankfully, in India we have a very less percentage of divorce or separation as compared to the western countries)
So, what is love?
Different people may have their own definitions, but the one which I am able to connect with is: Love is a choice and acting on this choice requires great deal of effort. Love means choosing to turn yourself inside out for your spouse, and walking into it requires an intentional, initial choice of practicing patience and kindness. Love means once committed, you accept your partner as they are and change yourself rather than trying and expecting your spouse to change to meet your satisfaction levels and for your needs and wants.
What love is not?
- Love is not jealous- remember the old Hindi classic movie “Abhimaan”? when Amitabh Bachchan cannot digest his wife (Jaya Bachchan) getting all the attention, limelight and adoration ahead of him as she is more successful as a singer. And they were on the brink of being separated…
- Love is not rude- you need to respect your spouse irrespective of your own mood, his/her mistakes and always have the awareness of what he/she is going through.
- Love is not selfish- I have seen many husbands completely bulldoze their wives without caring for their needs or wants. For them, it’s “my way or the highway”. These people always expect their spouses to give in to their demands.
- Love does not keep track of wrongs: Loving people tend to forgive quickly and refuse to keep score against their partners unless the crime is really serious (mainly infidelity by one of the partners). Check with yourself- are you holding something against your spouse and do you feel the need to settle a score with them?
- Love is not caressing your own egos, being right and trying to be one up over your partner. Most marriages get into trouble because of ego issues of one of the partners and being right.
5 Love Languages:
In his book “The Five Love Languages” author Gary Chapman beautifully explains how to pick and understand ways to keep your spouse happy. His concept is applicable to any relationship, but more so to husband and wife. Their love requirements can be either of the below 5 ways. One will be most dominant over the rest four.
- Words of affirmation: Some partners can be pleased by giving a quick compliment or encouraging words in response to what she/he does or says. These people also like to be told by their significant others that how much they are loved by him/her. Only when you say “I love you” they really feel that their spouse loves them
- Quality time: for such people love = time. Spending time with their better haves, without an agenda or task to accomplish, is love expressed.
- Giving gifts; Some partners feel loved when their spouses shower gifts on them.
- Acts of Service: What can you do to help your busy partner? Help them in their office work, home chores, outside works like picking up laundry, or even giving a massage to their tired/paining legs, etc.
- Physical affection: We are human beings who need touch. Some are very sensitive and long for the touch of their partner’s. Their love definition may be as simple as a kiss, a hug, caress, pat on the back, holding hands and walking on a beach together for a long time, back rub, etc.
The early the partners understand the love language of each other and respond accordingly in compliance with it, the better chances of deep loving and eternal relationships between the two of them.
Reasons why people separate/divorce:
- Expectations: One thinks that by going different ways one will be happy, blames the other person, and having high expectations from them leads to disappointments & frustrations which might lead them towards getting separated.
- Short Memory: before getting married or immediately after getting together, couples wow to be with each other in times of goodness as well as distress, however, in the daily chores of life and raising children they tend to forget these commitments made to each other.
- Disposable Relationships: In today’s’ world when people change things for new very fast, it seems fashionable to change relationships & divorce is considered trendy. People get bored with the same person & seek excitement and newness to get out of a boring life.
The key to loving, cordial & everlasting relationships is developing your emotional intelligence which has 4 main skill areas:
- Recognizing your own feelings: which means getting aware of your feelings at any given point of time. One may find it difficult to first getting aware of own emotions, but with active mindfulness, this skill can be developed.
- Managing your own feelings: Once you are aware of your feelings, it’s important to be able to resist the temptation of immediately reacting to your partner i.e. having control of your own feelings.
- Developing Empathy: Empathy is to understand the feelings of the partner & getting attune to their actions or what they say or why they say so.
- Managing significant other feelings (Motivation): This is the ability to pick up on emotions of the other partner and helping and supporting them to manage their own feelings. Understanding the desires & aspirations of your partner & helping to achieve them, goes a long way in building a fruitful & strong relationship.
Conclusion: The key to successful married life is letting go of ego, respecting your spouse in all the circumstances and having empathy towards your spouse.