What are the Challenges of Love?

Real love stories never have endings (Richard Bach)

With Valentine’s Day almost here, today’s article on romantic relationships is timely. However, it is prompted by a reader’s two-part question: “Is it true that it is easier to forgive than to forget?” and “What are the challenges of love?” Let’s dive in at once, considering the questions in the order in which they were raised.

People betrayed by their spouse may say that they can FORGIVE their mate for cheating, but can never FORGET their betrayal. Their pain is understandable. However, unless we forget, it is not forgiveness. Holding on to the pain by refusing to forget merely cheats yourself of the peace of mind you deserve. If the betrayal of your spouse was an isolated event that they regret, have apologized for, and made up for, forgiveness may be warranted. But if you decide to do so, let go of the past and forget about the cheating.

You may wonder if it’s possible to forget. The answer is, absolutely! We have the capacity to forgive and forget. Did you ever see small children argue and shout at one another, “I never want to play with you again!” only to discover them playing again ten minutes later? That is an example of our natural ability to let go. We don’t have to hold on. We don’t have to hold grudges. We don’t have to be resentful. We can and should let go. True, as we grew into adults, our natural ability to let go has been repressed because of the control over us by others, but we can reawaken it.

It becomes easier to forgive if we prepare for it. That is, expect to encounter a bumpy road. Disagreements and disappointments are bound to occur. You see, early in our courtship we are blinded by the flames of passion and fail to see any of the imperfections of our partner. But, once we settle down and grow comfortable, we make the shocking discovery that our partner has faults. The only reason it is shocking is that we had false expectations and assumptions.

This hurdle is easily overcome by recognizing that we, too, have faults. Our flaws are not curses, but blessings. For they are the gateway to a deeper love. Imagine how exciting it is to be completely accepted by your partner, despite your faults. Now, reverse this image and imagine how your partner will feel when you accept him or her, faults and all. As we grow emotionally and spiritually, we will learn to first tolerate, then forgive, then accept, and finally embrace the peculiarities of our partner. As Karl Menninger (1893 ~ 1990) said, “One does not fall into love; one grows into love, and love grows in him.”

Rejoice in your and your partner’s individual differences, for they are what make you unique, special, and interesting. We form our opinions and beliefs early in life and become intellectually rigid. However, one of the joys of a romantic relationship is to discover new ways of looking at things. Every time your partner disagrees with you, you have the opportunity to expand your vision and see things in a new light. Even if, after careful consideration, you continue to disagree on a point, you can welcome that disagreement, for it gives you the chance to prove your love by defending your partner’s opinion when it is under attack by another.

At times, even if we are big enough to forgive a terrible betrayal, our only choice will be to end the relationship. An obvious example would be of a husband sexually abusing his children. For the good of the children, society, wife, and even husband, he must be reported to the police. Yet, some women who are victims of physical or verbal abuse refuse to end the relationship because, they say, they “love” their husband. But, that is not love. Love is about respect and admiration for one’s partner. How can one respect and admire anyone who abuses another? Women remain in abusive relationships, not because of love, but because of desperation. They bvelieve they are unworthy of something better, are trapped, or cannot make it on their own. They need to seek help from the community.

Now, let’s move on to some of the challenges of love. Anthony Robbins has this to say, “Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.”

Once the respect and admiration we have for another develops into love, we are ready to give to the relationship. We can begin by offering consistency, communication, and commitment. For a successful relationship, we need to express our love consistently. Here’s a bad example. A business executive is frustrated at work and can’t vent his anger on his boss, so when he returns home, he complains about the food, a speck of dirt on the floor, and the temperature of the room. Complain, complain, complain. Finally, when it’s time to sleep, he rolls over in bed, faces his wife, and expects her to be romantic. His behavior is inconsistent. Foreplay doesn’t begin 45 minutes before making love, it begins the moment he arrives home from work. We have to be loving before we can expect our partner to be loving.

Communication is one of the most powerful tools of romance. Communicating openly and honestly develops intimacy. It creates a special bond, for you both share your innermost secrets. Moreover, misunderstandings are cleared up and problems worked out by talking about them. But not all communication is verbal. In fact, when it comes to expressing love, words are cheap. Anyone can say, “I love you.” One expresses love by action such as warm caresses, hugs, and kisses, cheerfully performing one’s chores and responsibilities, and offering complete emotional support.

Love is a powerful bond because couples commit to each other. They are resolved to forge their relationship into a fortress of love. They refuse to take each other for granted or grow insensitive to the needs of their partner. They refuse to get preoccupied with themselves to the neglect of their partner. They marvel at the miracle of love and the miracle of each other. The following words of St. Augustine (354 ~ 430 AD) don’t apply to them. “Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

Just as ordinary thread woven together can form a powerful net, so can two ordinary people joining in love form an indestructible relationship that contributes greatly to society. Along a similar vein, Barbara De Angelis has the following advice to offer. “The more connections you and your lover make, not just between your bodies, but between your minds, your hearts, and your souls, the more you will strengthen the fabric of your relationship, and the more real moments you will experience together.”

Once you have found your love, treasure it; cherish it, and preserve it with kindness and gentleness. May your love for each other be greater than your need for each other.