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The Changing Nature of Love
By Peggy Vaughan and James Vaughan, Ph.D.
(excerpted from the book: Making Love Stay)

The Changing Nature of Love

The first step in making love stay is to understand that lasting love is not the same as the exciting, heady feelings of "falling in love." Love changes; it never remains the same—and trying to keep it from changing is sure to snuff it out.

Let's follow the course of the changes in the way you're likely to experience love. First, you fall in love. What a wonderful feeling! It's intoxicating and all-consuming. You can't think of anything else—and you can't keep your hands off each other. (Personally, we still refer to the beginning of our own relationship at age seventeen as our period of "young, hot love"—but, of course, these feelings aren't restricted to young people; they're typical of any new love at any age.)

Falling in love, or "new love," produces some of the most intense feelings you will ever experience. At its best, it seems too good to be real. It is real, but it won't last—at least, not in that form. Enjoy new love for the fantastic experience that it is, but recognize that much of the intensity of the feeling is inherent in its newness and novelty. You may wish these feelings would never end and you may go to all kinds of lengths to sustain them or to rekindle them when you feel them changing. But the popular tricks and gimmicks for maintaining that particular kind of excitement are doomed to fail.

While romantic touches are wonderful for stimulating exciting love-making and adding spice to your relationship, they aren't sufficient by themselves to build a lasting love. They may give your relationship a temporary shot in the arm—but it will quickly fade and you'll be right back where you started. This superficial approach just won't work over the long haul.

If the romantic fix doesn't work, you may wonder why there are so many books and so much advice about how to recapture the first flush of love and put the zing back in your marriage. Well, it's really not too hard to figure out. In a couple of key ways, that kind of advice about love is a lot like the books and advice about crash diets—based on the fantasy that there's a quick and easy way to do it.

Just like you can quickly lose some weight with a crash diet, you can quickly create a spark in your relationship with a sexy gimmick. Just as it's much easier to go on a specified diet for a specified period of time than to change your overall eating habits for life, it's also easier to pursue some specific sexual encounters than to change your overall ways of relating for life. But in both cases, this approach doesn't last. With the diet, you wind up regaining the weight and feeling even worse than before. And with your relationship, the temporary surge of feelings inevitably fades and things settle back to the way they were before (or worse) and you wind up feeling even more discouraged than ever.

Every failed attempt at dieting or failed attempt at reviving the feelings of "new love" leaves you feeling hopeless that anything will really work. At some point, you need to say NO to this up and down yo-yo and get serious about making real change.

Letting Go of Myths

Myth: Love just happens; you either feel it or you don't.

No, love is not magic. It can feel magical when things are going right. But love is actually the byproduct of all the attitudes and behaviors each of you brings to the relationship. Holding on to the idea that love exists in a vacuum only reinforces the false notion that the magical feeling of the first flush of new love is synonymous with LOVE in its full, lasting richness (the kind that provides you a firm place to stand in the world).

So why should you reject these myths? Because they bring you to a love relationship with very unrealistic expectations. Conflicts and misunderstandings are probably inevitable as you struggle to cope with a world you never imagined. Initially, new love keeps these in the background, but it won't do it indefinitely. As the initial passion of new love burns lower, the nitty-gritty issues of building a life with another person move into the foreground—and reality hits you like a boulder. By rejecting these myths you can be prepared to deal effectively with life's daily issues as they arise instead of being shocked and discouraged by their presence. So the idea isn't to avoid problems (which is impossible); it's to deal with them in a way that strengthens your relationship instead of weakening it.

What's needed is a life-long commitment on the part of both of you to deal directly and constructively with the myriad of issues involved in building a life together. Without such a commitment and without good coping skills, the anger, hurt, jealousy, and resentment that most partners collect from their unresolved issues gradually extinguish the love they believed would never die.

It need not be so. You do not have to join those who dissolve their relationships when they are unable to live together happily, and you do not have to resign yourself to hanging on in a relationship that is increasingly lifeless. You can direct the course of your love in a positive way, but you first need to rethink some of your attitudes and assumptions about love.

This is not a simple matter for most of us. The very fact that our ideas about love are based on assumptions means that we never thought through them in the first place; we just accepted them at face value. Unfortunately, most of our attitudes are based on fantasy and on the myths we've just discussed. You really can't get about the business of taking control of the course of your love until you question what it is you assume to be true—and update your beliefs to reflect reality.

Copyright ©1992 Peggy Vaughan and James Vaughan, Ph.D.

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