How to Choose Love
Making your marriage thrive by constantly choosing to love.
By now, many of us have seen Mandy Len Catron’s New York Times piece about using Arthur Aron’s 36 questions to fall in love. The point of the piece is that in making yourself emotionally vulnerable and available, you open yourself up to the possibility of love and ultimately through getting to know your partner, make a choice to love him or her. “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be” is the last line of the article. Love is a choice.
What the author neglected to mention, however (perhaps because she is so newly married) is that love is not a one-time choice, not a choice made once after a night of deep and intimate questions and staring into each other’s eyes. Love is a constant and continual choice – every day, every moment, I will choose to love this person. If I want my marriage to be alive and exciting, I have to keep choosing to love. And I have to express it through my actions and engage in behaviors that reinforce it.
This behavior, while not necessarily conscious, is usually easy at the beginning of a marriage and much more difficult as we get more comfortable and busy with our own lives and sink ever deeper into habit and routine.
How do we keep our emotional connection alive? How do we help ourselves to “choose love” over and over and over again, all day long? (These points obviously apply to husbands and wives equally!)
1. Give and give and give some more. Remind yourself that giving leads to caring and not the other way around. Don’t keep score. This isn’t a business arrangement. And this isn’t about your spouse’s character, it’s about yours.
We are all either givers or takers. Regardless of how our spouse behaves, who do we want to be? I believe that if our spouse is emotionally healthy, then the Talmud’s dictum “If you treat him like a king, he will treat you like a queen” will be fulfilled. But that shouldn’t be our motivation. We just want to be givers. And we want to express our giving to the people we care most about in this world.
2. Forgive. At the risk of sounding cliché (or out of tune), “Let it go.” Don’t hold on. Don’t bear a grudge. Move on. Not only does the Torah prohibit bearing a grudge (or taking revenge for that matter), it is so destructive to our marriage. Be the first to apologize, even if you were right because of course you were! Don’t employ the silent treatment – which only serves to give you even less of what you wanted which was time with your spouse. And don’t expect your spouse to be a mind reader and then get angry when they don’t read it correctly. If you want something, say so. But most of all, let it go. No anger or resentment is worth holding on to. It is corrosive to your soul and to the soul of your marriage.
3. Focus on their virtues. Keep a list of the reasons you married your spouse and refer to it in times of frustration. Your spouse’s core hasn’t changed; life’s challenges have just gotten in the way. We’ve lost track of the good qualities that initially attracted us and gotten in the habit of focusing on the wrong things. Review that list regularly.
4. Be interested – in his life, his job, his hobbies, his friends. You don’t have to participate but you should be interested. If you demonstrate interest in the trivial, then your spouse will feel safe opening up to you about the important things – his hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments. Being interested means listening carefully and being focused only on him.
5. Be interesting – we all need to keep growing and challenging ourselves. We need to keep learning and acquiring new skills and interests – and sharing them with our partners. The more vibrant and curious we stay, the more we are motivated to keep striving and challenging ourselves, the more alive our relationship will be. No matter how long we are married, there should still be a sense of discovery. We must fulfill our share of the responsibility.
6. Be positive and supportive. No one wants to come home at the end of a long, hard day to a grumpy and complaining spouse. (No one wants to start their morning off with them either!) We recognize how unpleasant it is to be around a friend who is always negative and down; how much more so if it is your spouse! Yes, maybe it was a genuinely hard day and yes, maybe they all are (!) but we have to give our mates the chance to catch their breath and relax into being home before we launch into the negative (if we do at all).
7. Face challenges together, as a unified front. No one’s life is without challenges and the longer you are married, the greater the chances you will face some. Unfortunately, sometimes challenges pull couples apart instead of pushing them together. Everyone has different coping strategies and responses. Additionally, if it is a family issue, just being with your partner may be a painful reminder of the situation. Nevertheless, we need to keep communicating. And we need to recognize that no one coping strategy is better than the other – whether it’s emotional or practical or something in-between. Don’t judge. Just support.
8. Be realistic. Real marriage isn’t a Hollywood movie or a romance novel. Our spouses aren’t perfect and guess what, neither are we! But it can be deeper and richer and more rewarding because we are real people, learning and growing and facing life together, with a true appreciation for and pleasure in the spouse we are sharing the journey with (don’t ever compare!) – the one who is “my guy” or “my girl”.