I’m not a fan of this aphorism. It’s true, in the sense that all human endeavours are sometimes hard work and that love is not some magical exception that just perfectly coasts along for years if you are sufficiently star-kissed or pure of heart. But it can also be a excuse for tolerating a truly unhealthy relationship.
We all know people who should just leave their partners. Whose relationships seem to be built on tears and stubbornness. What I’ve found particularly disheartening, though, is learning that friends are in this type of relationship after I’ve shared a “love sometimes takes work” story. Say I’ve been complaining about how my wife and I haven’t seen much of each other recently – haven’t really been present for each other – and lamented that sometimes you have to work hard to make sure that complacency doesn’t lead to neglect. They may nod and say, “relationships take work. For example, my wife phoned me from her spa hotel at the weekend and screamed at me for forgetting to charge her mobile for her before she left, so she had to buy a new iPhone 7, but the account was overdrawn from the spa bill, so the payment was rejected and she was humiliated, and so had to use the credit card instead. And when was I going to start earning proper money because her spa-friend’s husband is a CEO?”
They then wryly reflect on their emotionally abusive partner with a smile and a sigh, and say again, “I guess love takes work”.
Well, yeah, but it shouldn’t be a bloody labour of Hercules.
Anything worthwhile takes work, but it should be work focussed on doing necessary but time-consuming tasks that move you towards your goals, not massive sacrifices in order to make life tolerable. Improving your communication skills to express your needs and understand your partner is a good thing; trying your best to not cry or rage when your partner has humiliated you in front of their friends again is not.
I think limerents are especially vulnerable to this tendency. First, there’s the idealisation of LO, and second, there’s the romantic view that “if I love them hard enough, this will get better”. The splendour and power of limerence tends to amplify the significance of love in a limerent’s mind. Something as potent as this must be life changing, they think – indeed it already has changed the limerent’s life. Everything changed when they found and bonded to LO – their whole world was upended, so naturally enough they think that if only the same reaction can be provoked in LO then all their selfishness and pettiness will be washed away.
Instead, of course, the LO behaves just as they always did, and the limerent keeps rationalising.
So, that’s why I have a problem with the “love takes work” cliché. At one level it’s a sober reminder that nothing good comes easy and that you should take nothing for granted. At another level, it’s a fig leaf for unreasonable behaviour.
In summary, purposeful work = good. Desperate slog = bad.