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.
Faraz Asim says
Ive realised that i am most of the time thinking about the nostalgia of the previous years or i am thinking about future fantasies as i am hardly living in the present. Now i am practicing how to live in the present. I do miss that adrenaline or limerence rush though, that i used to feel in the past and it made me do things that i cannot get the will power to do now. 2 years ago, when i was in a relationship with my borderline ex, i remember that i ended up doing a 19 hours static shift (From 9 am till 4 am next morning) as a Security Guard at an NRL Match (Sunday 3rd Oct 2016) screening in Sydney (Australia). I was so inspired by or addicted to my borderline ex that i ended up making enough money to buy her a $499 heart pendant so i could give it to her one day. My fellow security guards who were working with me, were astonished to see me foot patrolling the premises very aggressively going back and forth like a robot from point A to point B around 6 pm (9 hours into the shift). They told me to slow down but my brain was not saying that i was tired when in fact i was physically tired. Little did they know that i was lost in my fantasy world (Me and my borderline ex as husband and wife) and that fantasy gave me the adrenaline or limerence rush to keep going. Now 2 years later, i am in a healthy relationship, the lack of adrenaline or limerence state of mind meant that i find it painful to stand even 4 hours as a static security guard. I now work as a gate house security guard in an office for Caterpillar where i get to sit for long hours and do some random foot patrolling around the premises. Long story short, my fantasies made me do extraordinary stuff. How can i get the same adrenaline or the somewhat healthy level of limerence state of mind one day with my emotionally healthy partner so i make the extra ordinary effort to develop healthy love and secure attachment?
Eduardo (Eddie) says
Drop the wife. Keep the iphone.
Allie 1 says
I have been reflecting on this topic a lot recently. Especially “sometimes you have to work hard to make sure that complacency doesn’t lead to neglect”. The real challenge comes when you are the one on the receiving end of that neglect. My relationship with SO is not a “hard slog” at all, he is good man – warm, kind, generous and my best friend (when he has the time to be). But no amount of hard work on my part will resolve marital complacency that I do not own. I can only communicate how I feel (and have). Yet to my SO, it is forever tomorrow’s problem because he knows he is safe.
This is what lies at the heart of my LE…. I love them both (in very different ways) but LO would be a better partner to me than my SO is. I might end up a bit worse off financially, but I would be happier with him. If neither of us had kids and LO was an option, would I still be with SO right now? No, I believe I would have rolled the dice and taken a chance on something new. But we do, so nothing can or will ever happen.
Accepting one’s reality is sometimes the hardest slog of all.
Hi Allie, that’s a rough spot to be in. It seems you’re doing your best to accept it but I wonder if, deep down, it’s just not possible to truly accept it, and if this rough spot is a sustainable place to be in.
Is it possible to have a more frank conversation with your SO about your lack of satisfaction due to complacency? Without going into depth of detail about being in love with your LO, but being brutally honest that it’s taking a real toll on you and on how you feel about the marriage. In my experience men often do not understand just how deep our dissatisfaction goes until we have that kind of conversation about it. (In my experience actually my ex-SO didn’t understand even after brutally honest conversations, and not until after I left him, but that’s another story)
I will just add that if you have been crystal clear about how this affects you, and your SO still thinks of it as forever tomorrow’s problem “because he is safe”, which is exactly what my ex-SO felt, that can breed a lot of resentment down the line. I personally never resented my ex-SO as a human being but I did come to resent how selfish the whole “I’m safe, so I’m ok pretending this isn’t an issue” attitude was, and that’s what eventually drove me over the edge.
Allie 1 says
Thanks Reader, I really appreciate your advice, and am curious to understand what happened to you.
The thing is though is that my marriage may not meet my expectations or all my needs, but it is OK, certainly not so bad as to warrant me leaving… I am not suffering and I don’t resent him as there are plenty of positives to offset the lacks. I accepted how things are years ago, I forged a good purposeful life for myself and even learned to embrace my relative marital freedom. But then I met LO and I now can’t seem to quell my yearnings and shift my mindset back to what it was.
I have been brutally honest. SO is fully aware of my dissatisfaction, my LE and how I feel about LO. It does not worry him at all, so long as there is no PA. SO really loves me thus wants to remedy the issue and his response is “yes, I really must do xyz” but he has been saying that for over a decade… he is the ultimate mañana man.
I think that some problems just do not have a solution… other than to tolerate them or leave. In the end, my banging my head against a wall is creating more suffering for me than the problem itself does.
Allie, you write “SO is fully aware of my dissatisfaction, my LE and how I feel about LO. It does not worry him at all, so long as there is no PA.” The thing is, what should worry him isn’t an affair, but that his wife is not really happy or satisfied.
“SO really loves me thus wants to remedy the issue and his response is “yes, I really must do xyz” but he has been saying that for over a decade… he is the ultimate mañana man.” The way I see it, there are two possibilities really for why he’s stalled on changing for a decade. Either his main concern is really that you stay with him, and not necessarily that you are happy and satisfied, and so he doesn’t *really* want to do the hard work of growth and change. Or he really does want you to be satisfied but *cant* do that hard work, for whatever reason, but indicates he understands in order to (in his mind) not inflame the situation more. Either way, it’s not a sustainable way of dealing with the problem.
I understand that your marriage is OK and that’s good, and I never meant you should leave like I did, but I would also not be too harsh on yourself about “banging your head against the wall” as if it’s for no reason. It is a natural reaction to not having core needs met. I was also banging my head against the wall, and I didn’t have an LE at the time and it had nothing to do with any other man. I may even venture to say that even if your LE manages to end, you would still find yourself banging your head against the wall unless things change on your SO’s end, or unless you become completely desensitized to these core needs…
Allie 1 says
I understand what you are saying here and I appreciate your advice. You make some good valid points, although of course the reality is far more nuanced than that.
I guess the way I see it is that the underlying explanation is not worth ruminating over as SOs thoughts and actions are totally beyond my sphere of control. I can only change my own mental narratives and behaviour, and it is ultimately my job in life to make sure my needs are met one way or another, not anyone else’s.
The banging head against a brick wall comment relates to expecting someone else, even someone that loves me and wants to do better, to put the sustained long-term effort required to change themselves in order to meet my needs at their personal expense. It feels futile. As we all know, lifelong marriage between two imperfect people with imperfect communication requires compromising, and sometimes those compromises are so painfully difficult that they flirt with the boundary of acceptability. I guess my attitude may seem like a weak cop-out, where SO gets away with it, but I see acceptance as both an active personal choice and an empowering journey.
Now I just need to somehow apply this utopian philosophy to my LE 🙂
Blue Ivy says
I reflected on your post quite a bit. It is a tough spot to be in. But I think you are the only person to make that decision on whether – weighing everything – it makes sense to accept or change things.
Your SO has not shown initiative in a decade for meeting the needs you have clearly stated. So he’s not going to change anything. So the ball really is in your court. You strike me as a very ethical & honest person. You can choose to make peace with the situation (which I believe you had till this LE/LO came along), or to decide that you will just not accept status quo. Both are legitimate choices. Personally I have made both choices at different times in life when I was in a relationship dynamic I did not like. When latter… things did change… they had to because I just was not going to accept what existed. However, there can be costs to it.
Feels almost trite to ask you this, but will your SO at least go to marriage counseling with you if you insisted on that? That would be a start.
Allie 1 says
Thanks Reader, Blue Ivy. Your kind responses generated a surprising degree of internal resistance within me. Thus I did a bit of soul searching and came to see that I really want companionship, loving attention, romance, emotional intimacy, good sex, etc, just not with SO! I believe that ship sailed 10 years ago, during our troubled phase (SOs gambling addiction). I could weep for the hopeful, excited, attentive, romantic, sexual couple we once were. But things have been the way they are for so long now that I have learned to truly embrace our relaxed, open, supportive but independent and familial friendship-based marriage, and the thought if sex with him is just a bit ‘ick’. I must add that this is nothing to do with my LO as it pre-dates him by years.
What I deeply want here is for both SO and I to actually want ‘more’ together. But we don’t so I feel like getting couples therapy would be akin to asking someone to make us enjoy having our teeth scaled, or drinking a cup of insect smoothie.
Is this just the realities of middle age? Or is there really something important missing from my life? And is it so important as to be worth deeply hurting everyone that I love most in the world, including myself, SO, kids, our friends & families, not to mention destroying our shared home and finances… just for me to chase after it? Will I forever be falling in and out of limerence if I do not?
Hi Allie, I was hoping my comment did not upset you, so I did not want to say more. But it is great you’ve also been soul searching despite internal resistance, that’s probably when soul searching is most important.
Here are my 2 cent answers to your questions.
“Is this just the realities of middle age?” I don’t think these are the realities of middle age though it probably is more common than what we think; it does seem something important is missing from your life and has been for a while. I believe limerence is a response to emotional pain, like Dr L has frequently said, in which case this persistent pain can at least partly explain why (if I remember correctly from your comments) you feel reluctant to let go of your LE.
“Is it so important as to be worth deeply hurting everyone that I love most in the world, just for me to chase after it?” I think your LO/LE is the symptom, not the problem itself, and that the key is really your marriage and your fulfillment in it. Regardless, though, what’s for sure is that ending any relationship to chase after an LO is never a good idea (have experience in this myself unfortunately). Maybe a good mental exercise is to momentarily remove LO out of the equation, in that you assume for example you can never be together for whatever reason. Do you see a path forward for being genuinely be happy and fulfilled long term in your marriage? Or do you believe you may be happier on your own *regardless of whatever happens or does not happen with LO*? These are not easy things to think about but I think it’s the only way for finding the right answer for you, for your life, for your purpose.
I wish you all the best, you seem like a very kind, thoughtful, and reflective person and partner and I am sure this ability to soul search even when facing internal resistance can only do you good.
There are examples of relationships ending that don’t bring the whole world crashing down. I don’t know what to say advice wise, I haven’t been in shoes remotely like yours!
But I do know, that if you make a decision to leave, then others also have a responsibility upon themselves not to turn it into something catastrophic. The only question I have is how old are the children?
One thing though, I wouldn’t leave with the intention of going to LO.
That increases the risk in the situation a great deal. Which oddly leads to the final question…
How much is the limerence colouring your feelings? If you can, do you know what order things came in? Missing marital intimacy first, or the limerence?
Oh my god! One more thing. Something that happened when I was married. My SO felt that we didn’t do enough togetherade small, but reasonable demands. We always had a meal together in the evening, because I’d got into the habit of locking myself away with studying. We also put specified time aside… Again, I had been withdrawing without much consideration. When it was explained with solid, but not overwhelming solutions which added up over time, things improved and we got stronger as a couple.
Later in the marriage, there were changes needed that we couldn’t adapt so well to, and we separated. It was amicable, but there was no mortgage and no children. So it was fairly straightforward in practical terms.
I had a long term married friend with two children who were young adults. She left her husband, and when we spoke she told me that she had been thinking about it on and and off for 11 years! She left when their youngest had secured a place at university. There was a mortgage. Her husband was devastated and that was hard, the children are old enough to understand what ‘I’m not happy’ means and to want their mum to be happy. They’ve been fine. So…
I don’t know. But I still wrote a lot! 😀
Wishing you well with this xxx
Allie 1 says
My daughters are pre-teen and early teen so still quite young.
I think what I am failing to convey here is that MY world would be brought crashing down if I left SO. I love him, am partially financially dependent as a result of motherhood, and am not unhappy exactly as our shared life is good. I just have unmet needs that should be met by marriage but are not, and probably never will be, hence I worry that this will leave me forever vulnerable to LEs.
I suspect there is no equitable solution to this conundrum and I should just stop whining about it and consider myself lucky in what I do have! 🙂
Haha! I’ve not come across this post before. Agree 100%. I also agree, there are too many people who rationalise massive incompatibilities verging on mutual contempt with these sorts of sayings. It’s only a short distance between that and stuff like ‘he only gets so angry because he loves me.’