Dear Married Couples,
Do you still feel love for the person you married? I truly hope so. But in many marriages, feelings of closeness are superseded by negative emotions. So since Valentine’s Day is coming, I’d like to share some ideas for how to create a love that can endure life’s ups and downs.
When I say love, I’m of course not talking about the butterflies-in-stomach, excited, in-love feeling. This type of very romantic, blissful love, the kind we celebrate on Valentine’s Day, usually lasts only a couple of years. But beyond this honeymoon phase, it is possible—through effort, sacrifice, and sometimes a readjustment of priorities—to maintain warmth, connection, and a deep appreciation for your spouse.
The concept of “love languages” was crystallized from the work of counselor and author Gary Chapman who spent years trying to understand why couples coming to him said they were expressing love to their spouse, while spouses said they were not receiving it.
Chapman discovered that there are five ways in which people across cultures give and receive love: through physical touch, words of praise, acts of service, gifts, and spending quality time together. What he realized is that each of us has a primary language that makes us feel loved. However, often our spouse’s primary language is different from what we think it is, so for example a husband might shower his wife with gifts, while what she really wants is physical affection or to have her role appreciated.
So learning what your spouse’s love language is and then using it to communicate often with him or her is a good way to start building your bond.
In addition to love languages, Chapman also studied the attributes of people who are successful at loving, and he distilled seven key characteristics: kindness, patience, forgiveness, courtesy, humility, generosity, and honesty. These virtues apply to any relationship but certainly form a solid foundation for marriage.
In his book, “Love as a Way of Life,” Chapman gives an example of how kindness can transform a marriage:
“One husband shared his experience: ‘I had been harsh with my wife by cutting down her ideas and telling her that what she said was not logical. I raised my voice and told her exactly what I thought. She walked out of the room, and I returned to the ball game on television. Thirty minutes later she walked in with a sandwich, chips, and a Coke, all neatly arranged on a tray. She placed the tray on my lap and said. ‘I love you.’ Then she kissed me on the cheek and walked out. I sat there thinking. This is not right. This is not supposed to happen. … Her kindness overwhelmed me. I put the tray down, went into the kitchen, and apologized.”
The book has many more enlightening anecdotes and practical support to help you develop a more loving relationship.
Masculine and Feminine Natures
A lack of understanding of the different and complementary natures of men and women is a big stumbling block in many modern marriages. While men and women are capable of doing the work traditionally allotted the other gender, for example, men can do a good job caring for children and women can be successful breadwinners, the reality is that when given a choice, most people make lifestyle choices that follow traditional gender roles because it is what they find most fulfilling.
For example, men have a natural desire to protect and provide, and women want a strong, protective mate. Women also have a natural desire to nurture children. Often when a woman hits 30, her priorities shift dramatically from a focus on career to a focus on family, and many women prefer to work part-time or not at all in order to stay home with their very young children.
In various lectures and interviews, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson points out that he has seen many women who, after rising to the top of their fields, decide to quit in their 30s because it is simply more meaningful to them to have time with their families.
When couples make choices outside of traditional roles, it can lead their relationship off-kilter, for example, women may be less content as the main income earners after children come along, and the resulting stress and resentments can really take a toll on marriage.
For more insight on masculine and feminine natures and how to optimize your life for marital love, I recommend the work of relationship coach Suzanne Venker. She’s authored several books and you can listen to her podcast “The Suzanne Venker Show.”
Women Lead Relationships
Another facet of masculine and feminine natures is that when it comes to the tenor of a relationship, it is women who set the tone. This means both that many issues arise from the woman’s side (although they may look like they are coming from the man’s) and that she can do a lot on her own to create harmony.
In general, men are less emotional and simpler in their desires compared to women who tend to be more emotionally savvy but also more critical and easily dissatisfied.
The Husband Store joke illustrates this difference:
A store that sells husbands has opened up in town. A sign at the entrance explains there are six floors and the value of the husband increases on each floor. However, a woman can only enter the store once and can only go up the floors or exit the building.
On the first floor of the Husband Store are men who have jobs. On the second they have jobs and are good with kids. On the third, in addition to having jobs and being good with kids, they are also good-looking. On floor four, the men also help with housework, and on floor five, in addition to all the other attributes, the potential husbands have a strong romantic streak.
Most women who come to the store think, “Wow, I wonder what men on the top floor are like.” On the sixth floor, they find a sign that reads:
“You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.”
Across the street is the Wife Store, only the first two floors have ever been visited.
Having high standards and being attuned to one’s emotions are good to a point, but yin needs yang for balance, and so too do women benefit from men being stoic. If she replaces criticism with the desire to fulfill his relatively simple desires, she will be richly rewarded with affection.
For more on this and useful advice on embracing the best of traditional femininity, I recommend the book: “Fascinating Womanhood” by Helen Andelin.
In conclusion, the message I hope you take from this is that, despite what you might have heard, you can build a strong and enduring bond with your spouse and live your own happily ever after together. The caveat is that you will have to sacrifice, but of course this is true for achieving anything worthwhile.
Do you have a family or relationship question for our advice columnist, Dear June? Send it to DearJune@EpochTimes.com or Attn: Dear June, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001.
June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.