The other night on my drive home I called my grandpa to wish him a happy 83rd birthday. At the end of our conversation he paused and said, “I love you very much.” I immediately felt my eyes well up and my heart beat faster. Although I know he loves me, he doesn’t say the words often.
As I drove the rest of the way in silence, I thought how profoundly moving it was just to hear those words. How those few simple words changed my night and made my heart full. I was reminded of a line in the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” (highly recommend). Mark Manson, the author, in talking about his childhood says that he was “hurt by all the things that weren’t said, not by the things that were.”
We work so hard building walls, borders, and barriers to protect ourselves from being hurt. We rarely look someone in the eyes and say “I love you.” Yes, those words should be respected and there should be meaning behind them. But often there is and we don’t say them. We rob ourselves of the opportunity to feel what I felt driving home the other night because we are scared to be open and vulnerable.
Our “my way or the highway,” “eye for an eye,” and “what’s in it for me” mentalities toward relationships prevent us from living our best life. Being human is hard. Loving someone is scary. We will always have problems. We will mess up and struggle. We will get hurt and we will hurt others. But we can’t let that keep us from our best life.
When we view happiness and love as actions, not feelings, and as a constant work in progress, we may have a chance. I’ve been studying the success of arranged marriages, and comparing their constructs to our free choice marriages. Recent statistics show the divorce rate among arranged marriages as only 6% compared to around 50% among free choice marriages. Baffling, right?!
Most couples go into these arrangements barely knowing each other. No happiness or love, just commitment to build something together. They have low expectations for each other, which likely allows each of them some room to mess up and try again. Over time, people in arranged marriages report loving their partners just as deeply and intensely as those who were free to choose their partner. Often, even more! They work on happiness and love consistently. They also seem to separate their commitment to each other from their individual problems and needs, and put the work in to grow beyond their problems together. Much like we do with our kids.
When I was a teenager I was terrible to my parents. I would strategically lock the outside door of my bedroom and bathroom so that on Sunday morning they couldn’t get in to wake me up for church. I slapped my mom once for knocking over my bike when she pulled into the garage. These are just two of many examples of me being human. Being disrespectful and selfish. Had they not been my parents and committed to raising me, I’m 100% sure they would’ve quit me and shipped me off. They put their commitment to me above their individual needs and actions. So why aren’t we willing to do this in all our relationships?
My parents didn’t accept my behavior. We discussed my actions, why they were wrong and what I could do better next time. There were consequences, and I had to work to gain back their trust and respect. They just realized that I wasn’t a jerk, I was just acting like a jerk. They graciously separated my actions from me as a human. All that conflict actually made our love stronger, didn’t destroy it. We worked through my issues together.
The struggle, pain, and work were worth it because at the end of the day, what we had was even more love.