The main idea in marriage counseling is not about “communication,” although that could be part of it. The main idea is not about behaving right (like helping in the house), although that’s certainly a part of it. The main idea is not about thoughts and not fixed by cognitive behavioral therapy, although that has helped lots of people to a great extent. The main idea in marriage counseling IS about fanning the flames of passion and being happy together. If you don’t get that far, you haven’t done real marriage counseling.
Don’t get me wrong; communication is important. Behavior is important. But, communication and behavior would be important in business and in the classroom. They are important in the relationship between a child and a parent. Marriage has two added dimensions not found anywhere else and if those are not working right, then the marriage is missing some vital and irreplaceable things: passion and spiritual connection.
Passion gets “turned” off or on in a way that gives the impression of being out of our control although that is not necessarily so. Brain research shows that feelings are located in the most fundamental part of our brains and, indeed, when pathways for feelings are created in the brain, they are hard to change.
What’s more, if you never felt passion before, the feeling can certainly spring up. Obviously, there is always a first time. So either way, it is pre-programmed into our brains to be able to feel the flames of love for our significant other.
Do We Really Know The Person We Fell In Love With?
What keeps us from feeling that way? Well, let’s look at the reverse: What is “love at first sight?” When we first meet someone we fall for, the overpowering and wonderful feelings we feel are real and genuine. We are excited and happy to be with our special someone; we bask in their attention; we think the world of them. This could be called “chemistry.” Although these wonderful feelings are real, they are based more on wishful thinking than concrete reality. The truth is, there is no way to really know someone in such a short time. We don’t know that person’s downside, how he/she is under stress, whether he/she has a temper or a short fuse, how kind, generous, caring, and good-hearted he/she is. We may think we know these things based on a small sample of behavior but this lovely person really hasn’t been put to the test.
So why in the world did we fall in love? What fuels that chemistry? Here’s how it works: We observe samples of “nice” behavior and then WE fill in the blanks. In other words, we assume what the missing information really is. This is a normal and natural part of perception. If we see fancy print that misses parts of letters, such as /\, we think “oh, that is a letter A.” We fill in the missing information. Our brains do that automatically. Advertisers take advantage of this process all the time. They show sexy girls with their product and you are supposed to think (if you’re a guy): “I get this product and the sexy girls will want me,” or (if you’re a gal): “I get this product and I’ll look like them.”
Falling In Love Requires Seeing Only The Good
So we see someone who is polite, attractive, attentive to us, obviously interested in us, and we go “Wow! what a great person!” We really don’t know if that individual will be that way all the time. But it makes us so happy to believe he or she will.
In fact, our desire to be happy–a perfectly normal desire–is what causes the problems down the road when the wonderful person does some things that are not so wonderful. We overlook them. NOT because we are stupid, self-defeating, naive, or any of those other nasty things that people like to call themselves. We overlook them because we want so much to be happy that it is easier to do so than confront the truth. And anyway, there is generally a grain of kindness and goodness in nearly everyone. So it is very easy to overlook the bad. It is really a lovely part of being human to overlook the bad and see only the good. Not only does it keep us happy but it is a generous and good-hearted way to view other people. Not a bad thing.
Of course, it gets us into trouble. We may overlook and overlook until one day our dreams are ruined and we realize that we spent too long overlooking because there wasn’t enough goodness there to keep the relationship. We move on.
When The Going Gets Rough, Fall In Love Again The Same Way
So that is the flip side of the original question. Now suppose you have a good person, a really good person, in your life. But he/she has not been a saint, not been perfect. The road has been rocky but you want to keep the marriage. Only the feelings, the flame is gone. The process of getting it back is nearly the same one as the way we fall in love for a total stranger: Train our minds and hearts to emphasize the good.
Is that hard? It’s only hard if you want to keep being miserable by focusing on what’s bad. If you want to be happy, it’s actually fun. A requirement of this process is to learn humility.
We Need To Be Humble
Look at it this way. Say you’re 6 feet tall and next to you is a very small child, a three-year-old. You notice how very tall you are by comparison. Now, suppose you and that child were standing on a peak of the Grand Canyon, looking across at the vastness of the landscape and the towering rock formations. Suddenly, your big-deal tallness wouldn’t be very significant at all. The two of you, you and the small child, would both be quite small by comparison to the mountains. That recognition is humility. There’s a bonus: You’d be a lot closer to that little one than to the mountains with which you’re no competition.
Practicing humility is tricky. How do you get into it? By looking at your faults? Well, that’s a challenging question. I have trauma and abuse survivors create and read affirmations daily in order to get them out of the habit of focusing on their flaws which they frequently do entirely too much of. And the truth is, being humble is not the same as scrutinizing one’s flaws.
Humility can be defined as: an honest appraisal and awareness of one’s good and bad points.
Take That Balance Into A Relationship
In holding your not-so-wonderful qualities in awareness at the same moment that you are aware of and pleased with your better character traits, you cannot help but be accepting of another human being. He/she too has that balance between good and bad. What’s more, your awareness of that other person should take into the picture both sets of qualities just as you do for yourself. The focus on both ends produces a balanced feeling between being annoyed at the bad and delighted at the good. (This works well if your partner is a really good person, not for abusers.)
When you truly appreciate the other person, you have paved the way for passion.