Adapted from ACT with Love self-help book for couples, Russ Harris
When I first met my husband I was head over heels in love, I really was!. I thought he was the answer to my prayers, the one who was going to complete me, and I felt that way about him from the day we first met up until about 2 days into our honeymoon. During the (admittedly in our case very short) honeymoon phase I felt amazing. I felt in love, happy, full of excitement. I thought to myself, this is what all the fuss is about! I had finally found true love, and it was wonderful…
Then suddenly, the intoxicated, head over heels, feeling kind of just went away… As time went on I started to see my husband’s flaws, and they started to grate at me more than they ever had. A few days into our honeymoon, we had our first argument and the feelings of love I had felt towards him swiftly disappeared for some time. The feelings did return, but when this first happened, I panicked. I thought that perhaps we weren’t meant to be together after all. Perhaps we weren’t soul mates…
From then on, the love I felt for my husband would disappear everytime we would not see eye to eye, and in its place would come anger, bitterness, resentment, loneliness. The “love” feelings would come back again when we were on better terms, then would disappear again, come back again, and disappear again etc. I was worried…Wasn’t true love meant to last forever, wasn’t true love easy, like we see in the movies?
Over time I have realised that perhaps these were in fact myths I had brought into about love. I have now, years on, come to a new found perspective on love and conflict that has had a profound and positive impact on my relationship, and on the relationship of hundreds of other couples.
What if relationships were never meant to be perfect? What if it is the imperfections that offer the most learning and growth. What if, it is the myths that we have about love, that set us up for struggle?
In his book Russ Harris writes about love as a feeling…
“Feelings change. They are like the weather. Even during the hottest summer or the coldest winter, the weather continually changes—and our emotions are no different. So no matter how wonderful your partner, no matter how great your relationship, those initial feelings of love will not last. But don’t be alarmed. Although they will inevitably disappear, they will also come back again. And then they will go again. And then they’ll come back again. And so on, and so on, and so on, until the day you die. And it’s the same deal with every human emotion—from fear and anger to joy and bliss. Feelings come and they go, surely as spring follows winter.”
So, from this perspective, we learn that ‘love feelings’ can come and go at a whim just like all other feelings…they cannot be controlled necessarily, they cannot be brought forth reliably, and they cannot be depended upon to keep a loving relationship going.
If you are only able to act in a loving way when you feel love, then you’re going to find yourself acting in a non-loving way a whole lot of the time…What if then, instead of viewing love as a feeling, we can view it as an ACTION that we can DO, and are committed to take, regardless of whether the feeling is there?
What if we can learn to ACT WITH LOVE even if we don’t feel love?
We do this all the time in other areas (feeling angry but acting calm, feeling nervous but acting confidently) ..and what impact does it have on our relationship if we can do this? Let’s have a look at how this plays out in action:
Yesterday, my husband and I were not getting on. We were snapping at each other, making hurtful comments, shouting etc. In the end we walked away and didn’t speak to each other for some time. We were angry and fed up with each other. We know from past experience that nothing good comes from this. We used to be able to go for days without talking, but we’ve realised that behaving in this way doesn’t resolve the issue. Instead, it leaves us feeling miserable, distant, and the bottom line is that nobody wins…
On this particular day, my husband did something different. Rather than giving me the silent treatment for hours on end, he came into the room soon after our argument and tried to apologise. He asked if we could hug even though I know he didn’t feel like it.
When he did this, I wasn’t ready to engage, I didn’t want to be near him let alone hug him…I was still annoyed at him and wanted to tell him why he was to blame. Every part of me wanted to push him away and say no, but we’d been down this road so many times before. So, I did something different. I chose to put to one side those thoughts about who’s to blame, and had to remind myself of the sort of partner I want to be and the sort of relationship I want to build.
I then ACTED with love, even though I didn’t feel love. I accepted his hug, and hugged him back, taking some deep breaths to calm down those angry thoughts and feelings. I wasn’t completely calm, but I didn’t care, I had accepted his embrace and tried to reciprocate. At this point we’d usually either be shouting at each other or even worse becoming more and more withdrawn from each other and distant. By acting with love, we had on this occasion, been able to completely change the course of the conflict. It had been extremely empowering for both of us.
We’re not always able to resolve issues in this way, but this perspective has been one that has been most transformational for our relationship. So, we have learned that feelings of love are fleeting and often not in our control, but the actions of love ARE in our control, and can be carried out at will, anytime, anyplace, to build the loving relationship we have always dreamed of.