CCM’s Consciously Coupled Relationship Series :: What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

*Consciously Coupled* explores everything relationships from local moms AND a licensed couples counselor. We’re discussing couples therapy, the pros and cons of relationship books, tips on navigating cross-cultural relationships, how to find time alone as a couple, and MUCH MORE! See the entire series here.

Sorry about that earworm you’re now going to have stuck in your head! But, seriously, what is love and marriage?

I asked readers this question when I sent out a survey about marriage and relationships. 

My first question? “What is love?” 

Among the questions were, “How did you know this was the one?” and “What would you change about your partner if you could?” Finally, I wanted to know what you felt was hard about marriage and asked what advice readers had for those starting their relationship journey.

Fourteen women responded, and I think you’ll love what they have to say. 

Survey Says…(this is love)

When asked, “What is love?” an overwhelming majority of women responded: commitment and deep connection. Ultimately, choosing your partner over and over again, regardless of the hardships, is a choice. Being committed means, you choose your partner, even when the going gets rough.

When asked why this was the person they wanted to stay committed, they gave me a few reasons:

  • Same value system
  • A shared sense of humor
  • Safety and security
  • Similar life goals

These are the exact responses I typically get when I ask couples in an intensive workshop I occasionally hold on relationship satisfaction. 

Carl and Ellie Teach Love & Marriage

In that class, I always start with a mashup of Carl and Ellie from the Disney movie Up. Here’s a snippet if you haven’t seen it:

What Carl and Ellie teach us about love and marriage is that while life is full of ups and downs, the most exciting way to travel through this life is alongside a person with whom you can “do life together.” Having shared goals, making big life decisions, traveling, supportive dreaming, and shared hobbies are the top reasons marriages work for the long term.

One person reported that she and her husband go on adventures together—fly planes (in their own plane!), sail the Caribbean (in their own boat!), and spend time in their tiny cabin together. The responder implored that even though you think only “fancy” people do these things, it really just takes shared dreaming and couple goals setting to make these things happen! 

I can attest to what the research says about love and marriage, that yes, the happiest couples are the ones engaging in the richness of life and aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone and expand in larger-than-life ways. Or just raise kids together and enjoy each other’s presence. That works, too.

Overall, the couples I surveyed seemed to dig each other, and I was eager to know why.what is love

One of the main ingredients of overall love and marriage satisfaction is staying emotionally connected. It isn’t enough that you just “do life” together, but you also want to feel safe, secure and seen. 

A.R.E. You There for Me?

Couples researcher Dr. Sue Johnson has an acronym for this, A.R.E. Each question must be able to answer “yes” to the question, “Are you there for me?” The acronym sums up happy couples nicely. Satisfied couples are:

(A)ccessible
(R)esponsive
(E)ngaged 

When I asked respondents to tell me what was hard about being in their committed partnership, by far the overwhelming majority said two things: 1) having kids and 2) navigating the different ways in which you’re different as an individual. 

We can attest to this, right, Moms? 

While almost 100% of those I interviewed have been in couples counseling, they all had some marriage advice they’d give to those starting. The top answers were: 

  • Take as much time as you need to work on yourself before getting into a committed partnership. Enjoy being single as long as you can because there is wisdom in learning who you are before you have to enter into a relationship full of compromise.
  • Work out as many obstacles as you can before you get married. Even so, remember that your partner’s shortcomings aren’t necessarily negatives. Instead, find what you love about your partner—their strengths—and keep a laser focus on those things.
  • It’s okay that you let each other down. Commitment is a choice. 

I can’t stress enough the importance of simply hanging in there when the going gets rough. I’m not talking about abusive or violent relationships in which you just cannot make it work. No one deserves to feel miserable, and some couples I’ve seen in my office are most definitely mismatched. This is a terrible feeling. 

However, when you find the partner, you feel the most emotionally connected to, and with whom you want to have shared goals, rituals of connecting, dreaming, just like Carl and Ellie teach us in Up. Strong love and a robust marriage need all of these for a for a powerful, committed partnership that can satisfy your whole lifetime.

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com

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