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Love or "In Love"?

Many are the times I have heard these words: "I love her [or him], but I'm not in love, if you know what I mean." The speaker is usually a husband [or wife] who has been married about five years.

Marriages have ended based on such thinking. Many marriages. But usually they should not.

Five years, roughly speaking, marks the transition from the beginning to the middle of a marriage. Often young married people are alarmed to find that at the five-year mark much of the excitement, passion, and freshness of the marriage has evaporated like that dream you were 100% convinced you would remember in the morning. Left with something that feels a lot more mundane and predictable, some of these people panic, leave their marriage, and start up with a new partner, no doubt expressing with great relief how the new relationship is full of all the excitement, passion, and freshness their previous and now-ruined marriage had lacked. You can imagine how shocked they are when the new relationship/marriage reaches the 5-year mark. Talk about returning to the scene of the crime!

The fact is that marriage is not usually glamorous or intoxicating. Sure there are periods when it is, and even 8, 16, 23, and 31 years in, we can re-experience those feelings that made courtship such a special time. But quite frankly, when people say marriage is work, they are not kidding.

Marriage has its seasons, and some years we feel passion, some years we are indifferent, some years we are constantly bickering, and some years we are simply best friends. The commitment that we made at the wedding was to share our lives - forever - not to be having hot sex or celebrating how we both like pizza, the Pretenders, and puppies like we just discovered our 8th grade crush.

Marriage can take on a more workmanlike caste as we move from year 5 to year 10. This is just fine. You're not going to be so intoxicated when you know the other person's bathroom habits and the sound of their snoring, or when you get a full sense of their personal shortcomings and the baggage they bring from family and previous relationships. Marriage is not about intoxication. Rather marriage is about the remarkable singularity of pledging to a life with another person and then rolling up our sleeves and working year in and year out to make that partnership work better.

In some marriages the sex comes easy, but then there are problems with in-laws. Or the finances are a mess but you both love fishing. There are always things to work on, and there will inevitably be low points to go along with the high points. It is working out the problems, and debating the big decisions, and the great project of raising children (for a majority of us) that give marriage its meaning and its depth.

So when you are feeling not so "in love," that is not usually sufficient reason to be leaving your marriage, or getting a girlfriend (for God's sake). Rather it is a time for going to your partner and saying, "I am feeling kind of disconnected" or "The marriage is just feeling really flat to me," and brainstorming together to find some strategies for livening things up. It's not different from saying, "We have to do something about our spending habits before we take on more debt."

So don't panic and do something crazy. Sit down and talk about it. Try some stuff. And be patient. The seasons are always changing.

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