The Necessary Death that Saves All Relationships

I never thought I would ever want to give up chocolate (regular chocolate that is). Now, some people may not like it, but I believe, on the whole, most people like some form of chocolate. Myself, I prefer dark chocolate.

When I met my husband, the first thing he warned me was that if I hooked up with him I would lose all desire for regular, store-bought chocolate. Why? Because he makes his own chocolate. He sources the beans, he roasts them, cracks them, turns them into chocolate liquor, adds a few (very few) ingredients, and then grinds the whole thing into the absolute best chocolate I have ever eaten.

It’s hard to describe my husband’s chocolate to most other people. And this is simply because they’ve never had anything like it. So, when I say, “It’s really good. It’s way better than other chocolate.” They simply smile and nod—humoring me, of course. I know what they’re thinking because it’s the same thing I thought when my husband told me the desire for all other chocolate would die after having his chocolate.

Arrogant? No. Boastful? Maybe. True? Yes.

And, so it must be for other people. If they wish to have the “best chocolate” they must be willing to let the desire for the “regular stuff” die. And the same goes for love. There’s regular, over-processed, homogenized (made to taste all the same every time you eat it) chocolate, which is great comparison for “being in love.” Then, there’s the bean-to-bar chocolate, which is a great comparison for “true love.” The former always leaves you wanting more and never is enough because it’s pleasures just can’t seem to last. The latter, however, is so “real” that it provides something lasting.

Being “in love” is not all it’s cracked up to be because it is not “true”

For all relationships, there’s a sort of “in love” period. I fall in love with my four-year-old every day. She’ll do something absolutely adorable or amazing or intelligent beyond her years and I simply swoon. Best friends (plutonic) have beginning moments where they find they have so much in common and trust in each other gets reinforced, and it’s very like a type of “in love” feeling. BFF necklaces are exchanged and they can’t spend enough time together. Then, especially romantic relationships start with infatuation and transition (often quickly) to being “in love.”

But, in every relationship, this “in love” feeling always eventually gets challenged by what I like to call “reality.” My four-year-old succumbs to an irrational fit. A best friend finds an interest apart from us, or fails to be there when we need them. And, especially, in a romantic relationship, the infatuation begins to wear off when the person holding our romantic interest does something that goes against our expectations or some of their negative traits begin to show up more frequently. Basically, we get hurt. All relationships hurt us, then the walls of “in love” come crashing down.

And this is when being in love suddenly becomes a problem. Because it is a drug of sorts; a euphoric haze that has us living in an idealistic cloud world. It’s awesome. There’s no denying it. But, the higher we jump the harder we fall. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t jump high. But I am merely indicating that the capacity for hurt increases in proportion to the bliss.

The bliss, we signed up for. The hurt, not so much. And this is where a very critical relationship death must take place in order for us to move beyond being “in love” to a very special thing called “true love.”

In other words, being “in love” cannot be our main goal. If it is, we will consistently settle for mediocre chocolate instead of graduating to the “real stuff.” And, let me tell you, mediocre chocolate never satisfies. We always go back for more and more, often binging on what is a very good treat. But in binging we end up sick, and very likely overweight. In a literal way, when we binge on the idea of being “in love” we end up with continual disappointment and the heavy weight of emotional issues. We focus all our efforts on producing the ideals (in ourselves or another) that created our in-love feelings to begin with. Losing weight, new clothes, more time together, more expensive dates, more expensive jewelry, and yet…it just doesn’t seem to last.

Perhaps the worst thing about “being in love” is that it can never be “true love.” It can only lead to true love. It is, as nearly as I can figure, a necessary beginning to true love—because it leads us to make promises and commitments—but it can never be, in and of itself, true love. Being in love puts us in a haze so that we will make covenants, commitments, and bind ourselves to other people. Then, when the haze of “in love” wears thin, or off completely, we are bound by the promises we’ve made when “in love” even though we no longer feel in love. It is from this point, this death of “being in love” that we have at last placed ourselves within the range to progress toward true love.

True love requires the death of being in love

Now that I have had amazing chocolate, I can tell you from experience that the depth of taste, flavor, and nutrition of high quality chocolate (true chocolate) is such that I am satisfied after a 1 ounce bar. And I can bask in the glow of the experience easily rather than running back to the bowl for another fix. How? Because I am not attempting to recreate a feeling that has long past. The effects of it are still with me.

True love is the same. Because true love proceeds from a depth of understanding, a deliberate use free will, and personal character development it provides an ongoing security and satisfaction that being “in love” can simply never match. It stays with us. It doesn’t fade as long as we deliberately choose it.

True love is a result that comes from depth of understanding about people. People who find true love understand that no person, no matter how wonderful, can be perfect. No person can satisfy all of another person’s needs and should not be expected to. No person can be exactly what he or she has always dreamed of and expected him/her to be.

True love is also a result that comes from a depth of understand about self. People who find true love understand that they, themselves, can’t be perfect either. They understand that they can’t be another person’s all any more than the reverse; and that no amount of perfection on their part makes them more or less worth being loved by another.

Now, this understanding doesn’t mean that individuals don’t need to try to be their best selves. But, that it something that is individual, and not controllable (ultimately) by the other individual. And, no successful relationship can exist when one or the other individual presupposes that any amount of perfection on his/her part (or manipulation or coercion) will produce the ideal in the other. This is why it is so key to be careful who we fall in love with. A commitment is not lessened because we allowed ourselves to fall in love with someone who is not the kind of person we can live with. It only makes the commitment more difficult. We can control who we fall in love, or at least minimally who we make commitments with.

[For more commentary on being careful who we establish relationships with, please listen to my podcast The Stuff You Should Know About Relationships]

True love results from you, or I—once understanding our own and other’s imperfections—deliberating choosing to love anyway. We see an imperfect individual—once beyond the haze of being “in love”—and we choose to love them anyway. We choose to love someone even though they don’t meet all of our needs. We choose to love someone anyway even though they have the potential to hurt us as times—and often do.

Why would we choose to love when faced with reality instead of going back to finding another “in love” experience? Because learning to love as an act of our own deliberate will rather than because a mere feeling compels us to do so results in something that has the power to last. We can’t make any “in love” experience last. But, we can make our own love last forever. And, such a deliberate choice to love allows us to experience a fundamental and godly change in our very natures and internal character.

When we learn to love because we want to be a loving person, and because we genuinely want to influence others to be their best no matter what we receive in return, we experience a depth of peace and strength in our personal character that can’t be undone. True love becomes about us in an unselfish way because it is no longer dependent upon the actions of others. True love is freeing! We also begin to become godly and our power to influence others for good increases exponentially because our love can’t be wiped away simply by a change of feeling.

Haven’t you ever wondered how God can be so loving and so powerful at the same time?

Let me quote some C.S. Lewis here to make my point (reference in footnote):

But what, it may be asked, is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love? There are several sound social reasons… But there is also another reason of which I am very sure, though I find it a little hard to explain.

It is hard to explain because so many people cannot be brought to realize that when B is better than C, A may be even better than B. They like thinking in terms of good and bad, not of good, better, and best, or bad, worse, and worst…

What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being is love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness. But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ Being in love is a good thing. But it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was no ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, and your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.

Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

People get the idea from [media] that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last… The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this really mean it would be better not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. …if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more, it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. …the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying a good thing will not really live until it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned [person] for the rest of your life.

Death is not the end, it is the beginning

In gospel of Jesus Christ, the ultimate belief is that Christ’s death brought about the reality of eternal life. Death brought about life. The atonement of Jesus Christ (which encompasses His suffering for and paying Justice for our sins as well as His resurrection which vicariously allows us to be resurrected someday) is about sacrificing something to gain our greatest desire—life. And since God’s love is that which, by His will, brought about the death and resurrection of Christ (John 3:16); and God is love, then it would naturally follow that true love of any kind (paternal, friendship, or romantic/marriage) must follow the same pattern: the death and sacrifice of being ‘in love’ puts us in a position to progress toward real love, or love that is true.

Whether it is a child, sibling, friend, relative, or a current/future spouse, no love can be true until we are willing to stop pursuing the ‘in love’ feeling. If we do all that we do, in relationships, to seek that ‘in love’ feeling, we will consistently find ourselves disappointed. We will find that we are manipulative, selfishly motivated, easily offended and hurt, and possibly abusive (in many ways).

If we wish to save any relationship we must begin by first divorcing ourselves from our ‘in love’ ideals; that other people will meet our expectations or eventually act the way we wish. Or that somehow continually to re-invent and re-imagine ourselves (superficially) will return to us, or recreate, all of the sentimental in-love experiences we remember from the past. We must learn to love truly. We must learn to love because we wish to be loving, not because we are trying to manufacture a certain type of relationship or a certain feeling within that relationship.

True love is, and always will be, independent of our feelings. And only when we let the ‘in love’ feeling die will we at last open ourselves up to the ability to experience love in more powerful, and ultimately more exciting and lasting ways.

So, it’s about time to let go of your “store-bought” chocolate (i.e. love) and open yourself up to the idea that while some things are worse than regular chocolate (going without, I suppose), that does not make it great and most certainly not the best that there is available. Let your desire for only being ‘in love’ die and begin the process of seeking for the kind of love that builds, sustains, secures, heals, and nourishes forever.

BT


[1] The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics ©2002 by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. | Mere Christianity ©1952, C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed ©1980 C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., Christian Behaviour, Christian Marriage, pp. 92-94.

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