According to Statista, about 40% of all first marriages in the United States end in divorce; 60% of all second marriages end in divorce; and fully 73% of all marriages end in divorce. Even the seemingly happy marriages, like the one between Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen, can end up on the rocks. When you fall in love and it ends poorly, it’s sad.
And yet, when two people get married, they are very much in love and convinced that their relationship will survive the toughest challenges. They vow to be there for each other, no matter what. So what happens? Why do people break up?
There’s really only one reason: they continue to be two individuals in a relationship, not realizing that there is a third entity that, if they paid attention to it and grew it, would make it possible for them to be there for each other, no matter what.
I think of that third entity as your Love Flame. It’s something you create, just between the two of you. It’s bright and shining at the beginning; if you both take good care of it, it will not only remain that way but it will become even brighter and shinier the longer you are together. There will be even more precious memories, even more situations to laugh about, and even more inside jokes that only take a raised eyebrow to set you both into fits of laughter, yet again.
If you both take care of it, it will become so bright and shiny that it will outshine little irritations and new wrinkles; it will put everything into perspective; it will be worth saving regardless of the personal cost, because it will become the most wonderful aspect of your life. It will become the love you always wanted and didn’t dare dream could be yours.
I can say all this with confidence because it happened to me. The day I started to truly possess and benefit from this concept was the day I put the Love Flame ahead of myself. The day I stopped keeping score and I stopped focusing on “my feelings.” Although I acknowledged them, they were just part of the equation. The most important part of the equation was the Love Flame, and its preservation.
Now, you can’t do this alone. This is something that two people create together. Yes, one person can have the vision and the other person can finally get on board. That’s what happened to me; my husband had the vision from the start, and I finally tossed away my old pre-marriage baggage and joined the journey whole-heartedly. I am eternally grateful that my husband hung in there until I started fully doing my part.
How to keep the Love Flame alight.
I’m going to write this hoping that you share it with your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, or husband. And then, I recommend that the two of you:
- Discuss the characteristics of your Love Flame. What does it look like? How does it make you both feel? When have you known it was in full flower, and when are the times one of you has snuffed it out?
- Discuss what you can do to keep your Love Flame alive. It’s not just “date nights” and making a point to make love often. It’s also the little things like not being irritated when the toilet seat is up, or the cap is off the toothpaste tube, or even the way the other person tends to drive. Face the fact, together, that ANY two individuals are going to have habits and tendencies that can easily irritate the other person. The trick is to acknowledge each one of them and come to an agreement about the best way to handle them. I’d even rank them on a scale of 1 – 10, so that the other person knows how much (or how little) that issue matters.
- Stop being irritated. Truthfully, when you decide you’re going to focus on the Love Flame instead of your respective egos and when you stop keeping score, you can let go of so many things. When someone comes to me for advice about how to reduce stress in their life, the first thing I talk about is the most appropriate reaction to any situation. “That’s interesting. What can I learn from this, and what should I do about it?” This reaction immediately removes the entire drama component—the fear, the anger, the shame or the blame—and gets you moving again, in the right direction. It also means that you and your partner will be able to discuss it, constructively, and to come up with a solution together.
For example, my husband was an inventor, engineer, and artist. He made things, and made them well, and always made even the most functional item a joy to look at. This was who he was, at his core. Even before I realized what the Love Flame was, I was determined to make sure he had the environment he needed to do what he loved.
So we found a house 26 years ago with a 60-foot RV garage that we turned into my husband’s shop. The shop wasn’t heated, so when he needed a warmer environment for painting, glue, or epoxy, he used several horizontal surfaces in the living room.
I could have been perpetually irritated that our living room was an extension of his shop, but I let it go. I decided I’d rather have a happy husband than a fancy living room.
This situation continued until he died, and I have since cleaned up those spaces. In doing so, I have realized that the cleanliness of those spaces was nowhere near as satisfying as sharing my days with my wonderful husband, and, since I am now in charge of doing repairs and managing remodeling, I have become almost as bad about using horizontal surfaces for ongoing projects.
Your spouse has a life, and you have a life. Your lives are made up of various interests, which matter to you. Accommodating those interests, and participating in them, should not be a bone of contention. Instead, they can be a new source of joy for you. My husband was also a dedicated sailor, and I joined him in that sport early on. One of our biggest accomplishments was the building of a 48-foot catamaran in South Africa and sailing it home to New England together. I will never forget that trip (it was my first ocean voyage, actually, after decades of sailing together on the San Francisco and Narragansett Bays). It was an awesome life-changing adventure that I relished and learned from.
- Realize that a Love Flame life will make you a better person. Everything I learned about myself, my husband, and our lives together made me a better person. I learned how to calm down and stop being offended. I learned to laugh at myself, which made me a better businessperson and manager. I became more open to any type of situation, never seeing challenges or uncomfortable situations as a threat, but as an opportunity to build my character. And don’t be slow to apologize. An apology is always the beginning of the rebirth of the Love Flame, and it will also make you a stronger person.
- Continue to make the Love Flame a priority in your lives. “We just grew apart,” is what so many couples say when they break up. If your focus is on yourselves, that’s almost guaranteed to happen. If your focus is on what you are building together, and you work together to preserve it, there won’t be a single problem that you can’t overcome.
Love is the most powerful force in the world; it heals, teaches, comforts, and creates. The longer you are in love the more you will grow and bring light into the world. You will inspire others.
And you will have achieved what everyone wants but few attain: A lifetime of being in love.