Is Love Really All We Need?
By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist to ReadTheSpirit magazine
Every anniversary is special, but for my wife and me, 2020 marks a more-significant anniversary than most.
This June 29, we will have been married 35 years. Everyone knows the depressing divorce stats these days. Suffice to say that reaching 35 years of marriage is worth celebrating.
I wish that I could tell you that all you need is love to make it this long. The fact, however, is that love—while an important ingredient—is just one of an incredibly complex web of things a couple needs to survive over the long haul.
This Valentine’s Day, I would like to share a list of survival tools that have been important for my wife and me over the long haul.
I will also note that the tools I write about below are not tools that we have necessarily used well. In fact, in some of these areas I’ve been pretty inept. Though, as you will learn below, they are areas where I’ve had to get better. But before you skip to the end to read about that, take a few minutes and digest these five survival skills.
5 Survival Skills to Keep those Valentine’s Day Cards Coming
A HEALTHY DOSE OF REALITY—“Forever” is a wonderful idea, and utterly attainable if in 20 or 30 years we are the same people we were when we first fell in love. This sort of emotional and intellectual stagnation, however, is simply not reality. Over time we experience more of the world, are faced with ethical and moral challenges that force us to stretch our understandings of what is right and acceptable, and we learn more about ourselves and our partners. It can be hard to accept how your partner changes over the years. But by failing to talk about these changes we shut down the lines of communication and set ourselves up for hurt feelings and frustrations that are best dealt with in the moment, and not ten years down the line when the damage has been done. Accept that you and your partner will change. Accept that sometimes this will bring painful change to your relationship. But also be open to the idea that these changes can lead to deeper attachments that simply aren’t possible in the early years of your romance.
A GREAT KNOWLEDGE OF HISTORY—Not history writ large, but the history you and your partner share. Social media, I am becoming convinced, is doing more to divide us than unite us, but even bad tools can be put to good ends. Most every day when I look at my Facebook account, I am shown photos, videos or posts that take me back to the most special times in my life. Not necessarily the grandest days, but the special moments in our mundane days. A shared cup of coffee sitting outside our favorite café on the first really warm day of spring; a message from my son about how the simple gift of time has helped him to grow; a silly chicken costume that our daughter surprised us with for her birthday; our family hugging our pet beagle who tracked down and found a pet hamster we were sure had gone to live in our walls forever. It is the hope of creating more such moments that can get us past the darkest of times.
ALL FIVE OF YOUR SENSES—If religious traditions have one great flaw, especially certain Christian and Jewish and Muslim traditions, it is the effort to demonize our senses. On the contrary, I have come to believe that it is only in activating all five of our senses that we can ever really reach a spiritual oneness with ourselves and our partners. With my eyes I can relish in my wife’s physical beauty; with my ears I can enjoy the patterns of her speech and breath; with my nose I can smell the scent of her hair, the sweat on her skin. With the sense of taste I can not only enjoy the meals that we share and the drinks we together consume, but I can savor her lips. And most important, the sense of touch. I know every curve of my wife’s face, the curve in her back, and the imperfections in her hands that match perfectly to the imperfections in my own. Our senses are at the heart of our relationship with our lovers. Relish them so long as you are able.
VULNERABILITY—To really speak the truth of what you feel, what you dream, and what you fear is to take the greatest risk of all with any person. For we never know when this level of honesty will prove too much for the bonds of friendship and love to hold. But the truth is that in exposing our vulnerabilities we exercise the bonds that bind us, creating elasticity that makes space for growth, and springiness to keep us wrapped to one another.
PAIN—The desire to avoid pain is as old as humankind itself. The Greek philosopher Epicurus went so far as to define a joyful life as one devoid of pain, and set forth a philosophy for avoiding it. Most of us realize that is impossible, but we still do all that we can to minimize our exposure to pain. Facing our pain, however, puts all of us on a level playing field. Regardless of how strong you think you are, how much you believe material possessions can shield you from it, or how strong your support networks are, there are some pains that we are all exposed to. Death, betrayal, harsh words, physical pain, and yes, even the pain that we cause our lovers. No one wants to think about this, much less experience it. At the same time, few are the people who have come through pain and reached happier shores who do not appreciate what those experiences taught them.
Over the past two months, my wife and I have gone through some incredibly trying times, but it was in these moments that we have grown closer to one another than we have arguably been in years. All five of the survival tools named above have come into play in these months.
Where these events will take us, and how they will shape us in the future, remain to be seen. But on this Valentine’s Day, because of what we have been through and how these tools have been deployed, I can say this with more surety than at any other time in my life.
I love you, Thelma. More than words can ever say, more than gifts can ever represent, and more than even the mysteries of the universe can absorb.
The building-block image—at top with today’s story—is courtesy of Welcome Images via Wikimedia Commons.