The truth about love no one ever tells you.
Marriage counselors and pastors on TV tell us that love is a choice. That in order to have a marriage survive the thrills and spills of life, one must choose love. Choose to love your partner every day. That love is not a feeling, but a choice. I never understood this. Love absolutely was a feeling. I had felt it many times, been swept off my feet, loved and admired everything about my partner.
Love was not a choice, it was something you received from someone else.
It was late on a Wednesday night. The kids were in bed and we were arguing about what I can’t remember. The argument ended with my husband questioning whether we should end our marriage. When I asked if that’s what he wanted… he couldn’t answer. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” The truth is, after nine years of marriage, three kids, two homes, four job shifts, three major surgeries, and one parent dying, I was about ready to give up, too.
I had been thinking about divorce, daydreaming even of what I would do with my newfound freedom, the time, the space, the having everything I want my way… for years. Our marriage had been rocky, hitting deep rough patches and then being okay. This was our experience for six out of our nine years of marriage. We were tired. We had been to therapists. We had completed couple’s coaching. We’d read books. Listed to workshops. Tried plant medicine together. Nothing seemed to mend our separation.
Love eluded us. The love in our marriage became a feeling like you’d have for any other human being simply because they are another human being, not because they are your beloved. You’d be sad if something happened to them like you’d be sad if anyone you’d spent a substantial amount of time with died. There was a numbness that surrounded our love. And that numbness didn’t stop between us, it wandered into other parts of our lives. Desire for deep connection with other friends, hobbies, family... all waned. It’s like the energy it took to tolerate each other became our default energy mode -- just tolerating life.
The picture wasn’t all glum -- there were moments of laughter or affection or even sex -- but the overall tone was that of distance, tolerance, questioning where this would go. Was this normal? Did other people just put up with each other?
When you get married, you make a vow to love the other person for the rest of your life, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer…. But most of us have no idea what we’re signing up for. And to make things worse, there isn’t any dialog about what love actually means. What it looks like. What it feels like when hurt or betrayal occurs. How it evolves between two people who themselves are changing and growing every day, every year.
In the weeks before our big fight, I’d begun to think about calling a divorce attorney. I wanted to be smart. I had no idea what divorce entailed. How would it work, how would I set myself up to be sure my children and I could be together? How would he act, would he make it nasty? Did I need to protect myself? How would I do that, what did I need to start or stop doing now to be ready? All my deepest fears of loss came rushing forward and feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness ruled my decision making.
Yet there was something inside me that didn’t want to call a divorce attorney. It felt like officially giving up. I looked up a few people I would call, blocked time to make the phone calls, but never did. Something was stopping me.
I began to think about what my life would look like if we were divorced. Separate homes, likely an apartment or townhome until I could afford something nicer on my own. Only seeing my kids part of the week -- would it be seven days on, seven days off? Or would my husband try to take my kids from me? Would I try to do that to him? How ugly would this get? How about family holidays, would I have to spend them alone sometimes as we traded off years? How would my kids feel? Who would they be around when they weren’t with me? All the house chores, bill paying, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping I would have to do on top of working full time. How would I do it all?
My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. They separated, actually, and didn’t officially divorce until I was 18. I am not sure why, but I think the legalities were easier -- my parents also were great at avoiding deep conversation. And my life stayed the same mostly, except my dad lived down the street. I stayed in my same home, went to the same schools, celebrated holidays in the same way… my father was there and involved, but just on the weekends or during weekday sporting events. That would not be how our divorce would look -- I knew that.
Around this time I began working with a new coach. On one of our first calls, I told her that I thought my marriage might be over. That even after the couple’s coaching and all the growth we had made as individuals and as a couple, we were back to fighting again. I told her I didn’t want my marriage to end, but I was losing hope. She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, no, divorce isn’t the answer.” She said it not as advice but as hope.
As it turns out, that’s all I needed. The couple’s coaching, the self-development we had done together, had planted so many seeds. It helped us see each other’s pain. It helped us see who we became with each other. It helped us see what we were trying to fulfill within ourselves through our partners. It helped us see the best of each other, our dreams, our youthful playful spirit, and most importantly, each other’s hearts without the anger, frustration or insecurity.
As I saw my life and the lives of my children unfold, it became clear to me that divorce was not what I wanted -- I wanted it to work out. Yes, because it’s easier, but also because the pain and complications of living a divorced life seemed too big a weight compared to the challenges we were having in our marriage.
Yet we had issues. We weren’t getting along. We bickered often and made life more challenging for each other. We hurt each other with our actions and unwillingness to love the other. We left when the other wanted us to stay. We helped everyone else but each other. We assumed the worst intention with any question or comment. It was confrontational and at best cordial.
How do marriages get to that point? They get there on false beliefs. They get there with the expectation that to love is to feel good. We as human beings have a deep need to feel loved -- loved despite our flaws, because the world isn’t so forgiving. We crave a mirror that tells us we are perfect as we are, fully lovable and totally okay.
We need our intimate relationships to be safe spaces to get things wrong and not be our best selves. A place where we can push away and have someone still stand there steady, unaffected or, better said, non-judgemental of who we are being in that moment. And when it doesn’t feel safe to let our guard down at home or we’ve built up so much resentment that we habor a shade of hate… we seek connection and reassurance elsewhere, looking for that safe place to rest our heart and connect with someone else… or something else (alcohol, sugar, drugs, Instagram).
Our lovers are those who can hold space for all of who we are. For women this is also connected to libido. “Do I feel safe?” is often the underlying question determining whether a woman wants to get undressed and open herself to another -- not just physically safe, but emotionally safe as well.
Does this partner accept me for who I am, in all forms of who I am?
Can I be imperfect and still lovable?
Do they love me beyond what I can provide physically?
Are my needs important to my partner?
Am I cared for, genuinely?
As I contemplated contacting a divorce lawyer, I realized that just as I had a choice to head down a path of separation, I also had a choice to love. To accept, to love, to choose to see my husband as he was and to love him.
The months that followed that fateful decision to love were the best we had had in six years. As fate would have it, the moment I chose to love my husband, he chose to love me as well. It felt like divine intervention had stepped in and cured us of our resentments. It was an overnight change with one simple decision, a decision to love. It was full acceptance and appreciation for this man in front of me and a giddiness that I got to be his partner.
In the days that followed the choice of love, my husband and I didn’t talk about the fact that we liked each other again -- we just were enjoying it and I think both holding our breath hoping it wasn’t a phase and instead a new beginning.
A week later, we still were enjoying each other, being playful, affectionate… so I asked him, “What’s going on with us? We’ve been on such a loving streak. I am so into you.” His response mirrored my own experience. “Yes, I flipped the switch.” My husband has used this term a lot in life, like being able to go from drunk to sober in an instant, or lacking commitment to driven overnight. And for him, his flipping a switch was a decision to love… me, to love us.
Why we both chose to love at the exact same time, I don’t know. Perhaps our higher selves spoke to each other while we slept and made a pact to get us on the same page and loving once again. Perhaps that’s how love works. When you’re connected to someone, your cells speak to each other. All that’s said and unsaid is felt, and when love is chosen by one, love can be chosen by the other.
This story is not just about love between two committed partners, it’s about how we love ourselves, how we love others, and how we can experience love for all types of people in this world -- even those who seem hateful, destructive, oppressive.
Love isn’t a sweet, innocent, seamless experience. Love is deep, love is dark, love is full of bumps, disappointment, and opportunities to quit. Love is rough.
And its rough exterior is what keeps us connected to another, to ourselves. Love is as much a choice as life. And when you choose love, you choose the greatest experience of life itself.
This week, my husband and I celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. We’ve had over a year of this new connection, feeling closer than ever, creating our dreams together. There are so many layers to all we’ve learned, what we’ve realized about marriage and partnership, and how today, when we look at each other it does seem like a new kind of love.
It feels like an incredible milestone given our journey over the last decade, considering what life has thrown our way, what we put in our own way, and how we now find ourselves closer and more bonded than ever. We are not naive enough to think the bumps, frustrations, and are-we-going-to-make-it moments are gone forever. Life has its own way of growing us and challenging who we think we are. But what I do know is that the choice to love taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: When I move toward something I want, it moves toward me. Through some sort of magic, it finds me no matter how far away it seems. And coaching, again, planted a seed within me that changed my life for the better.
Join my husband Donavan and me on Friday, February 12, to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, to hear our story, what helped us and what didn’t, and ask any questions. Who knows, maybe we’ll share something that will be the turning point for you and your relationship.
If you’re interested in working with me or one of our team members as a couple’s coach, schedule a time with me here.
This post is not to create shame or cast judgment on anyone who has chosen to end their marriage. It takes two people who are committed to working things out and a willingness to believe in miracles. Relationships with violence, toxicity, and abuse are not safe, and only you will know, hopefully with the help of a therapist, how to leave.