Success in business, education or sports will not satisfy the longing of the human heart for emotional love. When emotional love evaporates, marriages slip into fall and then winter. Conversely, when emotional love is rekindled, the warm breezes of spring and summer return to the marriage. I want to focus on the nature of emotional love as it relates to marriage. This has the potential to change the emotional climate of your marriage.
It all begins with "the tingles." In the normal course of life, we meet someone who catches our attention. There is something about the way he or she looks, talks or acts that gives us a warm tingly feeling inside. The tingles are what motivate people to go out with each other.
Sometimes, on the first date, we lose the tingles. We find out something intolerable about the other person and the tingles dissipate. But with some people, every time we get together, it just gets tinglier and tinglier. Eventually, we find ourselves emotionally obsessed. We're quite certain that he or she is the most wonderful person we've ever met.
Everyone else will see the flaws, but we won't. Our parents may say, "Have you considered that he hasn't had a steady job in five years?" But we'll respond, "Give him a break. He's just waiting for the right opportunity." Our friends may ask, "Have you considered that she's been married five times before?" But we'll respond, "Those other guys were losers. This woman deserves to be happy, and I'm going to make her happy."
This stage of a romantic relationship can best be described as emotional obsession. We can't get the other person off our minds. We go to bed thinking about him, and we wake up thinking about him. All day long, we wonder what she's doing. Talking with her is the highlight of our day, and we want to spend as much time with her as possible.
This obsession leads to irrational thoughts such as, I'll never be happy unless we are together forever. Nothing else in life really matters. In this stage of love, differences are minimized or denied. All we know is that we're happy, we've never been happier, and we intend to be happy for the rest of our lives.
This euphoric stage of love does not require a lot of effort. We are swept along by a river of positive emotions. We are willing to do almost anything for the benefit of the other person.
It is during this time of emotional obsession that most people get married. They anticipate that they will continue to have these euphoric feelings for each other forever. They fail to understand that emotional obsession is only the initial stage of romantic love. (Psychologist and researcher Dorothy Tennov, in her classic book Love and Limerance, concluded that the average duration of this initial euphoria is two years.)
When we come down off the emotional high, we must make the transition to the next stage of love, which is much more intentional and requires a conscious effort to meet the emotional needs of the other person. Many couples fail to make this transition. Instead, they get the tingles for someone else, divorce and remarry, repeating the cycle with another mate. Sixty percent of those who remarry will experience a second divorce. And if perchance they try again, the divorce rate for third marriages is 75 percent.
The importance of learning how to make the transition from the obsessive stage to the intentional stage of love should be obvious. Just because we stay in a relationship does not mean that emotional love will continue to flow. The second stage of love is truly different from the first. The obsessive feelings we had for each other begin to fade, and we recognize other important pursuits in life besides pursuing each other. The illusions of perfection evaporate, and the words of our parents and friends return to our minds: "He hasn't had a steady job in five years." "She's been married five times before."
We start to wonder how we could have been so blind to reality. Differences in personality, interests and lifestyle now become obvious, whereas before we hardly noticed. The euphoria that led us to put each other first and to focus on each other's well-being has now dissipated, and we begin to focus on ourselves and to realize that our spouse is no longer meeting our needs.
We begin to request – and then demand – things from our mate, and when he or she refuses to meet our demands, we withdraw or lash out in anger. Our anger or withdrawal pushes our mate further away and makes it more difficult for him or her to express love to us.
Can such tarnished relationships be reborn? The answer is yes – a if couples become aware of the nature of love and learn how to express love in a language their mate can understand. Good intentions are not enough. We must also learn how to meet our spouse's emotional need for love.
People are different. What makes one person feel loved will not necessarily make another person feel loved. By nature, we tend to express love to others in the way we wish they would express love to us. When our spouse doesn't respond positively to our expressions of love, we get frustrated. The problem is not the sincerity of our love; the problem is that we are speaking the wrong love language. If we speak our own love language but not our mate's, we will fail to communicate.
I am often asked to explain the popularity of my book The Five Love Languages. I believe that the book has been successful because it has helped people learn to make the transition from obsessive love to intentional love; it has taught people how to discover and speak their spouse's love language and thus keep emotional love alive in their relationship.
Regardless of which season your marriage is now in, learning to speak your partner's love language will enhance your communication, fill your spouse's love tank and strengthen your relationship. If your marriage is in fall or winter, learning to speak your spouse's love language may be the key to turning your marriage around and heading forward into spring and summer.