A wife is sitting in my office saying, “I just feel like my husband doesn’t love me. He treats me like trash and then wants me to have sex with him. I don’t understand that. I can’t have sex with a man who doesn’t love me.” This wife knows deep within her heart that sex and love are supposed to go together. Sex without love seems like rape, and she cannot bear that. Many wives can identify with her pain.
On the other hand, many husbands experience the same frustration. I’ll never forget the husband who said, “We had sex, but I felt like I was with a corpse.” Sex without love is indeed dead.
The desire for love is universal. When we are married, the love we most long for is that of our spouse. When we feel loved, the world looks bright. Sex is the cherry on top of the sundae. All of life is sweet. Without love, the world looks bleak, and sex is at best a temporary oasis in a barren desert.
Most couples do not know how to create love when it is absent. Many feel hopeless. “We’ve lost our feelings for each other; maybe we shouldn’t have married” is a common sentiment. The tendency is for couples to blame marriage for the loss of their euphoric feelings. In reality, they would have lost those feelings even if they had not married.
The average lifespan of the “in love” experience is two years. We don’t stay obsessed with each other forever. If we did, we would never accomplish anything. One man who was passionately in love told me, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job. Since I met Julie, I can’t focus my attention at work.” It’s hard to focus on anything else when we are in love. All our energy and all our thoughts focus on being with each other. When we are together, we are supremely happy; when we are apart, we long to be together.
What many fail to realize is that there are two distinct stages of romantic or emotional love. The first stage is the super-emotional high of the “in love” obsession. In this stage, we are pushed along by our emotions. Our acts of kindness require little effort. We would gladly climb the highest mountain or swim the deepest sea for each other. Without a second thought, we buy gifts we cannot afford and make promises we can never keep. It’s great fun! But it is temporary. It cannot be sustained over a long period of time.
The second stage of love is far more realistic and requires thought and effort. We are no longer caught up in the waves of strong emotion. We have lost the illusion that the other person is perfect. We have returned to the real world of preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and perhaps changing a baby’s diaper. Our differences have emerged; we find ourselves in conflict over minute issues. Our emotions have plummeted and turned sour. If we let our emotions take the lead, we will begin to argue with each other. Arguments lead to resentment, and resentment destroys our intimacy. Stage one has come to an end, no one has told us how to enter stage two.
The reason stage two [of love] is difficult is that it doesn’t begin with exhilarating emotions but rather with a conscious choice. Stage one begins with the tingles; stage two begins with choosing a positive attitude.
Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of The Five Love Languages. This article is excerpted from Happily Ever After: Six secrets to a successful marriage by Gary Chapman.