In the movie, The Notebook, Noah and Allie have reunited after being torn apart in adolescence by Allie’s controlling mother. Rowing in a canoe together across a beautiful crystal clear lake, surrounded by white swans, they express their undying love to one another in the countryside. While looking deeply into each others eyes, thunder roars, lightning strikes, and rain comes pouring down onto their faces. Feeling a surge of exhalation and joy we identify with the longings of falling in love
This is real love, correct? Even the term "fall” implies that the process is inevitable, uncontrollable, or risky. Statements as “I’m going crazy and losing my mind” imply how thinking, discernment and reasoning is often relinquished. If we are not vigilant we can fall prey to this dangerous deception of love.
Early stages of love do make one feel energized and alive. The brain becomes flooded with neurochemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin. People can even become addicted to falling in love as they chase after the “high” of this experience. Researcher, Dr. Helen Fisher, states “We found when one is in love, activity in the brain’s pathway is the same as being addicted to cocaine and nicotine."
Many people who enter into affairs and view pornography are also in search of a surge of passion. A perfect airbrushed swimsuit model in a magazine may spark a rush that temporarily alters mood but ultimately leaves one feeling empty. The deeper longing and desire of our heart is about attachment and wanting to feel safe and secure.
Misinformed by our culture that there is a perfect “soul mate” can leave us confused. Newly smitten lovers often idealize their partner, magnifying their virtues and similarities while justifying their weaknesses and differences. Comments such as, “He thinks I’m smart; he wants to spend every moment with me” are familiar. A poet said “I love you not because of who you are, but because of who I am when I am with you and how you make me feel about myself.” Romantic love is definitely a boost to ones self worth; however, this is a short season in a couple’s life..
Hollywood promotes once the “lovin feeling” wears off then usually so does the commitment. Many believe the “Myth of the greener grass” and began their search for the next new person.
In many Fairytales, such as Cinderella, her prince proposes after one evening together and rescues her from poverty and pain. Jasmine waits for Aladdin to free her from an unhappy childhood to explore a whole new world. And Sleeping Beauty regains her life only by the kiss of the prince. Lastly, the Little Mermaid gives up her family, voice and identity for her man.
There is no perfect prince or princess on this earth. We are broken people, marrying broken people, and have imperfections and sins. We need to stop being fooled expecting our spouses to meet all our desires and needs, taking away our discontentment.
Many couples in therapy, on the verge of divorce, state “This isn’t the person I married” We share the stages, listed below, to help couples not be deluded by ideal love. The first stage couples enter into is the romantic, honeymoon stage where there is a merging of two into one. There is laughter, playfulness, affection and energy. Emphasis is on similarities such as both loving Chinese food and hiking. Each is willing to forego activities, such as sleep, to spend time with each other. Conflicts are minimized during this bonding phase. The second stage is the disillusionment stage when many come to couple’s therapy or someone begins an affair. Conflicts and power struggles emerge and dormant negative traits, once overlooked, become irritating. Wounding and defense mechanisms from childhood are activated and impasses can’t be negotiated. More time is spent alone in ones own activities and with other friends. Different values, beliefs and behaviors are realized. The third stage is the Acceptance Stage/Mature Stage that has evolved through commitment, friendship, partnership, humility, sacrifice and the acceptance of each others good and bad traits. Attachment, deep respect and cherishing of one another as separate and unique individuals without losing connection have developed. It is filled with security, tenderness, warmth, comfort, and familiarity.
If we navigate through these stages by following God’s plan for love then when we watch elderly grey haired couples, strolling hand in hand, we won’t wonder…“What did they do different?” Too often this generation has responded to struggles and disappointments in marriage with cynicism, affairs, and divorce. We must leave the enchanted kingdom, give up our fairytale dreams and face the reality of marriage in a fallen world. Disappointing…yes. However, once we recognize, confess this truth and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us, we can love one another deeply.
Our only princess or prince on this earth is Jesus; the prince of peace, who rescues and saves us. We can not be saved by man, or our husband or wife. He is the one who comforts us in our pain, heals our brokenness and love us in the depths of our hearts, the way we long to be loved. “Happily ever after” only comes in heaven. Until then, we need to replace expectations of our spouses and marriage with realistic outcomes and cling to the Prince of Peace instead of Disney or Hollywood to guide us in love.
Terri Haley, MFT