Do you remember the first time you met your wife or husband? The feelings you felt, the knots in your stomach, the flutters in your chest? Perhaps you lost the ability to speak coherent thoughts or you had difficultly catching your breath. Maybe you met that special person for the first time and none of those things happened, but you eased into a friendship and then fell in love. It could have been like me and Kaitlin (my bride of 10 years), you meet in college, fall instantly head over heels, get married, never have a care or problem in the world, have three beautiful babies, open businesses and write a blog about it. Am I right? Before she calls B.S. on me, I suppose that is not exactly how it has happened.
I will never forget the feeling of falling in love. We use the phrase "falling" because you are not in control of it, no more than you can control falling down, you can only prepare for the landing. It is something that infiltrates every fiber of your being and can make you so incredibly senseless that you decide to invite 200 of only your closest friends and family to come watch a grand production that is amazingly all about the two of you. Your future wife spends a fortune you don’t have on a dress she’ll wear once, while you and some schmucks you call your best friends stand around in cheap formal wear that you rented from a place in the mall. Then you get up in front of those 200 closest friends and family, say some pretty intense and personal vows, kiss awkwardly, then a DJ (who worked a prom the night before) announces who you are as you enter the party (like everyone there doesn't know you who you are, you did invite them to celebrate your day), you shove some cake in each other’s faces and dance until 2AM. Only people in love would call this normal. Although in full disclosure, I do love a good wedding, but it’s the reception I’m fond of, I never pass up a good party. Not bashing weddings, just a prime example of what you'll do while in love.
There is nothing like the feeling of falling in love, you cannot compare it to other emotions, it does not proverbially taste like chicken. It is not simply an emotion felt, it is a whole body, physiological experience. Here is the deal though, it is really not your fault you do these crazy things while in love. Your body literally releases chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin (I knew that B.S. in Biology would come in handy some day!).
I going to assume everyone has a decent idea what adrenaline does in the body but what about dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter than elicits a pleasure response that can make you feel like you are on top of the world. Scientists say that when you are in love you may have higher levels of it then if you were high on cocaine! Next up, Serotonin; it is super complex and does all sorts of cool things but one of them is it’s relation to memory. Basically when you are in love, it makes you think about that person more than anyone or anything else. Remember those days? It may be why some memories seem to be burned in your psyche and others may fade away.
Finally, oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone”, it is released to help form a long term attachment to your partner. Nature plays some wicked tricks to get you to fall in love and form a long term attachment with someone. Is it natures way of just getting us to procreate? Is love just a bunch of chemicals that throughout the course of human history have come about to propagate our species? Eh, some scientist may tell you so but I think that we have an amazing God who knew what He was doing when He created us. Who is to say he did not do set it all in motion? Faith and science are not mutual exclusive but that's a topic for another day. If you are still reading at this point, you may be asking yourself; “Richard, this is great and all but what does this have to do with Faith, Family, and Finances?” Stay with me, I think I will get to the point soon.
Back to love though, it will illicit a chemically driven physical and emotional response from us. Just like anything though, once our bodies get accustomed to something, it loses some of that magic right? We build up what some would call a tolerance. The emotional high of love, much like the first cup of coffee you ever have gives you a euphoric energy, but if you are like me and on your tenth cup of the day, it still is amazing but doesn't have quite the same mojo.
Have you ever heard the song “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling”? By the Righteous Brothers, man it is harsh. It sounds like a couple who came off that high and didn't know what to do.
You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips And there's no tenderness like before in your fingertips You're trying hard not to show it But baby, baby I know it
You lost that lovin' feelin' Whoa, that lovin' feelin' You lost that lovin' feelin' Now it's gone, gone, gone, woh
Now there's no welcome look in your eyes when I reach for you And now you're starting to criticize little things I do It makes me just feel like crying 'Cause baby, something beautiful's dyin'
You lost that lovin' feelin' Whoa, that lovin' feelin' You lost that lovin' feelin' Now it's gone, gone, gone, woh
So what happens when the feelings fade, when the dopamine isn’t flowing, and that person you married starts to fart in front of you?
You'll start to notice things about them that you never saw before because you were blinded by oxytocin like an addict. I mean for the love of God, do not eat my food after you said you didn’t want any, I legitimately made the exact amount I wanted. Leaving the toilet seat up didn’t seem to bother you when we didn’t share a bathroom. No, I don't know where you put your keys, do I look like your mom?!? Etc. Etc. Etc.
That is the reality though, the new car smell fades away, the hormone levels go back to normal, and the person you married has transformed into someone different, or at least it feels that way. That is when things get hard, when people start to quit on each other. I wish I could say that Kaitlin and I were different, a shining example of what to do, and that we've never had an argument. It wouldn't make for a very informative or interesting read though. It is also, just not true, perhaps there are people out there that can say that but more than likely they are not being honest. To go back to the first year we met, it would be exhausting, because when you are in love you try to be someone you aren't, you try to be perfect for that person, the best version of yourself. I can honestly say, I love her more today than the day I fell for her and I am still very much in love with her, but it’s different. It is more mature, a little more refined, and we do not hold in farts anymore. It is a better version because it is real, because we eventually accepted the things we did not like about each other, but it didn't happen overnight.
I look at pictures of us, before marriage and kids. We physically look so different, because well we have changed. Time starts to catch up with all of us, right? How could we expect our relationship to be the same? It cannot be the same, because we aren't the same and not only is that OK, it is the way it should be.
Someone told me that the first year of marriage is the hardest, I wish I could remember who exactly said that, I would like to shake them, just a bit. Thanks for the false sense of hope. I remember that year, thinking to myself, well if this is as bad as it gets, we will be just fine because it was not that bad ( I mean we were broke, I was unemployed when we got back from our honeymoon, and Kaitlin was still a full-time student but we had each other). Kaitlin and I both agree that the hardest years were two and three, but we can't forget to throw in a dash of year seven too. With the first year over, the gloves came off, and there were times I thought we’d quit on each other.
The stress of moves and career changes tore at the seams of an already threadbare tapestry we had woven together.
This may sound like common sense but here is a piece of advice, if things aren't going well, don't tell yourself baby will magically make it better. Not saying we did this, but reality is that an already frayed relationship is tested even more when a baby comes in. There were times I would have deserved it if she left. We were not always kind, we were not always loving. There were some fights, over minor things, that escalated to such harsh words that as I slept in the other room I would not have been surprised to find her gone the next morning, but she never left. She never gave up on us, or gave up on me and the dreams we had. Maybe its because neither of handle failure well or that we are both stubborn as mules, perhaps it does not matter why, but we refused to give up on each other. Marriage is hard, there is not anything easy about it. We were pretty young when we met, I was 22 and she was 20, engaged a year later, married a year after that. People warned us about getting married so young, we didn't heed their advice obviously. The good thing about that is we grew together and I think that’s what has strengthened us now in our mid 30's. We grew up together, we learned who we were together, and together we have molded each other. We still have our moments, but it is seldom we go to bed angry at each other.
I want to parallel dating and marriage to our relationship with God. I went to church camp one summer, I was 12 or 13 and was really looking forward to playing games, being with friends, and doing all those church camp things, right? Notice I did not mention God or Jesus, church or fellowship, or anything like that, truth be told that is not why I was going. Well like the majority of my life, I had a plan, God had a plan, there was an intersection of those plans, and God blindsided me like a semi-truck blowing through a stop sign.
I had fun at camp but more importantly I came back with Jesus in my heart, accepted as my Lord and Savior. I was baptized a few weeks later and hallelujah life was great, the bible says believers won't have any troubles, right? I was on a spiritual high, ready to conquer the worlds unsaved and unrepentant with His word. That is, until the feelings faded and the emotion was gone and all that was left was me and God. I had changed but the world had not. See I loved Him and believed in Him but so far in our brief courtship we had not really developed a relationship. Sure we liked each other a whole lot but I was so blinded by my emotions in the beginning, I didn’t stop to think about how could He love me and all my faults. When those feelings faded and we did not have much in common it seemed, I really started to question how He could want someone as flawed as me in His life. Now, just like marriage, throughout my life God and I have always stayed together but we were not always on the best of terms. It was not until I started to work on our relationship daily, that I ever felt like we belonged together, there are still some days I question my worthiness but that is the amazing thing about grace. I cannot do anything to make Him love me any more or any less than He already does.
It sounds little bit like the relationship we have with our spouse, right? When the dopamine fades away, do you have a real relationship to sustain you? Just like with our spouse, when the initial emotions are gone and the love matures we have to work at a relationship. I feel like this is where so many including myself fail. This is when people get divorced and when new Christians quit going to church. It is a dangerous slippery slope, it is easy to regress and to rationalize things by saying that you just are not in love anymore or that you do not need to go to church to believe in God. The thing is technically you are right. What I have learned though is that you can be right and still be 100% wrong in the end (husbands remember that).
We often think of love as a noun, a thing, something that is. More importantly, love is a verb, it is something you do, not only something that is simply exists.
So when you think you are not in love with your partner anymore, you know what you do, you love them anyways. When you feel like you aren’t connecting in church anymore, you go anyways, it’s hard to build a relationship with God if you aren’t trying or if you aren’t there. In both situations the biggest mistake we make is worrying about the metaphorical number one in our lives, ourselves. Too often it is all about us and how we feel.
Relationships, once you are past that puppy love stage, don't just happen, they are work, they require fertilizer and effort to grow. Throughout my life as a Christian there have been times I have been on fire for God and times I have been ashamedly lukewarm. I would go to retreats or had experiences that rekindled my fire, but as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve focused on my daily walk with God and when the highs from those experiences fade, I do not feel empty, like I once would have. I have fallen in love with God and with my wife over and over again, in different ways and at different times. There is no way I could love her the same after having three of my children and experiencing life together, as I did before, it is important to understand that. We can’t ever go back to the days we fell in love, with God or with our spouse, and I absolutely would not want to.
It is important to have daily time one on one with God, you have to fill your cup to be able to pour out yourself for your spouse and family. The same goes for you and your spouse, daily uninterrupted time is irreplaceable. Find a daily devotional for you and one to do with your spouse, make it a daily routine and a habit.
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