Friday, March 14, 2014

Love in the Affair Lane

Love is a many splendored thing, so we are told. Except when it becomes violated by an affair. Both hurt spouses and unfaithful spouses deal with issues of love.

For the unfaithful spouse, there is the issue of loving their affair partner, and sometimes ambilvance causes them to not be so sure about loving their spouse. Or the more complex feelings of loving both the affair partner and the spouse at the same time.

For the hurt spouse, there is the issue of whether they can still love their unfaithful spouse, and if so, what does it look like? They often bounce between feelings of love and hate for their spouse, especially if the spouse does not do the necessary steps to heal.

To understand the following, you will want to read the article, "Am I in Love?" to get a good picture of what love is in its fullness: passion (eros), companionship (philio), security (storge), and sacrificial (agape). Real love involves all of those, even if one doesn't start out with all the first day.

However, when one speaks of love between spouses, what makes a marriage, we automatically think of the romantic, passionate love. Two people who are crazy about each other and act like it! However, by itself it is a poor substitute for love as it should be.

Passionate love is like lighter fluid for a relationship.

It kindles the fire between two people. As noted in my above linked article, it triggers the dopamine-reward system, and so can become addictive. Most of us can think back to dating our spouse and see the difference between how much time we spent together and how we treated each other then and now. Negatives in our spouse to be were not noticed then like you do now.

The problem is this type of love is very selfish in nature. Because of that, once the logs on the fire that seem naturally lite up with fire run out of fuel to keep it going, there isn't much motivation to put more logs onto the fire. That's work. That requires sacrifice. That requires thinking of the other person before yourself.

Passionate love is a strong desire for the feelings you get from a person. The fullness of love is loving the person, independent of feelings.

Upon the initial burst of passionate love you experience, you will think you love that person. But at that point, the only reason you feel love for that person is because of how they are making you feel. You may barely know anything about them. The only reason you believe you love them is because of the fireworks going off, because you feel attraction, because they act and talk like they want you, because they make you feel important. If it were not for those feelings, you'd give them no further consideration than any other man or woman walking down the street.

Ideally, what should happen is passionate love motivates us enough to develop a sacrificial love for that person. It should lead to the thought, "I like how she makes me feel. Therefore, to treasure and enjoy how she makes me feel, I will invest myself into her and this relationship." From it, the fullness of love can develop that commits one's self to ensuring fresh logs are continually put on the fire by meeting each other's needs sacrificially.

Too often, however, the passionate love is the totality of love for one or both spouses.

They only are in the relationship as long as it meets their needs. Meeting the needs of their spouse isn't a priority. That's not what they married for. They married for how he made them feel. Once they no longer feel that "love," they determine that they have fallen out of love.

This is often attributed to various things. Responsibilities pulling the two apart. Being too tired when you do have time together. Not cultivating common activities together. Allowing work or career to dominate your life and push your spouse away.

The term you'll hear for that is people change. They grow apart. They were compatible, now they are not. Their interest change, are no longer the same. Their values diverge from each other. Etc. What it boils down to is one or both didn't move beyond loving the feeling of love to loving the person. It never grew to sacrificially maintaining the fire of passion in each other, so it burned out.

This can happen even when sacrificial love is present. Complacency and taking each other for granted shove sacrificial love to the backyard and keep selfish love as the front door guard. This allows a couple to drift apart.

If passionate love is not united to true sacrificial love, it remains selfish in nature and destined to fall apart. 

What you'll eventually end up with is "He/She no longer makes me feel loved." Therefore, the conclusion is that you are no longer in love. It is true you may no longer experience passionate love with that person, but the fault isn't that two people merely drifted apart. The drifted apart because they were too focused on what they wanted and wasn't getting than in what the other person needed and then providing for it.

That provides the foundation of why a marriage can become susceptible to an affair. It is why, upon experiencing the excitement of a new relationship, an unfaithful spouse perceives, according to how the affair partner makes them feel compared to their spouse, that they must have fallen out of love with their spouse. Or feel like they love two people.

It is also why the hurt spouse feels a loss of love with their spouse and takes a self-esteem hit, because they no longer feel important to their spouse. They feel replaced. If the marriage had already grown cold, the revelation of an affair can put the nails in the coffin.

It is the presence of sacrificial love on the part of both spouses that can not only get a couple through the rebuilding from an affair, but also rekindle the fires of passion through sacrificial giving.

If it is sitting in the backyard, it can be brought back into the house to sacrifice for each other. Without it, you'll have two people pulling at each other instead of working together.

Some may interpret what I've said above as saying that passionate love is not real love. That would be inaccurate. The feelings of love are real. They are powerful. They are needed to motivate you onto developing sacrificial love in its fullness. It needs to be present.

However, by itself, it is but a shadow of what love is. It is the motivation of love without its substance. It should grow into full love, but often does not due to lack of commitment to each other. This is where the rub comes in for unfaithful spouses and their affair partners. The fire that should draw them to commit to each other is there, but rarely can they commitment to a full sacrificial love and grow from it. Because, at least one tends to also be committed to another. At least one cannot openly and fully commit to the other person.

Passionate love is mostly what fuels an affair relationship in many cases.

They only way to free passionate love to develop into sacrificial love in an affair is to divorce one's spouse so they can fully devote themselves to the other. Statistics show that happens only a small percent of the time. So most affairs stay stuck in the passionate feelings of love, and never mature. Ending only when light is shown upon them, or the passion dies out and the relationship ends under its own weight.

On the other side, the hurt spouse may feel some level of love, but no passionate love. They may go through a hyper-bonding phase, but when that dies off, they are left feeling nothing. They may still feel some security love, comfort like an old, worn shoe they don't want to throw away, but the affair has killed off the passion if it was there to begin with.

That too will take a good dose of sacrificial love to find that desire to not only rekindle that lost passion but to feel enough empathy to meet their needs. The hurt may cover that up for a time. The unfaithful spouse needs to be patient with the hurt spouse, even as the hurt spouse needs to be patient with themselves.

It is the same sacrificial love that will enable the unfaithful spouse to face the pain, not run away, not sweep issues under the rug, own the error, and then do everything possible and needed to heal themselves, rebuild trust and love in the hurt spouse, and fix the damage done from the affair. It won't feel good. It's going to hurt, but if you really love your spouse with that love, you'll do it.

Then watch out. You may find you've fallen in love with your spouse again.

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