“You must not be married,” the random old man said, passing us in the cereal aisle of the local grocery store. “If you were, you wouldn’t look so happy.”
We weren’t married, as it happened (though we would one day get married, and are still married to this day), but the old man’s conviction that — had we been married — we wouldn’t have been laughing hysterically together in the cereal aisle (at something I now can’t recall) rankled. Surely, if we’d been married then, we’d have been having even more fun than we were having then, and be even happier.
But this idea — that love fades with marriage isn’t confined to cranky old men shuffling down cereal aisles in grocery stores. It’s well ingrained in our cultural narrative. That’s why we have terms like “The Honeymoon Phase.” Once the initial thrill is gone … well … then it’s gone. Or so we’re meant to believe.
But, if that old grocery store man were to happen upon my husband and me now — nearly ten years into our marriage — he’d still find us just as happy (happier!). Love doesn’t fade after marriage. It deepens.
Love doesn’t fade after marriage. It deepens.
Attraction vs. love
The problem, I think, is that we’re mistaking the initial rush of attraction for deep and meaningful love. That heady sense of excitement, possibility, and attraction is wonderful — and it can often signal that you’ve met the person you’ll one day marry — but it’s not the same as the deep, intimate, vulnerable connection you’ll eventually share. And, while “the honeymoon phase” is fun, it’s nowhere near as fun as the rest of the marriage.
Psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith writes, “Many scientists believe that the body chemistry that ignites a couple’s sexual and emotional attraction usually lasts about two or three years but can start changing as soon as a few months after meeting. Some lucky couples report staying in love for two decades, but that’s not the norm.” But I would argue that Goldsmith — and many others writing on this topic — is referring to attraction, not love. Love is not a chemical reaction; it’s an emotional and spiritual one.
Love is not a chemical reaction; it’s an emotional and spiritual one.
Marriage provides more reasons for love
The tall, self-possessed, wildly intelligent man I fell in love with is now the tall, self-possessed, wildly intelligent father of my child. He’s the tall, self-possessed, wildly intelligent breadwinner whose hard work and dedication allow me to stay home and care for our child. He’s the tall, self-possessed, wildly intelligent shoulder I cry on, rock I stand on, and cheerleader I rely on when I doubt myself (as I am wont to do). Marriage has made me love my husband more than I ever could have imagined because marriage has joined his life to mine. It has made us one flesh. And out of our marriage has come a miracle: our son.
Marriage has made me love my husband more than I ever could have imagined because marriage has joined his life to mine.
Beyond the “honeymoon phase” is true commitment, true vulnerability, and true sacrifice. It’s eyes meeting over the head of a squalling baby, it’s exhausted snuggles in front of the TV, it’s moving to another state so he can pursue his dream job, it’s grieving together after a miscarriage, and rejoicing together at the birth of a healthy child. It’s all the things that now belong to both of us that make the way we once felt about each other (in some other life, in a cereal aisle somewhere) pale in comparison. If those things — those nitty-gritty big life things — aren’t sexy, I don’t know what is.
Relationships take work, but it’s work that brings joy
Relationships take work, it’s true. But that’s not an indication that love has faded. It’s the love you share that makes the work worthwhile. Sure, when you’ve lived with someone a long time it’s possible to get stuck in your routines. And it may take some effort to remember to do things like compliment each other, go out together, and check in with each other. But why — if you didn’t love each other — would you do any of those things at all? Why live together at all? Why be married? It’s because you love each other, that you work to maintain that love.
It’s because you love each other, that you work to maintain that love.
If you spend your entire marriage trying to recapture the initial attraction you felt for your husband, you’re missing the much deeper and more meaningful connection you could be sharing now. Does my husband still take my breath away? Does he still make me weak at the knees? Does he still make me laugh uncontrollably in cereal aisles? You bet he does. But he also makes me whole. He makes me stronger. He makes me me. We are no longer him and me, we are us — deeply, and emotionally, connected and in love. That’s marriage. Don’t knock it.