Grown Up Love (It’s Not What You Think)
In the beginning, everything was bliss.
You fell in love even though you didn’t know each other very well. Maybe you liked the way you felt around each other: giddy, cheesy, and like a kid in a candy store. You emphasized what you had in common and either overlooked the small differences or didn’t pay much attention to them. You put each other on a pedestal and thought you would stay up there forever.
Puppy Love Forever?
If you think your love story starts when you worry about whether she will call you back or whether he will want to see you again, you’re probably a romantic. Being a romantic is great, but if your understanding of love has been mistakenly taken over by how you felt in the beginning of relationship, you may be stuck in puppy love. Grown up love is different.
Along the way, something happens that destabilizes a relationship and takes it out of the romantic stage. It can happen shortly after you start living together, when you add children to the family, or when you need to make a big career decision or move.
Sometimes it happens within the first six months of a relationship. It can take longer, but it always happens. The “kid in the candy store” feeling begins to wane, as it should. If it were to continue, you wouldn’t be able to concentrate at work or you may neglect your other roles and responsibilities.
When you fall in love, the exhilarating feeling has more to do with relief than with real love. We are relieved that somebody can accept us and that we can reveal so much of what we needed to be kept secret and hidden before. We put forth the best version of ourselves in order to be seen and accepted. We may not show immediately what happens when we get frustrated, when we feel insecure, when we don’t like our bodies, when we are hungry and tired.
The more insecure we are to begin with, the more doubts we have about our self-worth, capacities and imperfections, the more we struggle with our own sense of self, the more intoxicating and exhilarating the seemingly bottomless acceptance of another person is. We are delighted at finally being able to reveal ourselves. We’re equally delighted to discover that our partners respond with approval, acceptance, encouragement, and support. Like children, we think this will last forever.
Looking Up to Our Partners
We put our partners on a pedestal because what’s most appealing about them is that they think we are wonderful. That’s intoxicating. The more fabulous they think we are in their eyes, the better we feel and the more we fall in love.
We come to believe (mistakenly) that romantic love implies that our partners have a complete acceptance of our being, of our faults, immaturities and imperfections. And we develop the crazy conviction that true love means that our partners endorse, support, accept all of that we are.
When the honeymoon period begins to wane as it always does, two things happen. Our partners disappoint us in one way or another AND at the same time, we disappoint them in one way or another.
Grown Up Love
The grown up love story then, starts when she disappoints you and you decide not to run away; when you accept his flaws because yours are also difficult to put up with; or when you decide to tolerate your discomfort at realizing she thinks you are not perfect.
The grown-up love story begins when you don’t berate your partner for having a different idea than you do about how to spend your precious free time or what’s the acceptable level of clutter in the house. When you can put yourself in your partner’ shoes instead of focusing on yourself and when you decide to give when you don’t feel like it.
Grown up love happens when you can understand that what you want may be very different from what your partner wants, and tolerate the anxiety provoked by the difference. The process of negotiating a win-win without giving up your wishes or bullying your partner into to giving up his or her wishes, can be anxiety producing to some people. Grown up love means you can get through the process whole.
What disturbs couples in this period? The inevitable realization that in their eyes, we are not perfect anymore. It is very difficult to tolerate knowing that our partners begin to question things, judge things, and not support things we do or say, and that shatters our infantile illusions that we should be accepted, not judged, not questioned.
Many couples don’t survive this period because they think that they fell out of love when in fact, they merely begin to grow up as a couple. They think they are incompatible and that they paired up with the wrong person.
How do you know if you’re in the “grown-up” love phase?
In terms of how you think about your partner: You are entering the grown-up phase when you begin to realize that most of your partner’s “bad behavior” comes down to fear or anxiety, rather than ill intentions or stupidity. If you can begin to doubt the certainty of your assumptions about your partners intentions, you will take his/her “bad behavior” less personally, which in turn, will begin to diffuse the “bad behavior”.
In terms of how you think about yourself: You are entering the grown-up phase when you begin to realize that what you think, wish, long for and feel, is not totally obvious to your partner. As a child, your caretaker had to guess the reasons for your discomfort. As a grown up, you will need to verbally articulate the reasons for your discomfort in a calm and clear way.
Don’t worry if you go back and forth between grown up and child-like behaviors and responses. What you are looking for is a trend in the right direction.
Growing up as a couple is not easy. We have to be able to tolerate that our self-esteem will be lower at times, that our egos will get occasionally bruised, and that our imperfections will be exposed. In my experience, the difference between those couples who make it through and those who don’t is their ability to tolerate imperfections in themselves and their partners without having permanent tantrums (occasional tantrums is ok, we are all human).
We all seem accept easily that growing up to become reasonable adults is painful and difficult. Why should growing up as a couple be any different? Only grown up love is real love.