This post is a guest post by Dr. Jonathan Sandberg–Esteemed Marriage and Family Therapist and Professor at BYU.
“Did I marry the wrong person?”
I hear a version of this question regularly in my work as a marriage and family therapist. It is almost as if people believe love is like a blood type and only certain types of people are compatible. The underlying assumption is that I might, one horrific day, wake up and find my partner and I are incompatible (like A and B blood types). Is that possible, to wake up one day I find out I “never loved this person”, or “we should never gotten together?” Let’s try to answer that question.
No, I do not believe in that conceptualization of love. Couples grow together and increase in love or couples drift apart and their love fades or sours. Many people feel, when they have drifted, that they never really did love this person or that they made a mistake. But when asked to honestly look back, most couples recognize they were excited, hopeful, and truly in love during courting and early marriage. It is what happens after marriage that is the key.
“The key to succeeding in a romantic relationship is not finding the right person; it is learning to love the person you found.” I love this quote because it places the power, control, and responsibility, back into the hands of the individual. This empowered approach teaches that I can do something about my feelings regarding my partner. “Sustaining love is not a passive or spontaneous experience. You have to work on it day in and day out. It takes time, effort, and energy.” If you are wondering if you married the wrong person, and you are not dealing with ongoing addictions, abuse, or infidelity, ask yourself this question: when was the last time you put sustained, sincere effort into loving my spouse? Remember, you can change how you feel about your relationship.
What is it you want to feel for or from your partner? Are you clear in your own mind and heart? Once you are clear, try explaining it to your partner, help her/him understand what is it you want to feel. Without criticizing, blaming, or threatening to leave, ask your partner how you can best work together to create those feelings. In general, I believe you are more likely to make the changes you need to make to be happy within the relationship, not by escaping it. Most problems are transportable, we can change partners and geography, but we seem to bring most of those problems with us. Why not try changing things from within the relationship, or try again. If you are stuck, ask for some help! You can take the RELATE survey, you can read a good book on the subject, you can seek help from a spiritual leader, you can seek out therapy. You can change how you feel about your relationship.
Falling in or out of love, that is easy. Learning how to fall, stay, and grow in love, that is THE GREAT ADVENTURE.
**The quotes from this article are from an outstanding blog entitled “Am I with the right partner?”.