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For when your life doesn't feel like a love song
I love love songs. They never seem to get old. This one was from 2006 that we just sang, it kind of made Justin Timberlake as great as any male pop artist—he had three number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100—the first artist since Usher to do that.
Right here in “My Love,” he perfectly marries the longing of commitment many of us have with the unending manic infatuation others of us desire. That’s what we want in a relationship, right? Security, for one; and endless, unforgettable passion!
That’s hard to do, it’s hard to do in a long, sustained manner. And I think that’s why these love songs are so intoxicating. They really represent the worldly ideal and they keep pumping the ideal into our brain. All of a sudden if a relationship isn’t consumable enough for us, we might just break up.
One the fireworks end—the commitment becomes more of a chore and less of the endless infatuation we might have experienced in the early days of the relationship, where you made out until your lips were chapped or you stayed up talking until 3 a.m. Now it’s 10 p.m. and a kiss goodnight, retiring to each side of our bed.
So why does JT’s song seem so far from reality?
Ultimately, the Justin Timberlake song is all about falling in love and convincing someone to marry him. He’s so convinced that he is his love, but it doesn’t look like he’s actually gotten into the relationship.
And that’s a problem. We want intimacy as human beings and once we get it, we might begin to fear that we’ll lose it and so that fear rules us. The opposite might be the case, too. The intimacy might feel like it traps us.
We might not include God in our relationships until it’s too late. We might not even think God has a place in our romantic lives, our relationships, or our sex lives. Enter the world of Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)—a book of poetry (lumped with other Books of Wisdom) found in between the historical books of the Old Testament and the Books of Prophecy—an early and profound example of the spirituality that one can find in erotic poetry. I mean, no matter which way you cut it, this book is about sex and emotional intimacy between two people that love each other. They are in love. And it’s beautiful!
Here’s a good part—use your imagination.
But I’m afraid that the idea that our romantic relationships and moments of intimacy can be worship to God is a stretch for most of us. I think including God in your relationship is a way to really overcome complications with fears of intimacy or feelings of boredom when the relationship seems stale.
Our relationship with our lovers is really like our relationship with God. It won’t always be ecstatic because it can’t be. It won’t always be free of conflict because it can’t be. It won’t always feel like a love song. Three suggestions when your life doesn’t feel like a love song.
Be OK with the ordinary. But being able to navigate the inevitable ordinariness of the relationship is really important. It’s going to feel “normal” most of the time. And that’s good. You don’t want it to be too intense. Intensity of course can carry both negative and positives with it, but it’s not sustainable. Be at peace with the “boredom” of your relationship. Enjoy the smooth road, even if feels like it’s too slow and too long.
Lose the idealism, both the idealism that Justin Timberlake puts in your head—or the ones that you think everyone else is having. More than likely, you’re relationship is normal. Let it be normal.
Of course, you don’t want an agreement with your buddy to be your relationship. There should be intimacy and romance and you shouldn’t forget, as my friend Matt Tice always tells me, to “woo” your partner. Don’t forget to do the things you love and prioritize them.
Fight well. In 2006 Katy Butler, a journalist, published an article based on John Gottman’s studies of couples in their most ordinary moments (playing card, chatting, disagreeing, kidding, watching TV, cooking dinner). He sometimes asked them to have a conflict and monitored their heart beat and movements and so on.
He used all sorts of couples (newlyweds, men who beat up their wives, passive aggressive types, aggressive aggressive people). He tracked them for twenty years.
One of the things he learned was that all the couples fought, and 70 percent of their conflicts never resolved. They were arguing about the same things years later. In fact, their clothing and hair styles changed more.
What mattered wasn’t if they fought, but how they did. The “masters of marriage” was one term that Gottman and his colleagues used. Wives brought up issues gently and brought them up soon. In a fight, their heart rates didn’t rise above 95 beats a minute. The husbands when hearing the complaint listened and responded in behavior—doing more dishes, working less, taking care of an older kid more.
In the fight, most notable, the masters made at least five positive remarks for every criticism—during a fight—and the ratio was twenty to one in normal times.
On the other hand, the wives in the “masters of disaster” segment raised issues harshly. Husbands got more upset. Every argument with a harsh start, or at least 94 percent of them, didn’t get better. The wives globalized their criticism—using superlatives and rhetorical questions. The husbands shut down. The Four Horsemen of Marital Apocalypse that Gottman terms are criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness, and contempt not surprisingly.
The more responsive a partner was to his or her partners bids, the less likely they divorced.
More than just how they fought, it was important how they made up. Even couples that were termed the masters of disaster got over it if they could have a healthy reconciliation.
Compliments, soft starts, and reconciliation. Intimacy can be formed just through those things.
Do something uncomfortable, finally. Push beyond your difficulties and respond to your lover.
A lot of us aren’t comfortable with physical intimacy or can’t bear to affirm someone out loud or hear it of themselves. It’s good to know our limitations so that we can become “friends” with them and overcome them.
You aren’t just who you are. A lot of time, we might get stuck in the first few months of therapy mentality. That is to say, we give up on the process once the therapist has just established some trust with us, and then we walk around judging everyone and feeling entitled about ourselves. Keep the self-discovery going and invite Jesus into it.
It’s going to take trust to overcome the issues of attachment you received when you were younger, it’s going to take faith to do it too. In the middle of your monogamous relationship, let God into it. Your live won’t be as you’ve idealized it to be, but it can still be great. Pray together and pray to Him. Read the Song of Songs. Try to be conscious of the fact that your long-standing relationships protects you and protects your soul.
In those seasons when you long for your relationship to be a like a love song. Well? Write one. Do something that you wouldn’t normally do. Be disciplined enough to pray about your relationship. Maintain a journal and see if your prayers are answered. Compare where you were and where you are. Note progress. And remember that intimacy is a worshipful act, you might not feel like doing it every day. Push beyond that and see where the discipline can take you.