I remember speaking with a couple in their mid-twenties; they had a baby girl aged six months and were about to divorce. I asked the man why he wanted to leave his wife. He said, “I don’t feel in love anymore.”
As he spoke, I couldn’t help but gaze at the little bundle that his wife cradled in her arms. I said, “Didn’t anybody tell you when you married that there will be times when the feeling of love will diminish? Didn’t anybody warn you that sometimes you have to fight for love? Didn’t they tell you that for a love that lasts, you have to love – at least for a time – not with the heart, but the will?” He looked genuinely surprised. “No,” he said. “Nobody told me that.”
Nobody told him this, yet that simple warning might, perhaps, have at least made him realise that these feelings are common – that, like many others, he could come through that experience. Perhaps that simple warning might even have given a baby girl her father back.
I am sometimes asked what I believe is the greatest threat to families today. There could be many answers, but I am sure that the idea that love is just a feeling must be one of the greatest. But love is not just about ‘feeling’ – it’s also about ‘doing’. There’s a well-known Bible passage about love that is often read out at weddings. It talks not just of the emotion of love, but its acts – the doing of love: “Love never gives up, never loses faith … and endures through every circumstance.” I know full well that in our human frailty this is not always possible, but it is a million miles away from the message that you and I have a right to always feel in love.
I often go to write my books in a small cottage in west Wales. One August afternoon I took a break and was walking on the beach. It was a wonderful day. The sun shone out of a cloudless sky. It felt good to be alive. I walked along the beach then made my way back to the cottage. As I reached the road I saw an old fisherman sitting on a bench. “It’s glorious, isn’t it?” I said. I don’t know if he was having a bad day or was just tired of tourists, but he said, “You should see it in January.”
The next day I walked on the beach again. It looked as lovely as it had 24 hours ago, but this time I imagined the hills, the bay and the sea whisper to me, “Will you love us in January?”
I believe that the need to love in January comes to every marriage. This is a time when we do not feel ‘in love’. It may be that everything cries out, “Walk away – it’s over.” But over the years I have seen many couples fight to keep their relationship alive in January by ‘doing’ love. They love at that time as an act of the will.
I think of a husband who vowed to stop his sarcastic comments and instead began to build his wife up in front of others. One couple who were going through a cold patch in their marriage told me how they’d sat down one evening and gone through a box containing photos of their family life. She said, “It was a trip down memory lane. We made ourselves remember better times – times that were good, that were full of laughter. It made us see how foolish we were to say, ‘We’ve never really been happy.’”
They decided to give their relationship one last chance and to try something new.
And I remember another couple when they faced a time of January love. They had three children, led busy lives, and somehow they had grown apart. It seemed their marriage was at an end. But they decided to give their relationship one last chance and to try something new.
They agreed that each Tuesday night they would spend the evening on their own together. They never did anything very expensive – perhaps just a small walk or sometimes they had a drink in the corner of the local pub. They made time with each other a priority and they planned it into their lives.
They had those Tuesday evenings together for at least 12 years, even after their kids had left home. Did that evening every week save their marriage? Who knows? But I do know this: it became important to them. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t expensive, but their ‘date night’ did give to each of them the dignity of time.
Couples who stay together are prepared to go through periods in their relationship where commitment, responsibility, and sometimes “what’s best for the children” is what keeps them together. “For the sake of the kids” is not always the right reason to stay together, but it’s still a good reason. None of us want to live our whole lives loving with gritted teeth, but there are thousands of couples who tried again and, in the process, found again a love they’d thought was gone forever.
If you found this article helpful, you might like to try Rob’s book ‘Loving Against the Odds’ for only £7.99.