Why are relationships so hard to sustain?

February 22, 2022

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The depth and quality of our relationships determines the depth and quality of our lives, but relationships are challenging. Loving someone means putting their interests ahead of your own. Love is, by definition, sacrificial, and therefore love involves costly action. How can we learn to love even when the feelings of love have faded? Written by Jason Harris Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee Filmed and directed by Andrew Walker

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    When couples first fall in love they may say to one another quite confidently: “We were made for each other.” They feel as though they have finally found their match in the other person who so perfectly complements their own personality, gifts and passions. And yet we know far too well from our own experience that so many relationships that begin with a bright flash of romance often fade into the slowly dying embers of cold coexistence given the inevitable changes of time and circumstance. 

    So we find ourselves in a strange predicament. We know that we can’t live without love in our relationships. But if love is so important, why does love so often seem to flame out and let us down?

    And I’m not just talking about romantic relationships either. We know instinctively that “we were made for each other” in the sense that we cannot thrive as human beings without meaningful relationships—with family, friends, roommates, neighbors and colleagues. But if that’s the case, why do we find all of our relationships so difficult to sustain?

    I think part of it at least has to do with a misunderstanding of what love is. Most people think of love primarily as a feeling. Some even describe it as a sensation like shortness of breath or butterflies in the stomach. But love is not primarily an emotion. Though it may be accompanied by strong feelings of  attachment or even infatuation, love is first and foremost an action.

    Love is a choice. It is a commitment. It is a decision of the will. We can choose to love another person through our actions regardless of what our feelings may be. That is why, for example, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. Jesus is not commanding us to cultivate warm and fuzzy feelings toward those who despise us. But he is suggesting that it is possible to seek the good of others no matter how we feel towards them.

    When it comes to romantic interests, our feelings of love may be the spark that ignites the relationship, but feelings cannot sustain a relationship over the long haul for the simple reason that we cannot always control our feelings. Feelings come and go. We can, however, control our actions—and our decisions in particular. 

    In fact, it is often the case that if we act lovingly towards another person, the feelings will follow. When we act loving, we feel loving—and when we feel loving, we act loving. Our actions trigger a virtuous cycle. 

    But the opposite is also the case. If we stop taking steps to proactively love the other person, it should come as no surprise if the feelings of love start to dry up.

    And that goes for all our relationships—whether with lovers or with friends.

    Love is not about getting, it’s about giving. To love is to give. It means putting the interests of another person ahead of your own. Love is, by definition, sacrificial, and therefore love involves costly action.

    The question, of course, is how can we learn to love like that? Christianity suggests that the way to love is to be loved. The way to forgive is to be forgiven. The way to be kind is to receive kindness. 

    In other words, the only way we can learn to truly love others is if we first experience the love of Jesus for us. And the place where Jesus has supremely revealed his love for us is the cross.

    Consider Jesus on the cross. Christianity teaches that Jesus died in our place, bearing the consequence of our spiritual rebellion and failure, in order to forgive us and reconcile us to himself. 

    Though the Scriptures suggest Jesus had endless reasons and plenty of opportunities to leave and abandon the way of the cross—he stayed.

    And he made this choice not because it was easy and certainly not because it felt good. No, he followed through in his commitment to love us because he made a promise. He promised that he would never leave us or forsake us—no matter what. He did it all for love’s sake.

    When we recognize the ways in which we scorn God’s love, try his patience, make the same mistakes over and over again, and do the things we promised we would never do, and yet we see how Jesus loves us even still—far beyond what we deserve or could even imagine—that’s when we learn to truly love one another.

    Written by Jason Harris
    Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
    Directed and edited by Andrew Walker