If you've lost 'that loving feeling,' consider it a good sign.
Don’t you hate having something on your windshield? Whether it’s a leaf stuck under my wiper or the smeared remains of a bug, one of my chief annoyances is having a dirty windshield. It’s so cathartic to spray the washer fluid and watch the wipers carry away that source of annoyance.
There’s a tendency to view stagnancy in our romantic relationships the same way, as annoyances we can wipe away. But just like parking your car under the same tree, the blemish comes back … splat, wash, wipe, relief, repeat. Instead of this repetitive cycle, I propose we dive head-first into what to do if you’ve “lost that loving feeling.”
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis talks about this phase, when the mysterious figure of your romance novel life has become the middle-aged beer belly you wake up to in the morning. He says that romantic love, which he calls “eros,” is actually supposed to lead us to this point. When we love with a shallow heart, we need elaborate dates and constant eye-gazing, but the more love deepens, the more mopping the stained linoleum for an exhausted spouse is akin to reading sonnets below their windowsill under a full moon. We have to let our love mature, and our over-romanticized tendencies can become an enemy of this love.
The romance addict will go to any length to get butterflies again. Ordinary, day-to-day life won’t do for those stricken with a case of Nicholas Sparks-induced hopeless romanticism. Fed by a steady diet of Hollywood propaganda about the good life, they will sink endless amounts of money, time, attention in search of a new thrill. We get carried away in fantasy if we’re not rooted in reality. Readers Digest cited a study that found that over 33 percent of married people considered breaking up after watching a romantic TV show or movie.
The same study showed that “nearly 60 percent of both men and women who were unhappy with their relationships say they would still be happy to spend eternity with their partners.” So we crave romance (and need it in a healthy marriage), but maybe there’s something more than just a feeling when it comes to love.
True, we’re an adventure-seeking, romantic society—“carpe diem,” eat, pray, love, and all that. That thrill-seeking gene has impacted our view of romance for the worse, but also for the better. The daily life of a couple looks droll and unexciting, but if we start tuning out we forget that there’s real adventure afoot. We need to open our eyes more.
Which brings me to a recent Super Bowl commercial, which illustrates so well the romantic tendencies of the American psyche. In this Mr. Clean commercial, a woman imagines a super-toned Mr. Clean doing a Patrick Swayze impersonation in her living room as he cleans. Turns out it’s been her pudgy, painfully normal husband doing the cleaning all along, breaking her trance by asking, “Is it clean enough?” Here we have it all: a normal hum-drum setting for an epic romantic adventure. It’s familiar to all of us. When I told my wife that the Mr. Clean commercial had inspired part of this article, she laughed in delight and immediately pulled up the video on her phone (though we’ve already watched it a million times), intoning “This is so accurate!”
So, what do I say to those who say they’ve “lost that loving feeling” in their marriage? I tell them they’ve barely even started feeling. There’s an unimaginable depth to the love that’s rooted in seductive mopping. We’re not just cleaning up the house, getting the children bathed and fed, etc.; we’re conquering dragons—namely our own narrow-minded conceptions of what it means to be in love and happy. Ironically, when you’re on an adventure together, and not just characters in a cheap romance novel, the occasional rose, love sonnet, or hot date means so much more.
There is something deeper that grows out of our ever-changing romance (“eros”). It’s real friendship. The kind of friendship that makes both of you want to pick up a few extra toys off the floor, volunteer for the next diaper, or make the bed in the morning while the other one sips their morning coffee in peace.
So don’t worry. Keep loving as best you can and be surprised when the curtain is periodically pulled back and you notice the blessing of the boring, every day, romantic adventure. As Bilbo Baggins once said, ”It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”