There’s a point in every relationship in which you eventually begin to see the other person not as the idealized self that your heart has romanticized but as the flawed individual that he or she necessarily is. It’s happened to you. It’s happened to others. It’s happened to anyone who’s ever dated for any length of time. Or crossed the threshold of marriage into reality. And it’s at that point that you have to decide if you’re just in love with being in love or if you’re truly in love with a flesh-and-blood human being who faces the same struggles that you do.
Dr. Les Parrott, a professor of clinical psychology, and his wife, Dr. Leslie Parrott, a marriage and family therapist, have written about this key turning point in every relationship in their insightful book “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts” (Zondervan, 1995). Whether you’re presently in a relationship that’s headed to the altar or not, their description of what it means to come face-to-face with romantic disillusionment gives helpful direction to us all. The following excerpt is taken from their book chapter addressing myths in relationships that must be confronted if you’re going to progress to a deeper level of intimacy.
“Most relationships begin with an emotional honeymoon, a time of deep and passionate romance. But this romance is invariably temporary. In The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck says that ‘no matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough.’ He does not mean that we cease loving our partner. He means that the feeling of ecstatic love that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes. ‘The honeymoon always ends,’ he states. ‘The bloom of romance always fades.’
It is an illusion that the romance in the beginning of a relationship will last forever. This may be hard to swallow (it was for us), but debunking the myth of eternal romance will do more than just about anything to help you build a lifelong happy marriage.
Here’s the bottom line: Each of us constructs an idealized image of the person we marry. The image is planted by our partner’s eager efforts to put the best foot forward, but it takes root in the rich soil of our romantic fantasies. We want to see our partner at his best. We imagine, for example, that he would never become irritable or put on excess weight. We seek out and attend to what we find admirable and blank out every blemish. We see him as more noble, more attractive, more intelligent, more gifted than he really is. But not for long.
The stark fact is that this phase is necessarily fleeting. Some experts believe the half-life of romantic love is about three months, after which you have only half the amount of romantic feelings you started out with. Others believe romantic love stays at a peak for two to three years before starting to fade. Whichever theory is correct, you can be sure that the enchantment of romance will begin to fade eventually. The point is that we marry an image and only later discover the real person.
An attorney we know who handles many divorce cases told us that the number-one reason two people split up is that they ‘refuse to accept the fact that they are married to a human being.’
In every marriage, mutual hope gives way to mutual disillusionment the moment you realize your partner is not the perfect person you thought you married. But then again, he can’t be. No human being can fulfill your idealized dreams. A letdown is inevitable. But there is sunshine behind the dark clouds of disappointment. Once you realize that your marriage is not a source of constant romance, you can appreciate the fleeting moments of romance for what they are — a very special experience.
Here’s the good news: Disenchantment enables you to move into deeper intimacy.”
Our theological understanding of relationships must be built on the biblical foundation that even as believers we are works in progress. We are sinners saved by grace and are day-by-day being transformed into the image of Christ. And we’ll spend a lifetime getting there. In the process we’ll sometimes be selfish. Oftentimes make unwise decisions. And even at times irrationally hurt the very people we love the most. And when those moments of stark humanity make themselves known in unexpected yet profound ways, the real depth of the relationship will be revealed. And so, as the Parrott’s write, “Disenchantment enables you to move into deeper intimacy.” At some point you must come to the realization that you either love a person or you love an idealized personification of something that doesn’t really exist (and won’t last either).