Love Lessons No. 2: Love Takes Work (Sex Does, Too!)

Tips for a better love life

Posted Feb 08, 2012

In last week's post, Let there be space in your togetherness, I introduced the idea that a good relationship needs to have space for each individual person. Two separate people come together to make something new that is more than either could have alone. Today, I want to build on that idea by suggesting that there are actually three entities in any good relationship: you, me, and the relationship itself.

I hope you find this idea helpful: to take a step back and view your relationship as something outside yourself—something that needs your attention, care, and hard work in order to keep it alive. This basic attitude replaces a common misconception that good relationships come effortlessly. While we may wish it and Hollywood may sell it, it isn't so. You've got to work at love to keep it alive and well.

You see, good relationships are more like house plants than like weeds. Weeds grow without any care. Good relationships die without it. Since I have such a brown thumb, every house plant I have ever owned has died because I haven't kept a close eye on it. I didn't care enough to make the effort to find the right conditions of sunshine, oxygen and water for it to grow. Luckily, I care more about people than house plants, so I try to do better!

Love takes work. It takes effort to make the time and space in our lives to tend to our most important relationships. We are tired. We are busy. Add school, professional desires and commitments, children, chores, money, worries, health concerns, and obligations of all kinds.  There just doesn't seem to be enough time or energy left. But our relationships need us to find the room, to make the room. We have to work hard to remember that if we don't find room for them, we lose them.

And the resistances go deeper than the busyness of modern life. If we add into the mix the fact that relationships tap into our deepest vulnerabilities and needs, perhaps we can see how tempting it is to turn away and focus on the easier things. An intimate relationship involves a careful balance between giving and receiving, between generosity and personal satisfaction. Just like good sex, loving relationships require thoughtful attention; they challenge us to do better.

I think that one of the real troubles in relationships is that each one tends to wait for the other one to get the work started. "You go first," we say. We don't want to take the risk to be the vulnerable one. But we have to. We are each responsible for doing our part. If we wait around for the other person to take the lead, we do so at the relationship's peril.

If the relationship is important to you, then you go first. Be the first to initiate sex, or a date, or a talk over a cup of coffee. Be the first to say, "How was your day?" or "I'm sorry." or "A penny for your thoughts." or even, "I love you."

And if you are fortunate enough to have a partner who is willing to go first, jump at the chance to reciprocate! Express your gratitude. Take the next step. Let kindness beget kindness; let risk beget risk; let love beget love. If you can get a healthy, lively give-and-take kind of love going, work to keep it going. After all, then everybody wins.

Copyright 2012 Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.

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