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I’m reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I’ve been married just over 10 years, and I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship. I don’t want to say that the spark isn’t there anymore. I just think the spark has changed over the years. Not to long ago we were at our 7-year-old’s basketball game. I had to leave early, and just before I left the court I turned around and looked at Mel sitting in the stands, and was struck, for just a moment, by how beautiful she is. I felt it in my knees. However, I don’t feel that way all the time anymore. Not like I used to, anyway.
After 10 years, we’ve grown very comfortable with each other. We speak very candidly, and with three young kids, sometimes the best we can do is spend 30 minutes together, in the evening, watching a show on Netflix. I’m not sure how to define love. I’m not sure what it exactly looks like, but what I can say is that I never thought it would look like two people on a sofa, one with a laptop, the other with a tablet, space between them, and Parks and Recreation on the TV.
In fact, when I think about moments like that, I wonder if this is what falling out of love looks like.
I started reading 7 Habits… because it was mentioned at a conference I attended, and although I grew up just a few miles away from where Steven Covey lived, I never really thought about reading this book. It was published in the late 80s, so it seemed outdated, and I assumed it was targeted towards more business-minded individuals. And indeed, some of the ideas are a little old fashioned, but one passage really stuck out to me.
It was just what I needed to hear.
Covey talks about being approached at a seminar by a man who’d fallen out of love with his wife. He was speaking on the concept of proactivity (actively seeking out what you want, rather then being reactive, and waiting for those things to find you).
Here’s the passage: “My wife and I just don't have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don't love her anymore and she doesn't love me. What can I do?" He said.
"The feeling isn't there anymore?" I asked.
"That's right," he reaffirmed. "And we have three children we're really concerned about it. What do you suggest?"
"Love her," I replied.
"I told you, the feeling just isn't there anymore."
"You don't understand. The feeling of love just isn't there."
"Then love her. If the feeling isn't there, that's a good reason to love her."
"But how do you love when you don't love?"
"My friend, love is a verb. Love - the feeling - is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
Mel and I met at a hardware store in 2003. She was the gardening specialist, and I was the gardening manager. We weren’t supposed to date, which made things exciting. At least once a shift I’d tug her into secluded section of the store and kiss her. I fell in love with her eyes, her charm, her body, her smile, her walk... all of it gave me chills.
In 2012, just before I graduated college, I was working at that same chain of hardware stores, but in another state. The song “Love Is A Verb” by John Meyer used to play at least three or four times a shift, and I used to hear it and get irritated because it seemed like such a strange concept. Mel and I had fallen in love. It acted upon us.
Now, after ten years of marriage and three children, those chills have gotten a little overshadowed by exhaustion, a messy living room, and money management. Raising a family is stressful, and although marriage is rewarding, it takes a lot of maintenance.
After reading Covey’s passaged, I thought about the phrase “Love is a Verb” and realized it means putting the children’s needs aside every once in a while and focusing on the needs of your partner. It means giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, and although you know them better than anyone, it means making a conscious decision to not pick apart their flaws. It means acting on love, rather than waiting for love to act on you.
I fell in love, yes. But that doesn’t mean I have to have to fall out of it. It means I have to keep up the momentum.
I read Covey’s passage on my lunch break, and that evening, when I arrived home from work, I grabbed my wife by the arms, pushed her against the door between the kitchen and the garage, and kissed her just like I used to ten years ago, when we worked together. Norah, our five year old, tugged at my leg, while Aspen, our baby, cried in the background, and I didn’t care. I held Mel firmly, and I kissed her confidently. And once we were done she looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Wow. What was that for?"
“Love is a verb,” I said.
“I’m not sure what that means,” she said. Smiling. “But I love you.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.