There have been mornings when, after snapping photos of birds or leaves or bugs, I turn and discover Max and Belle are nowhere in sight.
They've slipped off in a different direction, distracted by an interesting smell or a glimpse of a squirrel, assuming I will follow them (as I often do.)
So I backtrack, calling their names, until finally we're back together, headed along the same path.
Relationships can be like that, too. You each have your own interests or responsibilities - which is a good thing, of course - but sometimes you forget to check on each other.
You get caught up in what you're doing as if it's all that matters, oblivious to what the other is going through, assuming they are right there with you...until you look up and find you're all alone.
If you're lucky, you can backtrack and find each other. But often, that isn't the case, as we all know.
There's a perception that love conquers all. It does, but it's not that simple. It doesn't just happen automatically.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I didn't just assume all knowledge about pregnancy and motherhood would come naturally. I bought books and subscribed to parenting magazines. I wasn't taking any chances.
And when Tom decided to build a house, he didn't just trust his vision or his gift for woodworking. He bought books and subscribed to magazines about construction, tools, and building. He wanted to make sure the house was done right and could weather any storm.
Yet we didn't treat marriage the same way. It never occurred to us when we decided to get married thirty-two years ago that we should educate ourselves beyond the few "Engagement Encounter" sessions the Catholic church required.
We didn't even think we needed those. After all, it was pretty much love at first sight for us. We were meant to be together, totally in sync, thought alike, had the same visions, opinions, and goals...
We were in love. We didn't need anything else.
If you've been married very long, you're probably laughing by now. You know it's not that easy.
Before we knew what was happening, we found ourselves drifting off on different paths, seeing issues from different perspectives, backtracking, compromising, giving in, or digging in.
But despite some pretty tense times in our marriage, we never considered counseling or workshops of any kind along the way. We were special, more in-tune with each other and more in love than anyone else in the history of the world had ever been. We could work it out ourselves.
However, several couples who I thought were special like us have recently fallen apart, or come close to it, after decades together, which made me realize Tom and I have really just been lucky that we've made it as far as we have.
Two friends separately told me about one particular book that helped save their marriages. I became curious, and because my marriage is very precious to me, I ordered a copy to read myself.
The premise of "Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs is that women's basic need is love and men's is respect. Unconditional love. Unconditional respect.
I admit that made me stop and think. I've always believed respect should be earned. How do you respect unconditionally?
But...if love can be unconditional, then I had to consider that respect could be, too. So I kept reading.
I admit, there were times while reading that the feminist in me clenched her teeth, rolled her eyes, and ranted over certain passages. I need respect, too, for crying out loud! I have a brain!
But I had been forewarned by one of the friends...a very independent, outspoken, strong woman...that that would happen, and to give the book a chance. To read it all the way through.
So I kept reading. And I'm glad I did. Sure enough, by the end, he mentions all of the exceptions I thought of and addresses my questions.
I wish the book had been around and someone had recommended it when we were newlyweds. If we'd read it way back then, maybe we would have avoided most of the bumpy roads we've taken. The book opened my eyes to many mistakes I'd made over the years that created a lot (but not all!) of those bumps.
Mostly he points out what triggers the "crazy-cycle" couples often get into and give good advice on how to avoid it, or how to get out of it when you forget and slip back into it.
Eggerichs theory is Bible-based and the book is laced with verses, but even if you're not a Christian, I think you'll see that what he suggests is very practical. It's actually good advice for any relationship...between you and your children, your parents, your co-workers, your boss...
So this is my Valentine's Day gift to you...a recommendation to educate yourself if you're in a relationship, whether it's through this book or or a workshop or some other way that helps you communicate and smooth out the bumps...or avoid them altogether. Otherwise you might find yourself at a dead-end, staring at a stranger.
Treat your love like the precious treasure it is. Love deserves that much.
(If you're not in a relationship with someone else, you're still in a relationship with you! And that's still a precious treasure! Treat yourself accordingly!)
Happy Valentine's Day!
If you've got a recommendation for a book, workshop, or just something you've discovered that helps relationships grow stronger, please share in the comments!
(Disclosure: I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you buy it through this link, I get a few pennies. But that's not why I'm recommending it. )