Love – Mature and Immature

I spent some time this week reflecting on my relationship with my wife. We’ve been married since September of 2007 (9/22 to be precise, back off ladies!). I’ve noticed an irritating occurrence that happens whenever I tell a married person how long we’ve been married. Without fail I’m told how short 4 years is with a tone that implies that I don’t have any idea what marriage is really like. It’s as if people think there is a set of experiences that occur in marriage only after you’ve been married 10 years and then another set at 15, 20, etc.

I suppose it’s a typical piece of conventional wisdom. It’s standard for a long term relationship to follow a standard relationship model that begins with infatuation and ends sitting quietly on a porch with no need for words because the shared experiences have long since overwhelmed the need for chitchat to fill the silence. Along that path people realize at some point that their partner isn’t perfect, that physical beauty fades away and that relationships require far more effort than was ever described in the fairy tales and story books.

The thing that irks me is the assumption that is being made when the statement is offered. It implies that we’re all doomed to be surprised by the same things and that we’re all doomed to make the same mistakes. Frankly, I think that’s just silly. While it is true that we’ll all find our way through the same relationship process that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll do it at the same speed or that we’ll be surprised by the steps and outcomes.

Interestingly, I never hear that comment when two older people get married. It’s already assumed that they know what they’re getting into so no one bothers them about it. Ironically, there are older people getting into troubled relationships too. See, age isn’t the key factor in this equation, it is maturity. Love can be broken into two categories – Mature and Immature. While age may be a factor in the likelihood of engaging in one type or love or than the other, it isn’t the primary factor. There are plenty of 50 and 60 year olds who are no more capable of sharing a mature love now than when they were 18.

I believe that the vast majority of relationships start with immature love. The infatuation step almost guarantees it. It is hard to see truth when you are drunk with the feelings that your partner is ‘the one’ and that he’s perfect and that you’ll always be happy. I think God might have created us to experience infatuation for the simple fact that our flaws as people are so numerous that we might not ever choose a mate if we had to rate all of their flaws before engaging in a relationship. Instead we’re blinded by infatuation, almost like the Mist in the Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels. We can’t handle seeing the truth, so we see what we want to see instead.

I think infatuation is probably the root cause of the comments that I find so irritating. People remember what their own relationships were like. They think of how perfect everything was and how wonderful their partner was and then compare them to today. When they do that they can’t help but think that everyone else is in for a rude awakening as well. That wake-up call is really the beginning of the next step in the relationship. At this point we start to see the flaws in the other person. I mean, why do they leave their clothes all over the floor? Didn’t anybody teach them to wash dishes? Why doesn’t he ever compliment me? Why does she spend all of our money shopping?

The Wake-Up call phase is where the rubber hits the road in most relationships. Because of the infatuation stage we are already deeply invested in this relationship. Remember, two months ago we thought this person was The One! But now, they are just so frustrating. The question is, are their good qualities enough to make you overlook their bad qualities. I’m sorry, that’s the wrong word. It’s not about overlooking their bad qualities, but more about accepting them. Do they have the type of personality that you think you can work with?  Many times the answer to this question is no and the couple breaks up. Unfortunately, in today’s society even though the answer to the questions is no, the couple fails to break up. They forge onward towards a more painful breakup or divorce down the road. These people couldn’t handle the pain of the small breakup, so they put it off and tried to make it work. Unfortunately for them it only leads to a much larger and more painful breakup in the future.

They stay together, working on each other, but struggling and fighting instead of accepting and reciprocating.

While almost all relationships make it past the Infatuation stage, Immature love rarely makes it past the Wake-Up Call phase. Mature love, on the other hand, plants its seeds during the Wake-Up Call. Mature love begins with the realization that you still love the person, even after waking up to their imperfections. Notice that I say the seeds are planted here, this isn’t mature love yet. An Immature love can feel exactly the same way at this point, but the difference is found in what you do with the information.

Thus begins the stage that I’ll call the Renovations stage. When mature love blooms the fruit that it bears can be seen in the couple’s ability to communicate and take action based on those communications. This can be a terribly difficult phase. Imagine you’re a 20 year old house that’s up for sale. The structure is sound, but it needs to be upgraded. In order to get the best price on the market we need to gut the bathroom and kitchen and rebuild them, etc. That takes a lot of effort and most of us don’t react well when somebody comes in and tells us that parts of our personality aren’t good enough and need to be replaced.

That’s what the Renovations stage is about. It’s the ability to give and take feedback and then put it into motion. I have to stress that it’s learning to both GIVE and TAKE. It takes a special person to be able to take feedback quickly and apply it. Most of the time people are immediately defensive and have to be given time to come around. In my mind, it’s even harder to be good at giving the feedback. Anybody can get frustrated about something and make sharp, sarcastic comments. But that’s not real feedback and nobody should be expected to accept those kinds of comments without fighting back. Giving good feedback means that you have the ability to analyze a situation, figure out the best time to say something and the best way of saying it. In a mature relationship both parties feel comfortable giving this feedback and accept the fact that they aren’t perfect and need to take the feedback as well.

The renovations stage is easily the longest phase of a relationship. I’m not certain, but it’s very possible that it will continue in parallel to the next phase until the end of the relationship. The last stage in the relationship is the payoff for all of this hard work. Since I’m not feeling creative at the moment I’ll go ahead and call it the Payoff stage. Put simply, the Payoff stage is the step in a relationship where love grows exponentially because you become aware of all of the changes and steps that your love has made for you. The gratitude that you feel overflows and creates a feedback loop that forces you to step out and make the same kinds of changes and sacrifices to make your partner feel just as much love as you do.

A relationship in the Payoff stage is truly beautiful. It’s the vision of love that we all aspire to. But don’t be deceived. It is very difficult to get there. The Renovations stage can be so frustrating and so trying that there are couples who never make it to the payoff. They stay together, working on each other, but struggling and fighting instead of accepting and reciprocating. This is terribly sad because they’re so close. It depends on the maturity of the couple and the maturity of the relationship. Just as a mature person understands that a teacher tests them in school in order to facilitate their growth they also need to understand that their partner is doing the same thing. You are ready for the Payoff stage when you are able to accept that the correction is coming out of love and that it leads to better days instead of rebelling against it like a defensive child.

Ok, I have to admit, this article went in a totally different direction than I thought it would when I sat down to write it. That being said, I’m happy with it. I hope that it might help you, no matter where you are in your relationships.

Be blessed,

Jonathan

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Posted on December 24, 2011, in Relationships and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very nicely written, says this guy who’s been happily married for 20 years this year. A lot of truth in what you wrote.

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