For the nine years of my marriage and the three years of engagement prior to that, I staunchly proclaimed to anyone listening that I was madly in love with my husband.
I knew, deep in my marrow, that he loved me, too. We had something all-consuming, all-encompassing. It was real. I was sure of it.
Well, I’ve learned a few things from the divorce. My entire life is vastly different from the little girl who thought she knew everything when she said “I do” to a man who would later turn out to be someone she didn’t recognize.
Over the course of the separation, negotiations, and in the aftermath of the divorce, I learned that what I’d felt and what my ex-husband continued to claim as love was nothing of the sort. How do I know? Because three years later, I am surrounded by real, true, deep love. It looks nothing like the “love” from my marriage and especially the divorce.
1. Love doesn’t purposely cause pain. Yes, people feel pain when they love. But no one who claims to love you will deliberately hurt you. My ex-husband looked for ways to hurt me – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Destruction of property, physical abuse, and threats of suicide and self-harm became part of my life for a time. While he was doing it, he told me he loved me and always would. I quickly realized this wasn’t love in any form or shape. If he’d truly loved me, the thought of causing me real pain would have repelled him.
2. Love is more than words. I grew up in a home where the words “I love you” were almost never said. Love was shown in the way we treated one another but never spoken. In my marriage, the pendulum swung the other way. I heard – and said – the words all the time, but the acts of love weren’t there. People need both. We need to hear it, but if the words aren’t followed up with action, it becomes a hollow statement.
3. Love is self-sacrificing. I’ve lost more sleep, given up my own free time, and done things I didn’t really want to do all in the name of love. We do it for our children all the time. Of course, we should do it for our partners, as well. Many people don’t or if they do, we – as the offending partner who demanded so much – will hear about how much was done for us, forever.
4. Love is unselfish. As humans, we’re automatically a bit selfish – some of us more than others. Deep, strong, abiding love allows me to want better for him than I do for myself. It only works because he wants the same thing for me. We’re both constantly looking out for the other and willing to give the other everything we can. I was afraid of being unselfish because, in my marriage, it was expected and never appreciated.
5. Love forgives. In my current relationship, John and I aren’t perfect. We screw up. We’ve lied by omission. We’ve said unkind things. We’ve been selfish at the wrong moment. But at the end of the day, we talk about it, say what we need to, and forgive. In my marriage, I remembered every detail of how I was wronged – and so did my ex-husband. Eventually, a prior bad act (no matter how small) was brought back up and thrown in the other’s face.
6. Love is quiet and warm. Lust is hot and spicy. There’s nothing wrong with lust. Without that quiet, warm, fuzzy feeling from love, lust can and will burn out. I didn’t understand the difference between the silent acceptance that this was my life while I was married and the quiet love of a happy life until I was in a different relationship. I spent years in my marriage contemplating what life would be like alone. Years. Now, I spend time contemplating what our life together will be like in several years.
7. Love is not perfect. I’m one of the fortunate people who left a bad relationship filled with words of love and selfish acts and found the real thing. It didn’t happen overnight, and the poor man had to climb every wall I’d put up between myself and the world before I accepted he was real. I created a list in my head of what I thought my next partner had to have and ought to be. It was simply another wall. There is no such thing as perfection. But when you can’t imagine your life without them, when you can see, feel, taste, and hear all the ways you love one another, and when you know that they’re perfect for you, that’s when you know it’s love.
My “education” in love didn’t come without some hard knocks, low moments, and plenty of tears. I knew that abuse in any form wasn’t love. That was the only reason I was able to cut myself off, emotionally, from my ex-husband. The rest of the lessons came in time as I tried on different relationships and met different people. Most of what I’ve learned about love came from a good man who loves all of me, flaws and all. I didn’t know what was missing until I felt it for the first time.
For us, there’s little need to proclaim our undying love to anyone who will listen. The people who matter most can see it every time they look at us. To be, that’s the truest example of love – it emanates from you.
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