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I travel well. I enjoy plane rides, I don’t mind airports, and I’m a big fan of cruise ships. But I don’t pack particularly well.

It’s not that I forget the essentials; it’s that I get stressed out trying to remember them all, let alone trying to accomplish the massive to-do list that I make for myself before I can depart.

But I think this acknowledgement of my pitfalls is actually one more brick in the road towards familial bliss. Certainly it’s not bliss living with me as I frantically reply to emails that have been sitting in my inbox for weeks, or decide that it is imperative that we clean out the fridge right now, even though that rotting stuff in there hasn’t bothered me up until now. Knowing I’m going to be a bear, though, gives my family time to plan for it. They know I’m a wreck, so for the most part, they can laugh it off, realize it’s nothing personal, and eventually we’ll get on the road and all will be well. When we prepare for the rocky road ahead, we end up faring much better.

This is the weekend to celebrate love. And yet, for a society that values love, praises love, yearns for love, and chases love, it seems so odd to me that we fail to prepare for love.

On Valentine’s Day, the popular image is Cupid’s arrow, which the plump cherub aims at unsuspecting people, causing them to love completely out of their own control. Or what about the way we speak of love? “As soon as our eyes met I knew I was falling in love.” Love is like falling. There’s nothing you can do it about it; you’re just walking along merrily one day when suddenly something pushes you over a cliff, and there you go, hurtling towards coupledom. It’s Love by Accident. We’re thankful that we’ve found someone, so we count our blessings and prepare to keep falling.

But what happens when the ground hits?

If we stopped seeing love as an accident, and realized that love may be more of a journey, maybe we’d prepare for it more. Yet when it comes to love, preparation is one of the furthest things from our minds. We’re told to do what feels good, to find the one who completes you, and then to jump in with both feet. What we’re not necessarily trained for is how to keep a relationship going.

Think about the wedding day. We spend, on average in Canada, about $25,000 to tie the knot, and yet very few couples take any kind of marriage preparation course. It’s assumed that love will tide them through. If we spent less on the wedding and invested more in counseling, personality testing, marriage books, or even just interviewing couples who had been happily married for decades, we’d be better off. Maybe the wedding would be a little less extravagant, but imagine the fiftieth anniversary party!

Cupid’s arrow fades, but love doesn’t have to. When we know that certain stages in marriage are more stressful than others—like when babies are born, the kids start school, or the kids leave home—maybe we’d understand these things are common to all, and work through them, rather than assuming there’s something wrong with our spouse. And if we understood that love is a decision, and not always a feeling, maybe we’d work more at cultivating it. After all, when we decide to forgive, to be kind, to listen, or to hold our tongue, even when we don’t always feel our efforts are reciprocated, we keep the relationship going. When we decide to appreciate, rather than to condemn or nag, we build something far more precious than a career, a hobby, or a bank account. We build love.

Sometimes, in a marriage, we won’t always feel love. I wish every new couple starting out could understand that. But we can still prepare for love. Let’s not love and live by accident; let’s love on purpose. That’s a much richer love than the one our culture so eagerly glorifies.

Latest posts by S. Wray Gregoire (see all)

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