Love makes the world go around. But, it can also make your world feel like it has come crashing to a halt when things are hard. That is why it’s so important to strengthen your love by working at it each step of the way.
Almost every day in my work of counseling, the topic of love surfaces in any number of ways, such as:
My spouse has grown distant and cold. He blames me for his unhappiness.
My best friend doesn’t want to be close anymore.
I’m struggling with resentment toward my significant other. I just don’t really like who they are anymore.
Most of my friends are married with kids. I’m single and find myself on the outside a lot.
Our experience of love goes through ups and downs, even in the best of relationships. So the trick is to love with all of your heart AND also be smart. You want to pour into your key love relationships AND fortify several layers of support.
Here are some examples of how to strengthen your love if you’re married:
—Diversify your support network. If you’re married and expect every single one of your needs to be met by your spouse, you are going to end up disappointed. If your significant other doesn’t like a hobby you love, find a friend who does. Or, if they don’t understand your struggle with your mom, work through that issue with a counselor. This is not disloyal, and it does not mean there is something wrong with your marriage. It’s smart to be realistic about your loved one’s strengths and limitations and to structure your support network accordingly.
—Schedule regular check-ins. If you are married, you should be checking in regularly in a meaningful way, at least every week. This could be weekly date nights or quarterly overnight getaways. If you’re struggling financially or buried with kids, these date night or getaways don’t have to be fancy. Check out some great resources here.
—Seek support. Find a pastor, another couple, counselor, or coach and forge a relationship with that person now, even if times are good. Maybe you don’t see that person regularly right now, but you will know who to turn to when hard things come up.
These same principles apply if you’re single. I was one of the last of my friends to marry and found prolonged singleness to be a difficult season, especially in church communities that revolve around marriage and children.
Here are a few ways to strengthen your love if you’re single:
—Diversify your support network. When I was single, I kept a mental Rolodex of a dozen people or groups I could rely on to help get through a long weekend. This list included an 80-year old neighbor who loved going to dinner with me, a group of swing dancers who went dancing every weekend (even though I was terrible at it), and a weekly trivia night at a local coffee shop I could always drop in on. Loneliness stretched me out of my comfort zone, a skill that strengthened my love.
—Schedule regular check-ins. If you are single, get things scheduled on your calendar. You might schedule weekly phone calls or walking dates with a friend. Or set up a few strategically timed classes or group activities during the week. I know one single woman who formed a writing group every Saturday morning to help get her weekend started off right. Don’t just “hope” things will happen. Planning in advance is empowering.
—Seek support. When I was single, I was far away from family, so I started seeing a counselor as a way to guarantee I’d have someone checking in on me regularly. Some weeks, I didn’t have much to discuss. But, the consistency anchored me. You might find a counselor, mentor or join a support group or a small group through your church. Use this group to grow in a specific area or simply to be a form of regular support. You can find ideas here.
Whether you are single or married, the road to real love, the kind of love that takes you through thick and thin, is not always easy.
And, when it’s hard, you need a network of other people to lift you up. If you plan for this reality, you will strengthen your love.