I was told by someone close to me recently, “I always thought that the right relationship would be easy. It’s not. It’s just worth it.”
And you see it in other relationships and your own. You see fighting, bickering, and sadness, past pain surfacing, frustration with bad patterns. You see yourself having to sacrifice and compromise. And if you’re like me, you’ve thought, “When I’m single I don’t have to make these same decisions.” But despite that you’re thinking, “There’s nobody else I’d rather go through this hard time with.”
But several studies have shown that people in loving relationships have better overall health, better outlook, more hope, and feel more fulfilled. This is different from studies that assess bad relationships (characterized by abuse, lack of love, mistrust, etc.), which show increased cases of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I could write volumes on why we stay in bad relationships (for which there exists complex brain networking). But what about easy love? Didn’t we all think that this would be the case, especially if we’ve had bad relationships in our pasts? There are our classic examples of Prince Charming meeting the Princess and the two living “happily ever after”, which we all assumed meant “always happy”.
But always happy is not a healthy thing. To live happily ever after means to always live happily- not to always BE HAPPY. Easy love is a part of complex love. When we first fall in love we see easy love as, “We agree on the same movie every time! And we both love the color blue. And we have so much in common!” Boy, liking the same movie makes deciding on what to watch easy. Easy love.
Long term relationships benefit from another kind of easy love, maybe when your significant other knows how you like your sandwich cut, or knows how much you like corndogs and surprises you with one.
But easy love is a facet of complex love. Eventually, you’ll want to watch a new movie and you’re not always going to agree on it. So you can a) push until you get your way, b) give up your wants and go with what the other person wants, or c) compromise and go for a walk instead of watch a movie. Or this could mean you get the movie this week and she gets the movie next week. You discuss this for a while. You bicker. You feel crumby, but you arrive at a solution.
What could make this easy love? What’s easy is knowing that you are you and they are they and you won’t always work in tandem, but this is just a movie and it’s one night and most importantly: No, the movie disagreement is not a microcosm of your relationship and because you can’t agree on this movie you’ll never agree on anything again. The easy part is being able to keep in mind what part of this movie-squabble is important:
1) Part of you knows that you can stand your ground and your partner will hear you out
2) Part of you wants your partner to be happy, and if that means they pick the movie and it means you’ve helped make their day, so be it
3) You can compromise with this person. They want to make it work
This is all based on our “love maps” (something that, as a counselor, I’ve been curious of and been studying more of), which is a composite of our parents’ relationships with one another, their relationships with us, our past relationships, and what we’ve internalized from media. Isn’t it interesting to consider that there’s an evolutionary, developmental reason behind why, how, and with whom we argue? We have a complex, rapid-firing set of neural patterning that helps us understand the situation of the movie and we can use our love maps (as part of your prefrontal cortex) to look ahead and foresee how this fight is likely to turn out. When our brains do this and realize that no matter which route we take (a, b, or c) we’re going to be just fine- we’re going to be safe and full of joy… That’s easy love.
When you’re fighting with the person you know is right for you, realize that it’s not possible to be without error, concern, suffering, and struggle- but, it’s worth it. It’s not hard to fight. It’s easy. This person makes it easy to be sad, to be angry, confused, concerned, tired, and scared. Easy love is not happiness eternal. To live happily ever after means to know that adversity is only one step in the larger dance of togetherness.
While I’ve discussed this topic in terms of romantic relationships, the principles apply to family, friends, and coworkers: When it’s really, really right, it’s not all easy, but easy is an element of complex.