Why We Have What We Have or, Love As A Learned Behavior

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Love and Marriage
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When my wife presented her paper titled, “Learning To Be a Serial Killer” at a psychology conference, it was standing room only.  She was attempting to prove that serial murder was not, in fact, a result of an uncontrollable urge that one is born with or attributable to psychosis.  Her premise, which she argued in support of, was that serial killers learn to become killers in much the same way any other behavior is learned.

While she may have wanted to use that kind of learning on me at times during our marriage, thankfully killing was something she never developed an affinity for.

Unfortunately, just as many mistakenly assume that serial killers were born that way, can’t help themselves, have some defect in their brain, or buy into any other of a plethora of explanations, so are many equally clueless about marriage.  When couples have problems, many are quick to say they “married the wrong person,” they just “weren’t right for each other,” or the classic “it didn’t work out.”

Conversely, when a couple is happy or successful, the opinions swing the opposite way.  They “found their soul mate,” they “are so lucky,” yada, yada.  People are generally either jealous and believe that couple has something they wish for, but just haven’t found, or they are happy for them, but fail to understand that anyone can have the same thing if they are willing to work for it and learn what it takes to get it.

People look at our marriage now and don’t have a clue what it took to get to where we are.  We’re not just two people who are happy because we won the dating lottery by happening to meet and marry “the right one.”  We sure haven’t had it easy and we are most definitely not “lucky” to have what we have.  Blessed, fortunate, and grateful, yes.  Luck, however, has nothing to do with it.

To keep this at its simplest, we have what we have because of two words: work and learning.  It has taken a huge amount of work.  That’s mainly my fault and I’ll talk more about that later, but if we weren’t willing to do the work, we wouldn’t have what we have.  At the same time, if we hadn’t learned how real love works, all of my/our efforts might well have been in vain.

When we bought a large house in a small town in Western Kansas, it was in bad shape.  We could tell it had been a grand old home at one time, but years of neglect allowed us to buy it for a ridiculously low price.  Here’s the point, though.  The people who lived in it could have taken care of it and not let it get run down.  Even when it was run down, they could have gotten to work and fixed and restored it for themselves.  Instead they sold it “as is” and walked away from it.

So many people do the same thing with their marriages.  That’s the path I was once traveling.  My marriage was essentially that house in the Winter of 2009.  I was slowly moving toward putting up the proverbial “for sale” sign and letting my marriage go because I thought it had become nearly worthless.  I wasn’t willing to do the work and I didn’t know what to do anyway.

I could have kept my marriage from ever becoming that run down though.  I could have applied myself all along to learning about love and how to treat a woman.  Even when I had allowed the years to get the best of us, I could have gotten to work at any point and avoided so much grief and heartache.

The lesson from the house was that even though we were willing to do the work, we had a lot to learn.  It was by far the biggest project we had undertaken and was full of unexpected surprises.  We did a lot of learning on the fly and had to bring in help from time to time.  The work without the learning wouldn’t have been enough.  The learning without doing the work wouldn’t have mattered either.

As we did the work and began making that house beautiful and showy again, it wasn’t luck that caused it to come together.  When we could proudly entertain guests and enjoy the finished product, it was absolutely not because we were “so lucky” or because that house was “the right one.”  So it is with love.  It’s a learned behavior that takes work.  Either one by itself isn’t enough, but the two together can result in a “killer” love story.

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