Liking comes before loving

Do you like me? Check yes, no, or maybe."

Do you remember being the author of those words? Or, perhaps you were the recipient of those words written on a giant sheet of notebook paper folded about a million times.

Those were the days. So juvenile. So elementary. Things were simple back then, weren't they?

But, you know, I think as kids we may have been on to something.

Relationships can go sour for any number of reasons or for any one reason that just keeps eating away at the union. Sometimes those reasons are irreconcilable differences that are as a result of not recognizing the differences that were there from the beginning. Then, a lot of times, people change over the years.

While I would argue that who we are at the core stays relatively the same, it is not uncommon for us to change in other ways. It might be interests that change for one person or weight for another. Sometimes the things that we want or care about change, and at other times, it is our expectations or attitudes that do.

In many relationships, once change, particularly a unilateral change, occurs and takes its toll, a couple can begin to grow apart. Constant nagging and complaining behaviors wears down patience and is like a repellant for intimacy. The same is true of controlling and domineering behaviors.

In whatever ways we change from when we first begin a relationship with someone, you can bet that there will be consequences, positive or negative.

When I have spoken with or have read about couples who have been together for more than 15 or 20 years, I have found one very interesting and surprisingly ironic nugget to be true and shared among them. That is, they still like one another. Is that not food for thought?

In a lot of failed relationships, at least one partner will admit that they simply stopped liking the other person.

In my research, I have discovered that the like is what sustains the love. When you like somebody, you enjoy their company and the person they are. You respect them and you appreciate them.

When we stop liking our partners, there is nothing to cultivate the relationship and so it perishes. When we stop liking our partners for who they are, weeds grow in the form of insults, unfair comparisons to other people and dried up intimacy.

You may say, "But she has changed or he has," and my reply to you would be to go back those elementary days. Assess the state of your relationship using a simple questionnaire. It asks only one question of your partner. "Do you like me? Check yes, no, or maybe."

Sometimes we can make things too complicated when, in fact, all we need to do is go back to the simple way of doing things-like back then.

Yep, I think we kids may have been on to something. We even knew to add a "maybe" to the answer choices. You see, a "maybe" gave us hope and we could work with that.

So, if all you have is hope, then grab hold to it. Discuss the answer with your partner, communicating honestly about what has happened between you. Even with changes, you might be able to rediscover why you liked one another in the beginning and find your way back to a loving relationship.

Be encouraged.

E-mail columnist LaTonya Dunn e-mail at ln_dunn@yahoo.com.