There has been a lot of hoopla in the media lately regarding the use of the term, “soul mate” by South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford, to justify his extra-marital affair. Our society has romanticized the notion of finding your soul mate for generations. There is something mesmerizing about the conviction that there is one person out there that is a perfect match for us, just waiting to be found.

And many couples enthusiastically use the term to describe one another when they first “fall” in love. The thrill of love in its infancy and the joy that we experience, seem to indicate that we have found that one perfect person that completes us and makes us better together than we were apart.

But when the reality of merging two lives into one collides with our romantic stirrings, many people deduce that they didn’t find their “soul mate” after all.  So they seek excitement or solace in the arms of someone else, or they part ways and are once again involved in the quest to fulfill their fantasy of finding the one and only person on this entire planet, who will make them happy.

And therein lies the first problem with this philosophy—our happiness is our own responsibility. If you are looking for someone else to complete you, to fill your life, to be the source of your contentedness, then you will be searching in vain your whole life. And you are placing an unreasonable expectation upon everyone with whom you develop a serious, romantic attachment.

Spouses, partners, friends and family are not here to make us happy. They are here for their own spiritual journey. When their lives intersect with ours, we can love one another, support each other, demonstrate kindness, and enhance our experience of being on this planet. But our ultimate happiness is not derived from other people, or even from our external circumstances. It comes from an attitude within us, our connection with God, and our choice to take personal responsibility for our own lives. Even a purported “soul mate” has no power to sustain our joy, our happiness, or our value and self-worth.

I found it interesting to read the various definitions of a soul mate:  “a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament, a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs”, “a person, especially of the opposite sex, with whom one has a deeply personal relationship”, and even, “a person with whom one gets along well because of having shared interests and experiences.” Hmmm…sounds a lot like how most of us have described our spouses at one time or another!

So how do we go from this definition of a “soul mate”--our own spouse, with whom we have “a deeply personal relationship”, who is “perfectly suited” to us, and who shares our “attitudes, beliefs, interests and experiences”, to “falling” out of love?

Well, this is the second problem with our romantic ideology about love. We use the terms, “falling in and out” of love when in reality, love is a choice. The feeling that initially attracts us to someone, is more akin to lust than to the true definition of pure, real, love. And that is why it doesn’t last. There is no way to sustain that level of fiery passion for a lifetime. And when our lives intrude upon our romantic inclinations, we start to believe that there is something wrong with our relationship.

But that is not always true. Passion burns with intensity at the beginning of a relationship. It is exciting, it feels good and we are often consumed by it. But all fires eventually burn themselves out when they run out of fuel. It is our job, as marital partners, to remember to “fuel” our relationship, to nurture it, to feed it, to cultivate it so that it can grow, develop and evolve into a sustainable and mutually beneficial partnership.