For decades now, people have admired the rapport between my husband and I. Whether we’re presenting on stage together, or chatting with friends in our living room, the chemistry is obvious and apparently enviable. A curiosity. Where, I’ve been asked, does it come from?

If only I could take my inquirers to Paris. Because my answer is there, in the Louvre Art Museum, specifically in the “Salle des Etats”, where Mona Lisa sits composed in the midst of constant chaos: hundreds of photographers clamoring for their shot at any given moment. And why not? She is the most famous face in history. What most people don’t know about Mona Lisa though, is the fact that it took forty-plus years to create her––at least it took that long for Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, to become expert enough, to craft his masterpiece.

And therein lies the answer to our question, “Where does a charmed marriage come from?”

Deep down, despite Hollywood producers and those steamy novelists, we all know that people in successful relationships are neither wholly lucky nor naturally talented. Think Leonardo. The world considers him the most talented man in history, yet it took years of concerted study and practice for him to earn that reputation. And crafting relationships is not so different from crafting a fine piece of art: it is, in of itself, an art form, and artistry connotes mastery, a unique flair, even a stroke of genius. Artistry also however, connotes persistence, patience, practice, and preparation. As Michelangelo put it: “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

Thus, as nice as it would be to believe that lasting love is a force of nature, God, or serendipity (rather than hard-won skill), kidding ourselves that way leaves us very vulnerable. We’re primed for disillusionment; the romance-buster of all time. When early lovers paint with wide brush-strokes and bold colors, they are feeding off an adrenaline-charged kind of faith (“where you jump across an abyss” as Jean-Paul Sartre describes it) and adrenaline always runs out (half-way cross the abyss).

If the relationship is to thrive, let alone survive–if disillusionment is to be avoided or overcome–then a different kind of faith has to come into play: a faith in our self and our loved one that is intentionally cultivated. That leap from blind faith to deliberate faith is not happenstance, however; it is an undertaking, and it requires far more than an evangelist’s zeal for romance. The woman who sets out to create fine art patiently employs self-development and education like oil paint: correcting and blending the relationship as she advances in her understanding and skill set.

Will the lifetime effort to hone such talent be worth it, in spite of one’s upbringing, instinctive aptitude, or luck of the draw? There are no guarantees of course, but consider the alternatives. Demanding that ongoing, authentic intimacy can and must come “naturally”– is in reality, a glossing over of the details and a forfeit of personal responsibility. The inevitable result of that presumption is a “rickety-stairs” kind of relationship: every step requires so much concentration (clinging to an unsteady rail, tensing at every creak and loose board) that a woman’s productivity is incredibly compromised.

In a carefully crafted marriage, on the other hand, love is not about trepidation, it’s about trust; trust that is given and received, not like some high-stakes gamble, but more like pennies in a piggy bank, steadily accumulating over time. Inside her purposeful relationship, a “talented” woman becomes rich day by day, ascending the stairway of her life with confidence, free to make the most of her other gifts and ambitions.

In this way, my own marriage has, over 40 years, gone from disillusionment to faith, from finger-painting to masterpiece, culminating in a legacy-love kind of romance. When did our rickety staircase turn into a solid ladder? I remember clearly. It was the moment I realized, four days from divorce court, that to experience an artisan marriage, I’d have to dump dumb luck, rather than my husband, and become a Leonardo myself.

Love is the “art” in the art of living.

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This article appeared first on Hitchedmag.com and Dr.Laura.com.

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