Love Will Tear Us Apart

In the opening to “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, lead singer Ian Curtis sings about his failing relationship with his wife. He describes how their relationship has become routine, ambitions are low, and the resentment that naturally follows is tearing them apart. Sadly, Curtis killed himself on May 18, 1980, shortly after recording this song.

Sorry for the morose beginning, but this is a somber month for me. When I think about these lyrics, I find several truths that can impact any relationship:

Routine is dangerous. Habits and patterns are important and necessary to order our lives and maintain many of the smaller systems and processes we rely on. If brushing my teeth and locking the door at night required the same level of planning and contemplation as buying a house, I would still be in my pajamas. Relationships are not systems or processes—they are living, breathing things that need attention. Routine means I don’t have to be present. Routine means I default to patterned behavior as a buffer against real connection. Where relationships are concerned, routine bites.

Water what you want to grow. Curtis confesses that “ambitions are low”—a recipe for failure in any effort. Relationships are hard work. Like any other goal we set for ourselves, if we aren’t passionate about achieving it, we won’t. If you are not passionate about a relationship, the person is just an acquaintance. Relationship is a full-contact sport. You must get in there and get dirty, and that takes drive and commitment. When I lack ambition in a relationship, it usually stems from selfishness on my part.

Expectations are resentments waiting to happen. When I take a relationship for granted (making it routine) and am unwilling to put the necessary effort into maintaining the connection (showing a lack of ambition), I become resentful because I feel my needs are not being met. I expect others to do for me what in many cases I am unwilling to do for them. Grace, service, kindness, compassion—these things should be freely given out of love, not expected and certainly not deserved. Resentment, once it takes hold, makes it even more difficult to be others-oriented. However, caring about others is the cure for resentment, so I need to be very careful about that slope because it is very slick.

Change is scary and dangerous. Everything and everybody changes. It is an existential imperative. I am not the same person today that I was yesterday. Tomorrow I will be different yet again. Most of these changes are minor and get absorbed into my relationships without much effort. Over time, however, incremental change can add up. Like the proverbial straw, one small change is often what tips the scale and creates tension or conflict. This happens between individuals, in groups, and between people in larger communities. The “solution” is transparency and clear communication. We can’t avoid the changes, but we can talk about them and seek to understand each other.

Love can tear us apart. I find it fascinating (and unfortunate) that the people we are closest to have the greatest potential to hurt us. Relationship requires vulnerability. Being vulnerable opens me to being hurt. That’s the bad news. The good news is that being vulnerable also opens me to true connection and true relationship. There are no great rewards if we never risk, no mountains if there are no valleys, and no relationships if we do not give ourselves to them.

2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (ESV).

You are a treasure. Your thoughts, emotions, hopes, and desires are more valuable than all the gold and jewels in the world. You would think God would have created a more robust and “tamper proof” container for such a precious
element. Instead, he put his own image and likeness into these messy and easy-to-damage packages we call people.

My natural inclination is to protect and shield myself from others, but God intended that I give myself to others freely, just as he gave himself to me and for me. The cracks in my clay jar have been painful in the making, but they provide a pathway for my soul to leak out and mingle with other souls.