Looking at this card, man and woman (in classical decks, though this is changing!), their hands entwined and an angel overheard blessing them in their divine union—you wouldn't think that there was much more to this card other than its straightforward meaning of union, partnership, and romance—but you'd only be half right.
The Lovers is a card that can cause many querents to rejoice. This card certainly means love is in the air for them. But it can also mean a lot of work is on the horizon. Think about it, a lot of long, committed relationships take time to grow. They take effort to maintain and we as a society are fascinated by those who manage to stay together for decades on end; often asking them: "How did you do it?"
Truth be told, this card is a positive card, usually. But like all cards in the tarot, there is another layer within it and for the Lovers this one is about participation. Being an active partner, dealing with issues one faces as a team, a union, or a partnership, become an important message of this card. This is true of triads and other socially atypical couples as well.
A Lover's Quarrel
No one likes to feel that they are being singled out or ganged up on in a fight with their sweetie(s), and the Lovers card is a gentle reminder that you're all on the same side, even if you need to iron out the dirty laundry in the meantime. When this card comes up and the querent has been discussing disputes, I ask them how they feel about their significant other(s) in this situation and whether or not they've expressed feeling as though they were standing across a divide.
This card can be a stepping stone rather than a chasm that enables them to come together to solve the problem.
The key? The fight cannot be about who is and who is not in the right. The aim is to close the divide, and make sure the issue isn't going to reoccur, and if it should, then setting up a plan for it in the future.
He Said, She Said, They Said
The dark side of the Lovers is that it can be an indicator of when and where relationship communication broke down. Look at the surrounding cards, are they telling? Perhaps the Lovers is surrounded by court cards. Are they facing each other or different directions? Are the elements of the cards (earth, air, fire, water) aiding one another or causing disharmony?
In a relationship reading it can feel like the cards are just standing there passing the buck. With the Lovers we start to see the root of the issue. As a Major Arcana (which I see as larger themes or issues), this card illustrates a need for compromise in the areas depicted by the surrounding cards. If there is any confusion, it can be best to set the Lovers aside when it appears and read the cards that come after it as a separate row/column, exploring specifically where things fell apart and how best to get back on track.
Couples Therapy in 78 Cards
Try this. The next time you're reading on a relationship and the querent is facing hurdles with their partner(s), read the cards that come up prior to the Lovers as the situation itself, where it stands now and what's going on emotionally, literally, and mentally.
Once the Lovers appears, read the following cards as both advice and a third party account of what happened, how things got messy, and likely roads to successful compromise.
As I said at the start, the Lovers is a wonderfully popular card but it won't let you out of the work any more than the other cards are likely to do so. Working with it, and the energy it contains can be a beautiful thing—unless you enjoy arguing that is, then you're on your own!