Falling in love happens in a cloud of emotion. It’s euphoric and all encompassing. And temporary. It is also a bad reason to marry.
In the days of arranged marriages, people entered the union based on other issues such as land mergers and power. I’m not recommending that. The bar was set pretty low for romance so if the mate turned out to be attractive or good company, it was a plus that at times did lead to romance.
Today, we live in a world where love is in the air, and on reality TV, and in the tabloids—portrayed as a here today/gone tomorrow story. The happy endings of the Kardashian’s or The Bachelor’s latest episode are short lived and get just as boring for the entertainment-hungry audience as it does for the couples. It’s the junk-food version of real love– quickly digested with an exciting high, and then it crashes. As beautiful as it began, it often becomes just as ugly in the end. Yet, there’s an audience that much of can’t get enough of the serial romances.
As the divorce rate attests, media stars are not the only ones hooked on a feeling. However, not until the air clears does real love take root, if we so choose. For real love is a choice, not an emotion. People have forgotten that, or they never understood it to begin with.
The institution of marriage is in trouble for that very reason. People are not choosing to love; they only want to feel good. But if love were a feeling then the only logical course for marriages would be a downhill slide after the wedding vows are said. Life begins to pull love down to earth and make it ordinary or at least every day.
The magic wears off when chores, bills, and the nitty-gritty of childbearing are thrown in. As a mere emotion, love is a drug, with euphoric side effects of a distorted reality of the loved one. The partner may very well be amazing, but he/she is also human with all that comes with it.
A good marriage is a relationship where the couple is committed to one another’s happiness and well-being. They are in it for the long haul, not just for the thrills and chills or until something better comes along. The door to “something better” has been shut tight, because greener pastures are not found in adultery or abandonment. Romance still happens, love is still alive, but it survives based on choices during emotional low-points. An illness or bad period of not getting along does not loosen the commitment. Love is for better or worse, because come hell or high water a commitment to love was made.
Zero Conflict is Not the Goal
Ideally, our children learn the lesson in love by watching us. But two things can go wrong. Marriage fails because one or both partners don’t have the emotional maturity to love or, they only see a perfect relationship. Ironically, the latter can be a problem.
I’ve known people that were confused when arguments erupted in their own marriage since they never witnessed such a thing in their parents’ marriage. Several years ago, in a conversation with Greg and Julie Alexander co-founders and co-directors of The Alexander House, an apostolate dedicated to proclaiming and preserving God’s plan for marriage, they shared that growing up in a conflict-free home can actually hinder a person’s marriage preparation.
In some of their marriage coaching sessions with couples, the Alexanders have encountered the situation where a spouse is devastated by conflict and sees it as a failure since his or her own parents never seemed to argue. According to them, disagreements are inevitable. Conflicts are not the problem but rather the way they are resolved. In their own marriage, Greg and Julie went from romance to boredom to animosity, to planning divorce. Not until they came to understand what the Church teaches on love and marriage did they come to understand its beauty. They committed to their marriage with a new understanding of love and now help other couples to save and strengthen their relationships.
It Begins Early
Learning to navigate relationships begins with the first crush. In her book Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships , Sarah Swafford helps young adults and teens identify what real love is so as not to get swept into cycles of drama. She cuts through the addictive and manipulative way people use relationships all in the name of love. “Love is not primarily a feeling, though it can be accompanied by emotions,” she explained. With the emotional kind of romantic love, emotions and passions overcome you, according to her. But that is not real love. “Love is actually a great act of the will,” she said. “It’s about desiring good, not for my sake but for yours.”
“Is it really about me or how that person makes me feel?” Swafford asked. ” True love is a selfless love, not a selfish love.” Her definition for true love is “The greater the sense of responsibility for the other person, the ore true love there is. Which means putting the other person first and caring about what is truly best for them.”
It’s not just about finding love but also about loving in a real way. Swafford encourages men and women to develop virtues to strive for excellence so they have the freedom to love in a real way. In that way when a spouse disappoints in some way, our love for them does not diminish. We are strong enough to love even under difficult circumstances. And through our own strength and virtue, our self worth is not tied up in the how they treat us.
Having interviewed many couples whose marriages were dramatically saved and renewed being able to love a spouse regardless of their behavior, often becomes the linchpin that turns things around. Love is contagious in that way. When we feel loved, we love back. Pope Francis demonstrates this well, even if he is often misinterpreted over it. He loves regardless of what the other person has done which is not the same as approving of everything a person does.
Jesus told us to love one another, and that especially includes our spouse. Scripture tells us how.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ( 1 Corinthians 13:4-8).