So you want to get married, do you?
Everyone wants to know how to have a happy marriage. It's essential to our beings, that the most important of all human commitments turns out to be loving and long-lasting. As starry-eyed lovers commit to each other every year they hardly decrease in number. What does decrease, is the duration of their life-time commitment and the expectation that it might endure at all, even if we like to say that “love outcomes everything”.
So, much depends on a stable marriage from the outset: the health and happiness of the parties, the children of the marriage and society as a whole, since the family (through marriage) is the basic and fundamental building block of the society.
Where does love fit into this, and what could we learn as some tips to building a successful marriage. The words of the Sinatra song Love and Marriage might suggest one thing, and Tina Turner probably had another thing in mind when she asked "What's love go to do, go to do with it". But, really, what does love have to do with marriage? Is it a realistic expectation that it endure for year after year? Isn’t it more natural to expect it to fade and the feeling does, and then, to go separate ways when eventually love is found again somewhere else? What can we learn from all this as practical take aways?
What is love anyway?
Perhaps the real problem lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is in the first place. This misunderstanding operates to create unrealistic expectations, building commitments – or quasi-commitments - on sands that shift, rather than on solid foundations that will stand the test of time, even if they are challenged by the storms and other vagaries of life and its difficulties. A key concern is if we see “love” as a mere feeling, and treat it as a mere feeling, because when we do that it stands to reason that it may not last and endure, because feelings don't. Or to be more precise, as feelings change so does love. Feelings ebb and flow, they come and go, they are less or more intense, present at times and absent at others. So, if we see love as feeling, it is open to change. We know this intuitively, of course, since when a couple meets, move to the stage of "courting", and begin to start planing to start a life together, commtting then to do so in marriage, we experience a thrilling time with excitement a-plenty.
Those old feelings rapidly come under new stresses and challenges with the arrival of a child, and then another child or perhaps another. Life, as it were, takes over from love. Or so it seems. And yet, it’s precisely then, that we can come to understand what love really is. Amidst all the difficulty of a young family, the struggles, the sicknesses, the pain and the joy, an intense concentration on the children, and the possible (should we say, likely?) neglect of each other, there arrives the opportunity to move beyond the mere “feeling” of love (subjectively felt), to the expression of “love” (actively given). It’s at this point that we can come to the deeper appreciation that love moves from being a noun (a thing) to a verb (an action). And as an action it becomes a conscious decision to be made and made again in all the moments of our married lives. In that movement, there is personal growth. No longer are we focussed merely on what we get out of it which since we see love as that which makes us feel a certain way – fundamentally, to experience pleasure, Rather, we being to move beyond self to the actual giving of self to the beloved. It is when this happens that we gain a more complete, deeper and authentic understanding of what love really is: the giving of self. The giving of self again and again and again.
And what's love for, anyway?
And what of this giving of self? To what end is it suppose to be given? Are we talking here of a self-sacrifice of oneself in some kind of masochistic way? At it's worst the destruction of self that might be implied by sacrifice? No, surely not, as that is madness. Love is a creative force, not a destructive one, if it is true and properly understood. Rather, by loving we call love into existence, both giving it to the beloved and calling it forth from others. By loving first, we demonstrate what love is, and realistically hope for and encourage the reciprocation of mutual love.
So when we love, what is the aim of this love? How do we know it is love? We know it is love because our aim is to love seeking the best for beloved. In other words, we love that person by wishing the best for them, wanting and seeking the best for them and giving the best of ourselves for them.
Does all this mean the feeling of love experienced in the early days disappears? No, it shouldn’t, and there is no reason why it should be inevitably expected that it should disappear. But its intensity will change and necessarily so, as if it that feeling is mere feeling it must change. Outlasting that feeling, however, is the much stronger foundation that is the action of love. And that action persists and endures, come what may.
When we see love in this way, as action not feeling, we have a key to keeping a marriage alive, fresh and happy. That’s what love has to do with marriage, for in marriage, we commit to each other in sickness and in health, until death. Make no bones about it, it is hard, it is not easy. And it is an awesome responsibility, but not one that we can’t fulfil if we approach it in the right way, with the right person and call upon the right resources.