There used to be a show on television called "The Love Connection." People would come on the program to question several prospective partners and then choose one for a date. After their evening out they would come back and tell the host and audience how their date went. This is where the fun began as each described their evening out and how they got along with the person they had chosen. There were some who naturally hit it off but the majority of the dates were filled with funny and, at times, embarrassing moments.
Nowadays we have programs like "The Bachelorette" that play on the same theme, and any number of websites that promise to find not only a suitable partner, but a true "soul mate."
These services try to match individuals according to looks, activities, needs and character since people usually seek a partner who looks and acts like they want and has like needs. However, good looks, similar activities and a suitable character do not always lead to love nor are they the same as love.
The title of this book is, "In Love for Life." The point I want to make with this book is that if God created marriage to last a lifetime, then He has also given us the ability to love each other for that long as well. The following chapters explore how to keep that love going for a lifetime.
The Romantic Myth
Sexual attraction has been around since Adam and Eve but not the westernized idea of "romance" popularized by books and movies in our Western culture. (i.e. Mr. Right comes along and sweeps you off your feet, or there's only one person in the world just for you).
Until the Middles Ages marriages were organized by families and strictly supervised. This was a universal custom.
This began to change in the 16th and 17th centuries as French songwriters produced ballads that introduced highly romantic ideas about love (e.g. Love at first sight) in order to entertain French lords and ladies at the royal court. This was a departure from the customary way of contracting marriages based on ability to provide, family background, and agreement on political, social, and religious beliefs. There were still impulsive elopements and adultery, but these were the exceptions. Arranged marriages were the way things were done and it worked!
The heroes of these stories and songs were always brave, beautiful and chivalrous. Common people were not thought capable of the same kind of emotions so "love stories" were always a monopoly of the aristocracy. The culture of romance was for the rich until the French Revolution. When the nobility in France fell, the stories remained and were passed on to the masses and spread throughout Europe.
Until that time, "falling in love," with all the emotional stress and strain was considered an unfortunate experience. It was preferred that one's marriage be based on careful selection and approval by both families. Everyone wanted this, even the individuals.
The introduction of "romance" as an art form made it, at first, an acceptable experience alongside the traditional marriage arrangement procedure, but eventually became the preferred way to go about getting married. Today, arranged marriages are seen as unnatural and rejected by most Western societies.
The point I want to make here is that the success of a marriage does not depend solely on how carefully you "arrange" it or how "romantic" or "infatuated" the couple is. For centuries arranged marriages succeeded in producing lifetime unions that were satisfying and productive. For the last several centuries, however, marriages that began with a simple romantic urge have also been able to produce long and successful unions.
In the end, marriages that work are the ones that base their relationships on love (not compatibility or romance).
Romance vs. Love
I want to make a distinction between romance and love. Every marriage needs romance (a spark, a sparkle) but it cannot survive on just this one ingredient. Knowing the difference between the two can be very helpful in building a successful relationship.
1. Romance produces the wrong expectations.
Previously, in older or Eastern cultures, young people were preparing themselves for conjugal living with such things as collecting a dowry, obtaining an education, building a home and developing work or child rearing skills. The marriage relationship was allowed to grow within the context of a home and shared commitment to family, land, etc. The love was the product of the life together.
Today we prepare for marriage by looking for (and usually idealizing) the perfect mate for ourselves. People focus on their own image and then look for a matching image. After they have found Mr. or Ms. "Right," they marry and begin to learn how to live the conjugal life. We do it backwards: fall in love, then learn how to live together. In the past, couples married and lived together, then fell in love.
History shows that one method began with very little emotional investment and grew with knowledge and practice, whereas the modern method begins with total emotional investment, high expectations and then must adapt to a lessor reality.
2. Romance emphasizes the wrong things.
Romance looks for the immediate spark or the fire and if not present will often reject a potential partner who is spiritually, emotionally and socially suitable. Romance's courtship is based mostly on the pursuit of physical intimacy, ignoring the more important elements of human relationships. Romance searches for a partner that feels good and looks good but ignores issues of character, adaptability and comfort, which make long-term relationships possible. In the long run how neat or messy a person is impacts a marriage more than how good looking they are.
3. Romance does not take advice.
Romantic couples feel that they do not need the benefit of counseling, mentoring or teaching because what they feel is real and the major determining factor in their decision to marry. In doing this they miss out on important marriage preparation advice and guidance.
4. Romance demands perfection.
The intensity of romance is caused by the idealistic way we view our beloved. We are swept up by this fantastic feeling about this person. What happens, however, when the perfection and intensity of the feeling drops, even a little? Romance is not about building something, it is about maintaining something, and often about maintaining something that is not real. When romance slows down or disappoints or stops, we look for someone else to give us that feeling. "This one is the right one, I can just feel it."
There are several emotions or experiences that we all have referred to as love, but the kind of love that is necessary to make a marriage work requires two things: a commitment to make another's welfare equal or better than one's own and self-discipline to back up that commitment. Notice the two components:
1. A commitment to consider another's welfare equal to one's own.
This is the highest form of human love. When people marry, they make a promise not just to be each other's spouse or never to leave. They promise first to "love," then honor, respect, etc. The commitment is to do this whether a person is well or ill, good circumstances or bad. Marrying is taking on the responsibility of caring for another person as well as we care for ourselves.
We do not promise self-discipline, we need self-discipline in order to carry out our promise. Paul in I Corinthians 13 says, "love is patient, love is kind, is not jealous, love does not brag, and is not arrogant, love is not rude... is faithful..." This behavior of love is not possible without self-control.
The commitment to consider my partner's welfare equal or above my own requires me to control my sinful and selfish impulses. For example:
- I have to pick her up at 10 pm. I'm at my friend's house watching the championship match. The game goes into overtime and it is exciting, it is 9:50 pm...!?
- I love him but a new man at work gives signals and I feel attracted to him...!?
- I am tired, she is tired, the baby cries, it is 3 am...!?
Psychologists say some people are unable to love, not because they do not feel attracted to others, but because they lack the self-control to accomplish what love requires: considering another's welfare equal to our own. Marriages built on this definition of love, whether they are arranged or the result of a romantic impulse, will survive and grow because they have the single most important ingredient.
Building on Love
Love (commitment to another's welfare equal to our own, sustained by self-control) is the basic ingredient in a successful marital relationship. Once we have this in place, we begin to add to it in order to give our relationship it's unique identity, flavor and direction.
If love is in place, it is a joy to add the other elements. This is what growth in marriage is all about.
If something else is at the core, it will not support the difficulties of life that are sure to come and will not promote growth into other areas.
It is never too late to take your marriage apart (not divorce but reexamine the relationship) and put it back together again with love at the core and the other layers added. This book will hopefully discuss some of these ideas as we go along.
What is needed is a recommitment by each partner.
- To consider the other's welfare equal or above our own.
- To begin asking God to bless us with the spiritual gift of self-control (Galatians 5:23) so we can love properly.
This love is the kind of love that Christ gives to the church. This love is above human love. This is Agape love. This is loving as God loves. This love enables us to be "IN LOVE FOR LIFE."