The very first thing that couples need to know if they want to have a loving marriage is the difference between romance and love. Romance is the idealized version of what we want someone to look like, act and how they will treat us. Love is a commitment to make another's welfare equal to our own and the personal discipline to maintain that commitment. The place to see romance is in Hollywood movies. Love, on the other hand, is seen at hospitals as one spouse cares for another over a long period of time.
Of course, every marriage needs romance but romance alone cannot make a marriage last a lifetime, only love can do this. Here are a few reasons why this is so.
Romance Produces Wrong Expectations
In previous times men and women consciously prepared themselves for marriage. Women saved what they needed to begin a home and were specifically trained in caring for a husband and family. Men assumed that they would support a family at some point therefore they worked and trained with this in mind. Marriage and family were goals in themselves, not simply appendages to a career. Most marriages were arranged and there was not much dating or contact until the couple was actually married and living together. Consequently, their love grew out of the shared experience of having a home and raising a family. Today, we prepare for marriage by idealizing our future mate. We work on our image/look and seek a similar or matching image. Once we have found our ideal, then we learn to live together.
The difference between the two methods is that two centuries ago people knew how to live together but learned how to love. Today, we search to fall in love according to a romantic ideal and then learn how to live together. One method begins with very little emotional investment and grows with knowledge and patience. The modern method, on the other hand, begins with a large emotional investment coupled with high expectations and then must adapt to a lessor reality. This is what happens when long term relationships are based only on romance.
Romance Demands Perfection
The intensity of our feelings in romance are produced by the idealistic way we view our beloved. We are filled with a fantastic feeling about this person but suffer terribly when this feeling drops, even a little. You see, romance is not about building something, it is about maintaining an ideal we have created about someone. When the feeling stops or slows down, we look for someone else to give us that feeling again.
Romance Emphasizes the Wrong Things
Romance looks for the spark, the flash, the fire and will often reject a potential partner who may be emotionally, socially and spiritually suitable but does not live up to our romantic ideal. Romance is nourished mainly by physical intimacy. Romance searches for a partner that looks and feels good, but often ignores issues of character, adaptability and comfort, all things which make long term relationships actually work.
Romance Does Not Take Advice
Romantic couples feel they do not need the benefit of counseling, teaching or guidance because what they feel is what is important. In doing this they miss out on critical and objective information that can often help them avoid marital disaster.
Romance vs. Love
The other component, often missing in a relationship, is love. We talk about love but usually confuse it with romance. There are many emotions we feel when we are involved with someone, but here is the definition of true love: true love is a commitment to make another's welfare equal to one's own and the discipline to maintain that commitment.
Note the two major elements in love:
A Commitment to Consider Someone Else's Welfare Equal to My Own
This is the highest form of human love. When people marry, they do not just promise to be each other's spouse and be faithful, they promise to love. The promise/commitment is to do this whether the other person is ill or well, rich or poor, lovable or unlovable. When you marry, you are taking on the responsibility to care for someone else as well as you care for yourself.
The other element is...
We do not promise self-discipline but we will need self-discipline if we are to carry out our promise to love. My commitment to make the other person's welfare equal to my own requires me to control my own selfish impulses. Here are some typical examples of loving self-discipline: a) I promised to pick her up at 10:00 PM but the game is into overtime and it is 9:45 PM - what does love do?; b) I love her/him, but a new good looking woman/man at the office is giving me signals, and I feel attracted - what does love do?; c) I am tired, she is tired, the baby is crying and it is 3:00 AM - what does love do?
Psychologists tell us that some people are unable to love, not because they do not feel attracted to others, but because they lack the self-control and discipline that it takes to care for another's welfare like their own.
Building on Love
Relationships that build on the basis of love can look forward to a lifetime of love as their experience. Here is how this works:
establish the commitment to make another's welfare equal to our own as the foundation of our relationship, then add other elements that make this relationship unique and enjoyable.
When this kind of love is the foundation, it becomes a joy to add other layers of interest and mutual service as the years go by (physical attraction, admiration, common interests and goals, etc.). If something else is at the base of a relationship, it cannot and will not support the difficulties and complexities of a lifetime lived as a couple.
Knowing You Are Ready
The one question most asked in counseling younger people about marriage is, "When do I know I am ready/mature enough for a committed relationship or marriage?" Each person is different and there are no easy answers, but there are certain signs that indicate if you or someone else is mature enough to go ahead with a serious relationship like marriage. Here are a few:
Can I make myself do what I should and not do what I should not? If neither partner assumes responsibility for setting or keeping limits in behavior, the couple will experience difficulty with each other and society as well. The ideal is that both partners have self-control so that each partner benefits from the other. However, when it is always the same partner that has to set limits and maintain control, you have a parent/child relationship not a marriage.
If you or your partner has not yet taken control of your lives, morals and responsibilities, you are not ready.
2. Personal Happiness
Ask yourself, "Am I happy in the state that I am in as a single person?" If you cannot be happy as a single person, chances are that you will not be happy in marriage either. Many people think that marriage will bring them happiness. Marriage does not bring happiness, it is an opportunity for one person to bring happiness to another. Unhappy people do not become happy because they marry. Hollywood and romance novels promote this idea and many are disappointed by it. If you are a happy single person and willing to make someone else happy with you in marriage, go ahead, you are ready.
Another question to ask is, "Do I really know what I believe and what is important to me?" Many relationships do not work out in the long term because people do not yet know who they are or what they want to be. When they do find out, many times they realize that what and who they want to be are not compatible with the partner they now have. Make sure you are thinking and sharing with your partner what your hopes and dreams are for yourself so that you are both on the same track in the future.
4. Emotional Stability
How well do I control my feelings? Wide mood swings or extreme emotions over small matters are a sign of two problems:
- Low self-esteem: Wild mood changes are a sign of a fragile esteem.
- Immaturity: Immature people do not think, they simply react without reasoning or restraint.
It is difficult living with someone whose mood you cannot measure, or who uses their moods to establish control over the other. If your moods control you, marriage will only aggravate the problem, be careful.
5. Relationship with Parents
Ask yourself, "Have I developed a good adult relationship with my parents?" Young people learn to relate to others by relating to parents. For example, a person overly dependent on parents will have difficulty adapting to a partnership in marriage; a person rebelling against parents will bring problems into the marriage that need/should have been solved with the parents.
A mature person is not tied to his/her parents but rather honors them by the way they live and manage their own independent lives.
These are some of the things to consider when trying to understand if you are mature enough for a serious relationship including marriage.
Perhaps, after reading this, some of you might be feeling pretty good about your relationship, and what has been said confirms that you are on the right track as far as marriage is concerned. Others may be thinking, "I am not ready, what am I going to do now?" Just realize that if you have chosen to read this material you have demonstrated the most important quality necessary in having a successful relationship: the willingness to learn.
Hopefully in the chapters to come you will learn and apply some important principles that will enable you and your partner to be in love for life.