Marriage Is Not For Cowards

Matt Walsh wrote an excellent message entitled, “I Didn’t Fall In Love With My Wife.” His post begins, “It’s no surprise that we are so bad at marriage in this culture.” And follows with a very appropriate description of our modern concepts of marriage:

We are bad at it because we do not understand it, and we do not understand it because we do not understand love. You cannot forge a lasting marriage if all you know about love is what you learned from an Ed Sheeran song. It is like trying to build a car when you think engines run on fairy dust. And that is essentially how many of us approach marriage. We believe it is fueled by some intense and mystical emotional force — a force we inaccurately call “love” — and as soon as we run out of this mysterious cosmic gasoline all we can do is send it to the scrap yard and find a new model.

This view is popular in our society because it removes all responsibility and blame from the individual. Marriage is presented as a passive endeavor, established and destroyed by forces outside of our control. Love is something you “fall into,” like a puddle, and then “out of,” like an unsafe carnival ride, and there is not much you can really do to cause the one or prevent the other. “These things happen,” we say. Oops, I’m married. Oops, I’m having an affair. Oops, I’m divorced. Oops, I’m married again. Oops, I’m divorced again. Oops, I’m lonely and isolated and everyone I have ever known resents me. Oops!

As my mother has often stated, “Marriage isn’t for cowards.” When I married my wife, I made a choice, and yes, we still have times that are difficult and filled with anger. But you know, we have stayed together. I can’t imagine life without her. We never found ourselves falling in and outof love.

To love someone is an act of our will. A decision. A conscious activity. It is something we do and live. We choose Love, and if it is protected and nurtured, it will grow. Scripture clearly points out that love is a sacrifice. Love is also an effort. Love is everything Paul described in one of his letters to the church in Corinth and in Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” As Walsh explains:

“I can say with certainty that I love my wife now. I can also say that I did not love her a week after I had met her. I surely didn’t love her the first time I saw her. I thought she was beautiful. I liked a lot of things about her. But love her? No. How could I? I didn’t know her. I had made no commitment to her. I wasn’t sharing my life with her. I wasn’t really sharing anything with her except for an appetizer at Chili’s. Yes, I loved her as a child of God, in the same sense that I am obligated to love all humanity, but I didn’t love her in the way that I love her now. I couldn’t have. This love, the love we have now, is defined by commitment, sacrifice, and devotion, and none of those dimensions are present when you’re just dating someone.

It is more accurate to say, when we first met, I was infatuated with her. There was an intense, mostly selfish, attachment. I wasn’t being intentionally selfish, it just made me feel good to be around her so I tried to be around her as much as possible. That is what I liked most about her at this stage: how she made me feel. I didn’t ‘love‘ her for her own sake, but for my sake. I think every relationship must start this way, but it can’t survive if it stays this way.

You know, I often hear people refer to this period of infatuation as the “in love phase,” but how can that be? If I was to describe it, I can’t imagine a worse word to use. We are talking about a time that is extraordinarily emotional; it is a pull that you feel in the early period of your relationship; it is supposed to be the fuel that drives you to the altar. But it isn’t love. However, it does gives you the incentive and energy to seek love. It is like the thrust that propels a rocket into outer space. The infatuation you feel for your girlfriend has no real meaning or value on its own; it is, possibly, a propulsion towards something.

Walsh continues:

“The trouble is, in our culture, couples experience that propulsion but they don’t go anywhere with it. They have all of this emotional energy, all of this fuel, but they are afraid to make the journey into the great beyond. Or they wait until it is worn off and then, by default, after years of living together, they finally tie the knot.

There is a reason why those relationships are much more likely to end in divorce. The so-called ‘in love phase’ — which really has nothing to do with love — died away long ago, but it didn’t develop into true love because true love requires commitment, and they waited far too long to make the commitment. So they’ve lived with each other without the emotional attachment, and without love, for years before finally wandering lazily down the aisle. Not a good way to start things.

Hence, the reason”Marriage isn’t for cowards!” Cowards can’t handle the heat in the kitchen. They want it easy and never want to be offended. Once that happens, they want to split.

More commonly, of course, people will stay together only so long as the infatuation lasts. That is how you end up with a generation of 20 and 30-somethings who have never been married but think they have had deep, rich “love” for, like, 19 different people. In truth, they never loved anyone. They simply experienced a fleeting enthusiasm over and over again. They have fallen into infatuation many times. They never once chosen love.

That’s the thing about marital love: it’s willful and decisive, but it also requires boldness and courage, because you won’t have it in its realest sense until after you have already gotten married. You say at the altar not that you have loved or did love your betrothed, but that you will. You are choosing love, right then and there, despite not knowing them very well. After all, even if you date for a couple of years before marriage, which I don’t necessarily recommend, you still won’t know your future spouse with even a fraction of the depth and intimacy that you will know them after 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years of marriage. You know them only as a separate person, not as a person united with yourself until death. Yet you choose love anyway, and you are bound by that choice forever. This is the great power and mystery of the sacrament.

This, my friends,  is why we should never say that we ‘fell in love’ with our spouse. What makes our love real and fruitful is precisely because we didn’t fall into it. We promised it, made it, built it, established it, fought for it — there are all kinds of verbs you could use, but never “fall.” A man falls when he is clumsy and gravity pulls him down. That is not at all how marital love is formed (or how it is sustained). Our love is never a careless coincidence or a product of circumstance. It goes so much deeper than that.

It is especially crucial for married couples to keep this in mind because, although my wife and I have not experienced this, many couples who have been together far longer than us will tell of emotional dry seasons that lasted for long stretches.

During this period, they felt little attraction or affection, yet they still loved. They gained no emotional benefit from being around each other, but they still had their love. They loved because they understood that love is an act of devotion, and they were not relieved from the duty of that devotion just because they no longer felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Today, there are all kinds of people find it scandalous to imagine that a couple would stay together even when their feelings turn cold for a time. That level of fidelity and sacrifice can never be understood because we think that the whole point of a marriage is to find personal satisfaction. We only “love” each other as long as we feel good about and we get something immediate and pleasurable out of it. But boy, it that goes, we go. Our love is no deeper and no more real after marriage than it was 5 seconds after we met. We “love” our spouses the same way we “loved” that person we took to our 9th-grade homecoming dance.

“Inevitably, if we approach marriage like hormonal teenagers, we will see the emotional dry season as an indication that we have ‘fallen out of love.’ We won’t fight for our marriage or remain committed to our spouses because we think the whole point of our union was the emotional high it gave us. Now it is gone, we don’t know why, and we can’t do anything about it. We are utterly helpless. Love was like a magical elf that stayed with us for a while then suddenly scurried away, and all we can do is say farewell as it disappears into the woods. “Wave goodbye to our love, honey, it’s leaving now. Well, time to get divorced.”‘

Naturally, this mentality also leads quickly to affairs. If love just ‘happens,’ then who is to say it won’t ‘happen’ with your coworker or someone you met at the gym? And if this thing that happens is actually love, and not, as I say, mere infatuation, then shouldn’t you go and be with that person? You love them! It was meant to be! The fact that it came to be after you had already married someone else is an unfortunate detail that can be dealt with later. If pursuing this ‘love’ means dissolving your current family, well, then it is the right thing to do — the “loving” thing, even. The kids will understand!

Oh, hey! Speaking of kids, if you think you can fall “out of love” with your spouse, what about your children? Can you fall out of love with them? And what if you do? Would you ever say to your daughter, “Oops, I apologize, but I’m not feeling it anymore. The love is gone. I’m calling DHS”?

No, I think most of us would agree that is a horrible thought. Even if you don’t feel particularly affectionate towards your kids, I mean, those times do come and I bet every parent has been there, but you still love them, and you recognize your responsibility to them. All decent human beings understand that you can’t abandon your children just because you are getting tired of them. So, why don’t we understand this about our marriage? Why do we love our kids no matter what, while attaching a series of conditions to the love we have for the very person we publicly pledged to love unconditionally? It doesn’t make sense.

For my part, I know that I owe my love to my kids and my wife, but nobody is more entitled to it — to me, all of me — than my wife. I am in debt to her. I promised her my love and I am called to fulfill that promise. True, it is easy now. She is a beautiful person, through and through, so holding up my end of the bargain is not a chore. But if those were the conditions for my love — if I only intended to love her as long as she can stun me with her grace and beauty — then I would not love her at all. I would be a mercenary, in it just to get mine for as long as it remains profitable. That is a fine approach to business, but it is just not how marriage is supposed to work.

So tell me, what are you going to do about this? Run and hide or gird up your loins and face the battle for your marriage? Are you going to travel the easy road, or the rough and tumble road that is “Not for Cowards“?

Doulos Studies

(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)

I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.

This entry was posted in A Perfect Heart, A Time of Elightenment, Daily Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

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