(Once again, on my soapbox back in the 1980s, when I thought all marriages could be saved. My position now is more flexible. We should try, but some of us don't succeed.)
"God is love, and you who remains in love remains in God and God remains in you." (John's First Epistle, 4:16)
No wonder Paul calls love the greatest of all virtues in First Corinthians, 13.
But can it survive? Can married love survive when we're all bombarded with stories and gossip about extra-marital affairs, selfishness and other sicknesses attacking marriage today?
If God is love, maybe we had better take another look at it in our lives. Love is the only emotion that can create new life...a life that is truly a combination of the two joined by love ...by God.
Yet daily, our courts in the United States are filled with person, victims of dead loves, or so they say.
When love dies, it's like taking a priceless work of art and deliberately smashing it upon the hot concrete below.
One of God's greatest gifts to his children is love, because God is Love personally. Through experiencing a man-woman love in our own lives, we can understand just who great God really is.
Love is the sunrise of the day, the Christmas of the year. It's the best of what life has to offer --- the dessert of the meal --- better yet, it's the main course of life!
And love can only be a full love if it's a COMMITTED love. Love exists within life. Life isn't always easy, and so at times, love becomes difficult, too.
There are long absences, temptations, human failings, misunderstandings. But rather than let these things destroy love, it should be love that cures, binds, builds and relieves the pain --- and is made stronger itself in the process.
In his book, Faith for Personal Crisis, theologian Carl Michalson accuses modern society as being polygamous. The 1981 World Almanac recorded a record 1,184,000 American marriages ended in divorce from mid-1979 to the mid-1980s.
The only difference between us and the more primitive polygamous societies is that we go through mates one at a time, instead of remaining with many at once.
As one preacher remarked, "Divorce has become as American as hot dogs, ice cream and Coke." However, many of us still see marriage as a special covenant bringing together in a special commitment --- two human beings and God.
We're each inter-related. Each man's personality and uniqueness is intertwined with the other two. It's like three strings, starting out side by side, but then all molded together into a ball. Trying to separate the strings then becomes very difficult indeed.
That doesn't mean efforts aren't made to separate.
Society itself imposes a need to really KNOW yourself --- to find your own place in life --- to "do your own thing."
"Don't let anyone manipulate you."
"Stand up for your rights."
"Everyone pull his or her own weight."
"Contribute the same."
The list continues with even more individual rights.
But what about individual responsibilities for making marriage --- and the binding love within --- work? We'll examine that later.
Another sad thing tearing the strings apart is not a thing but a person. It's the infamous "other man" or "other woman."
This is what a great number of songs, books and moves are about. See Middle Age Crazies, The seduction of Joe Tynan, 10. Listen to Sad Eyes, Torn Between Two Lovers, If Loving you is Wrong, just for starters.
Themes in these movies and songs make the subject of extra-marital affairs so complicated. yet, when you get to the basics, it seems so simple.
Stand back awhile and remember the good times. What brought you together in the first place?
With few exceptions, it was love, and you committed your love to one another forever. At that time, you saw your love as such a powerful force that nothing could overcome it. And many people involved in extra-marital affairs claim to be even more confused, because although they love their new lovers, they still love their spouses, too.
Seems a pure contradiction, but it is an understandable emotion. If their love was still there, was still a vibrant force in their lives, they wouldn't be unfaithful to their spouses, would they?
If their love was really a true love, would they voluntarily break their covenants with one another and with God?
Certainly, mistakes do happen in human relationships. But if after time spent in honest introspection about infidelity, the responsible person still decides to continue down his (or her) new path, something is wrong.
(For clarity's sake, only the masculine pronoun --- his, him, himself --- will be used for the rest of the article. However, this doesn't connote any of the following problems or attributes to the male gender only. Feminine pronouns can be substituted to fit the situation.)
He's fooling himself. There's either a great lack of maturity involved, or he's trying to wrestle with his feelings of guilt.
Then infidelity happens, it lessens the sting of guilt by claiming you still love your spouse. The love commitment is still there, although the faithfulness vow has been broken. To break the commitment altogether, however, is something else! It entails failure and death, and the guilt lays mostly with the one "fooling around."
Of course, much of the guilt also belongs to the spouse who hasn't been unfaithful by "loving another." Yet, there's a good chance she's been unfaithful in other says.
Has she treated her spouse as really a lovable person --- daily, year after year? Has the spouse always been first in their relationship --- ahead of children or other relatives?
Has she kept up with her personal appearance, not counting the toll years take? (With the right attitude, however, many believe age adds a new beauty, or character, to a face.)
Have you talked ---really talked --- about goals, feelings, hopes, disappointments?
Often when things are right at home, things are right away from home. When each day is begun and lived in love, spouses become stronger while resisting certain temptation.
Since both my husband and I work away from home and each other most of the day, we've noticed that without a solid love life at home temptations can become very attractive outside. But then if they weren't attractive, they wouldn't be temptations, would they?
And these temptations don't start as extra-marital affairs. The majority of them start as simple friendships. One person is hurting, or is an extra interesting, attractive and fun person to be with. You enjoy talking with one another.
Soon you're particularly drawn to help the hurting person. Or you can't wean yourself away from the feeling of enjoyment you get by just being around a special someone. You're still just friends, but a relationship has started. And if daily tabs aren't kept, that friendship can deceptively --- and so gradually --- develop into a very confusing and frustrating love relationship.
How many couples find themselves saying, "How did we get into this predicament?"
Many of these relationships start innocently on both partners' parts. On the other hand, there are times when you have outsiders who love to collect "conquest feathers."
They like to see how they can attract persons who pride themselves on being faithful. It's their ego trip. Often they're basically insecure persons who need strokes given to them by persons of the other sex --- again one at a time --- the more of them the more loving they see themselves as being.
Even these people aren't evil intentionally. They are searching for love, too --- but they equate love with the number of conquests they stack up.
The person who sooner or later discovera he has been one of these conquests suddenly finds his world shattered.
It's then up to him and his spouse to pick up the pieces, glue them together and make a stronger relationship than ever before --- it they truly value the love they had, and hopefully still have --- in the first place.
This is not the time to quit. It's a time to forgive and build. Trust will gradually --- and not without pain --- follow.
Yes, sometimes when a love relationship does develop a flaw (and how many don't!), It can turn out to be a very simple blessing.
A renewed love is often even richer than in its earlier days. A couple has discovered what life can be like without the other. They realize that their love is indeed fragile; it must be cared for, fed and pampered each day.
And this is where we get into individual responsibilities for making marriage work. Let's try to get out of the "rights" mentality, and hook onto the "responsibilities" mentality.
"Love Makes Love," as many popular t-shirts espouse.
A few parting remarks on what to keep in mind for your marriage:
- Unless you're one of few married to areal dunce, your giving will be reciprocated. I suggest you give and give, love and love, build up more and more. Be a lover first, a spouse and parent second.
- Don't be too predictable, though. Show your love in different ways. Use your imagination. Change your hair-do once in awhile; take your spouse out to dinner for no reason at all. Plan surprises -- big ones and small ones. Make big deals of little events. Make your love an exciting element of life.
- It's good to be comfortable in your love, but don't become so comfortable that you fall asleep in your relationship.
- Sometimes you won't feel very loving or lovable. Don't pretend those feelings don't exist. Instead confide in your spouse in the most loving way you're up to at that time. This honesty with one another is one of the real pluses that go with covenant love and marriage. You will have negative feelings once in awhile. You will hate, be angry and jealous and moody.
- Admit your feelings. Then pray together that they will in time be smoothed over, dissolved and replaced with more positive emotions.
- And remember, love sometimes isn't a feeling. Like faith, it is just there. For days it may be dormant for one or both of you. But just realize that it is still there. You have entered into a covenant with God. He has become an integral part of your relationship. God is at work in it --- and for it --- with you. God's stake in your marriage is just as great as yours and your spouse's.
God will not desert you or your marriage. Just as the Holy Spirit has been described as the love between the Father and the Son, so is your marriage and love. It's an entity in itself, a product of what is in you and your spouse --- the good parts and bad parts of each one's personalities --- nurtured by God's grace.
It's a unique source of energy and power in the world. A positive power building up families and nations.
And remember, it all started with a simple committed surrender of self to the person who means more to you than anyone else in the world. God comes to abide in that love, because where love is, God is --- and will continue to be "til death do us part."