Falling in love is not hard…but love is not enough to keep a marriage healthy.
Some people learn that truth, and sear it in their mind.
Others ink it into their skin, where it will be a constant reminder.
And if I could help couples understand that you can love someone, but not be compatible, it would save a lot of heartache. If only I had that magic wand.
It gets confusing, because sometimes your heart takes over before your mind can catch up. We watched it up close years ago, when our oldest son was on a popular dating site. He would repeatedly go out with “matches” that seemed to have potential, only to lose interest quickly when nothing really “clicked” in person.
First, the flame
Then there was a match, which flamed as when touched to kerosene, and just as quickly left him a smoldering mess. And we were left trying to help him pick through the charred rubble.
At first, they found much in common, and there was an excitement in exploring the seemingly many things in common. But she couldn't make him fit into her expectations in certain areas, and rather than try to work it through, she dumped him. Hard.
We watched our son go from happy and hopeful about the future, to a despair that left him hurting and heartsick. We reminded him of the beautiful person he is, the kindness of his heart, that this did not define who he is. It was gut-wrenching as parents to see the sadness that had taken over this young man that we loved so much.
But our love was not enough to convince him otherwise.
As a parent, we worry about a lot of things–what they eat, what they learn, what we don't want them to learn, what sport they play, and on and on. But one of the most important things for me was their choice of a life partner. I often told them, “Who you choose as your partner can make life heaven or hell on earth.” It's hard having a mom that's a marriage counselor.
Then the reminder
I got a call from him one evening, telling me he had just gotten his first tattoo.
“It's something you've said to me many times about relationships.”
Hm, I thought…I've said a lot of things.
“What does it say?” I asked, curious to know.
When I saw the tattoo, forever marked on his left wrist so he would be reminded daily, I smiled at him and said, “Well, if tattooing it permanently is what it takes to remember, I'm good with that.”
Fast forward a few years–he is now married to a woman that loves him for who he is. She is his biggest cheerleader and encourager–as it should be. She would like him to remove the “not” from the tattoo, and I get that. She wants their love to be enough. SHE wants to be enough.
A third entity
However happy a couple is currently, if marriage is to last your lifetime, love alone is not enough. Love, like any living thing, cannot be static for long. It is growing, or it is waning. Once a couple commits their lives and their love to one another, then they must commit themselves to nurturing that love. Not just once or twice a year at Valentine's Day and their anniversary, but in the moments when tempers flare, feelings are hurt, disappointment hits, expectations aren't met.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to dear friends who were getting married, this truth.
“It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison).
So if love is NOT enough, then what CAN sustain a marriage?
(For those that are in the dating phase, this article continues here.)
When Bonhoeffer talks about “your marriage sustains your love”, he was introducing the idea that when people marry, there is something bigger than two people that evolves. My needs are not the most important any longer, nor my spouse's. There is a bigger “we” or “us” that is a third entity, and we begin to make decisions based on, “What is the best thing for our MARRIAGE?”
Of course, that does not mean the individual needs are not at all important, it just changes the perspective. If couples seek what is best for the marriage, it will inevitably include what is best for each person, because love seeks the best for the beloved.
The question to keep asking
Marriage becomes a relationship with boundaries to protect the integrity of the union. Learning to ask, “Will this help or hinder our marriage?” becomes a great tool for making a million different decisions in marriage.
“Will this help or hinder our relationship? is the question that will deepen your love, seeking the best for both people.” Kathy Rushing
The boundaries of marriage then become a way to explore with great creativity and freedom the combining of lives, personalities, and needs of two very different people. It's NOT just a list of rules to follow. There isn't just one way to create a loving partnership where two people thrive and fully become all they were created to be.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (I Corinthians 13:7, NLT)
The Good Marriage Question: What are some decisions that you have made in your marriage that changed when you asked, ‘Will this help or hinder our marriage?
The Good Marriage Challenge: Next time you & your spouse have a difference of opinion, ask how a proposed solution may help or hinder your marriage. See how that changes the focus.