What things in life are a bigger deal than marriage? Who will we spend our life with? Who will we share our most intimate moments with? We take that excitement of falling in love and courting into our journey of life with our best friend and partner “through good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, all the days of our lives.” Few would argue with that vow and commitment on the day of their wedding, but many feel differently after the feelings of discontentment, boredom, or even animosity begin to seep into the relationship. We “fall” out of love, we split up, we deserve to be happy, we look for another to marry and start a new life with together. As we made that first commitment or vow to each other for life, the question is if that vow was intended to be real or just a romantic notion? Was marriage intended to be forever, even if the feelings of love wear off or things become challenging?
Going to the source may help to provide the truth of the matter. In Matthew 19, some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery. Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
As humans, we tend to trust our own feelings and instincts more than God’s plans for us. I think it is safe to say that God’s plans are always better and always better for us, even when we don’t see why at the time. Marriage is a sacramental covenant designed for men and women with purpose and meaning. Life only makes sense in the relationship with another and there is no relationship more intimate that a marriage. If we treat a marriage like a contract where we stay as long as the arrangement benefits us, then the agreement is conditional and holds something back. When we do not give completely of ourselves to another unconditionally, we do not fully trust them with everything about us. To truly see our true self, we need a love of safety and trust in a relationship that allows us the freedom to fully reveal everything about ourselves – things that we may not even know about our fears, failings, and imperfections. Having the freedom and trust to be our true selves with another allows us to honestly grown and be the person God created us to be. When we hide and hold back parts of ourselves, we are compromised and never fully free to be ourselves. We need to know that this other person will always be with us through anything, even when we let down our guard and reveal the ugliest parts of ourselves. Young couples often rationalize living together so that they can be sure that they know everything about the person they are about to marry, but this belief is a fallacy and can be a dangerous assumption since we are never likely to know everything until we are in a truly committed and unconditional relationship. The commitment comes first and is unconditional (obviously this does not hold for abusive or dangerous relationships).
We will naturally hit times in any relationships where we no longer “feel” the love and even feel quite the opposite. These feelings and bumps in the road are part of the journey of loving someone, even when we do not like them or their behavior at the time. It is easy to love someone you are enjoying and feeling good about but real love is much more than how they are making your feel, it is willing the good for the other without conditions for anything in return. Love is work and it is an art that is developed over time. The moment we sincerely and completely give ourselves selflessly to another without conditions is when we finally find ourselves and our freedom to experience the joy God made us for. We are no longer using the other person to feed our ego or fill our needs but actually loving them unconditionally, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, all the days of our lives. Families need couples that are truly committed to each other. That mutual love is like nothing else we will experience in life but it needs the trust of two people that have given themselves fully to the other to grow, and it needs God as the heart and glue that makes it a covenant for life.