110. Love and Marriage

                “You’re  a nice girl, but I don’t love you that way,” the young man mumbled to the crest-fallen young lady.  Ever been through that scenario whether male or female?  I was single till I was thirty, not particularly handsome, charming, rich or amusing (“He makes me laugh!”) and so I encountered this a number of times, though it was usually unspoken.  My brother once said that most of my relationships began and ended in my head.

                This idea of being “in love”, or infatuated, is not a new idea. One can find it in ancient literature, including the Bible.  It’s a lot of fun and stirs up all sorts of pleasant emotions, including happiness, enchantment, and sexual desire.  It motivates us, especially as singles, to take some risks and invest  energy into pursuing a relationship. Infatuation was created by God, and is a good gift which not only can be a prompt to marriage, but also adds considerable sweetness to it.

                Yet while I value and respect and enjoy infatuation (I’m often in love with my wife of over 30 years), I also see the love bug as a condition to be regarded with caution. It causes a lot of problems. I’ll represent these potential problems with two statements.  Here’s the first.

Infatuation, by itself, is an insufficient reason to get married

Why is this so?

1.        Infatuation is often based on superficial factors

We may “fall in love” with someone for minor reasons – they have a nice smile, a cute shape, a good sense of humor, they’re nice to us, and so on.  All these make the relationship enjoyable, but, in the end,  by themselves, they cannot sustain it.  One reason this true is the second factor:

2.       Infatuation is notoriously fickle

You may adore that smile, but you’ll also get used to it, or possibly, even tire of it after a while. What charms us, to a large extent, is the novelty. By the thousandth time you’ve seen that grin, it’s no longer a novelty.  And the same is true of many infatuation factors. We get used to them eventually, and then they die down. This leads to the next factor:

3.       Infatuation is unsustainable

Infatuation is a peak state which burns enormous energy and is very distracting. Over the long run, however, it can’t continuously maintained. Real life interferes.  We have a limited amount of energy and lots of other important responsibilities. Two screaming kids or a hard day at work flattens infatuation, at least for the moment.

4.       Infatuation is mostly about me

I can’t take credit for this idea, but it strikes me as true. I’m infatuated with you because of how you make me feel. You bring pleasure to me. That’s primarily what sparks my intense interest and my commitment.  When this payback diminishes, frequently, my interest in serving you and pleasing you dies down as well.

5.       Infatuation eventually runs into painful realities

When we’re “in love” we maximize what appeals to us in the other person and minimize what we dislike. They often do the same.  Pleasure overrides pain or inconvenience. But the more we get to know each other, the more challenging the relationship becomes to sustain.  We discover  differences and conflicts which require effort and humility to work out.  This is normal, and it’s usually resolvable, but only if both parties are willing to pay the price. This hard work isn’t always fun and can diminish or extinguish the infatuation.

6.       Infatuation blinds us

I’ve already alluded to this. When I’m “in love” it’s easy to lose all sense of proportion and objectivity. We minimize their weaknesses and maximize what appeals to us. To some extent, this is okay, since no one is perfect.  But if their weaknesses are significant (he has a real temper, or she spends money like water) these can later sabotage the marriage.

Infatuation may get us married and tide us over for a time, but it provides a weak foundation for a lifetime of loving intimacy and commitment. Too much emphasis on it has led to lots of divorces or dysfunctional marriages.

                Let me speak now to those who are already married.  You’ve made that “till death us do part” commitment before God and society.  Infatuation can add real sweetness and joy to your marriage, but misunderstanding or misuse of it can also ruin a marriage.  This leads to my second warning:

Infatuation, by itself, is a bad reason to leave a marriageWhy is lack of infatuation not good grounds for walking away?

1.       It’s not good grounds for walking, since marriage love is based on commitment, not infatuation

Love, at its root, is not a feeling.  It’s a commitment; a “for better or worse” pledge.  That’s what the wedding vow is about –  commitment to loyally care for and stick with your partner through thick and thin. This committed love is cable steel compared to the gossamer strands of infatuation. It will keep you working on the marriage even in tough times, long after infatuation has fled the scene.  

2.       Lack of infatuation is not good ground for walking because mature marriage love is a deeper bond than infatuation

While love is primarily a commitment, that commitment is greatly enhanced and supplemented by a strong emotional bond.  This bond is not primarily infatuation. It’s  far more mature—a  connection built slowly over time. As we show love and commitment to each other day by day, as we stand together through the good times and the bad, as we work out our differences; learning to accept and forgive, a deep bond is forged. We become “one”. While we may not always enjoy each other, we still develop a strong appreciation and respect and desire for the other. This sort of bond takes work to build and to maintain, but it’s a marriage foundation of solid gold.

3.       Lack of infatuation is not good grounds for walking since mature marriage love and commitment opens the door for continued moments of infatuation

As the marriage bond deepens, so do the times of affection and desire. Infatuation, though not constant, increasingly flits in and out. It may not be the wild infatuation of youth, but it’s still a source of delight and joy. There are still moments of enchantment (some of them X-rated even).

4.       Lack of infatuation is not good grounds for walking even though, in a strong marriage other people still catch our heart from time to time

Being married doesn’t guarantee that a co-worker or neighbor or that girl at the deli won’t ensnare our heart from time to time.  God’s made lots of appealing people, some of whom, at a given moment, generate more sizzle inside you than your marriage partner. This is normal.  Enjoy it, ignore it, and move on.  It means little. It’s not a sign that you’ve finally found “the right one”. It’s just a phase. Six months from now, someone else will be the “crush of the month”.  And even if you walk away, and marry the other, the same hard work awaits you in the new relationship, with a lot of the same issues and problems. Honor your vow to your partner and to God. You’ll be glad you did.