Yesterday I caught the tail-end of a radio interview, in which a young man said that if he were ever to get married, he would make it a rule that after seven years the marriage would automatically be deemed over; if they wanted it to continue, they’d have to get remarried.
We’ve gone from idolizing romance to cynically expecting it to die.
So what’s the secret to staying “in love”, to keeping romance alive in your marriage? Is it even possible?
Well, the first thing is to realize that it is perfectly normal for romantic feelings to come and go. Too many people in our culture today don’t understand this and give up when it goes, not realizing that it will come back. (Witness such songs as “You’ve lost that loving feeling [3x], now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh-oh.”) C.S. Lewis once pointed out that actually it would be extremely impractical if it remained in all its first intensity. How could anyone get anything done if one were in that infatuated stage constantly?
Another thing to recognize from the get-go is that romantic feeling—like any magical creature—flees from pursuit. If you try too hard to capture it, it eludes you. If you try to imprison it, it will escape. It is like a wild, free unicorn. You must create the right atmosphere—a beautiful garden—for it to thrive, and it will return. And you must be very patient; you never know when it will come.
It's crucial, then, to build your marriage on friendship and respect. (If it wasn't your original foundation, it's not too late to build it now.) That is the rock that will keep your relationship from being swept away by the storms that will surely come. It will also see you through the doldrums, when romance seems dead and gone.
Attitude is everything. When we first fall in love, all we see (or care about) is the beloved’s good qualities. We’re blind to their faults. But as we get to know one another better, the latter become more obvious. If we’re not careful, the faults and foibles can in turn blind us to the good qualities or make us take them for granted. That’s when familiarity breeds contempt.
It’s probably human nature—fallen human nature, that is—that tempts us to focus on what’s irritating in others and how we ourselves are unappreciated. But this is a fruitless exercise. While we can and sometimes should try to influence others, the only person we can change is ourselves. (And, by the way, guard the power of that influence by using it sparingly. The more you utilize it, the less potent it is. If you become a nag, you lose all influence.)
Instead of mulling over how you’d like the other to change and what you do for them that is taken for granted, flip that around. You can’t make your spouse change or appreciate you; you can only change yourself. Stop and reflect on what you are taking for granted in your spouse, and be thankful. Stop and reflect on how you might be irritating or where you might be failing to love: what should you change? what more could you do for your spouse?
We need to see and love the whole person: not just the qualities nor just the faults. Appreciate and wonder over the former and accept the latter, humbly recognizing one’s own imperfections.
The philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book on Marriage held that our initial “infatuated” vision of the beloved was not false, but a gift from God. We were given a unique insight into what makes our beloved so wonderful, so lovable, a share in seeing our beloved as God sees them. And von Hildebrand says we must not lose that but guard it. Recall what attracted you to your spouse in the first place. What additional qualities and virtues have you discovered since then?
Your job is to be your spouse’s biggest fan and biggest cheerleader. To build that person up and find ways to make them feel loved and cherished.
Ups and downs are part of every marriage, and indeed every life. Getting through them, holding fast to God and one another, is precisely what builds and strengthens love.
Most important, always remember that the heart of love is self-sacrifice. Love Himself clearly demonstrated this throughout His life and, most of all, in His death on the cross.
Is any of this easy? No. In fact, sometimes it is impossible. That is, impossible on our own strength. “But all things are possible with God.”