Does Marriage Have to Be Hard?
February 27, 2013
Editor’s Note: During last Sunday’s Academy Awards, Ben Affleck thanked his wife, Jennifer Garner, in an emotional Best Picture acceptance speech that left viewers divided on the state of their marriage. "I want to thank you for working on our marriage for ten Christmases," he said, "It's good. It is work, but it's the best kind of work. And there's no one I'd rather work with."
Moments after the speech, Twitter erupted in mixed reactions: from appreciation for his candid acknowledgment that, yes, marriage takes work, to speculation that their celebrity marriage is “on the rocks” and indignation that Affleck would dare insult his wife in such a public way. This disparity between these reactions brings several questions to light: Does marriage have to be hard? If marriage is hard, then does that signal a marriage in trouble? These are the questions we’re looking at today.
Sherry and Jake had been married for almost nine months.
When the rain comes, when the wind blows, those who took the unintentional fall of love find themselves unintentionally falling right back out of it.
Nine heart-wrenching months.
Looking back at their relationship, they weren’t really sure what went wrong. Sherry and Jake had met at their campus Bible study two years before as seniors in college, and frankly, it was love at first sight.
Their connection was instant. They had so many common beliefs, dreams and ideas. Hour-long conversations passed by like minutes, and spending time together never seemed to get old. Their many shared passions only fueled the passion they felt for one another. It was a feeling like they had never experienced before. They wanted to conquer the world together. And after a year and a half of dating, they decided they would and got married.
Fast-forward two years, to Jake and Sherry sitting in my office with tears in their eyes. The goals and dreams they had together had somehow fizzled in the daily grind of marriage. Their passions for conquering the world had never launched the way they thought they would. Bitterness, anger and selfishness had crept into their marriage in a very real and unpredictable way. They were left with broken dreams and broken hearts, and an emptiness that left them wondering if this marriage had been the right thing to do.
The uncontrollable feelings that had led them to fall in love had somehow taken control yet again, though this time, they were falling right back out of love.
"Falling" in Love
I find it fascinating that our entire society’s view of love is based on such a spontaneous and unintentional action like “falling.” As a professional counselor, I have heard the word “falling” used to describe the act of entering into relationship on more than one occasion. Men and women struck so deeply by the emotion of love that they couldn’t resist it; they just “fell in love.”
Falling in love. An act over which one has seemingly no control. A movement of the heart that cannot be resisted. A desire of the flesh that cannot be satisfied until its thirst has been quenched. A chemistry, a spark, an emotional explosion that can neither be explained nor denied. A feeling that can plague the heart of men and women across all races, cultures and social classes.
It’s a beautiful concept. It’s the stuff fairy tales and Hollywood movies are made of. It’s the heart-fluttering, forehead-sweating, word-stuttering, stomach-knotting disease of love that cannot seem to be controlled by the people it infects. You can’t breathe, can’t think and can’t live without the object of your affection. It’s love, you see. Love at its finest.
When the feeling of love dries up, it is time to call on the reservoir of choice.
Or is it?
Feelings and emotions are a valuable part of who we are as human beings. God gave them to us for a very special reason. They are the compass that points us toward the general direction we need to go. But sometimes, even compasses are not enough. Sometimes, even compasses get it wrong. Feelings are an incredible resource—but they were not made to stand alone.
Excitement, exhilaration, pleasure and thrill are the emotional components to a really great batch of “love.” But what happens when the feelings aren’t so right? Exhaustion, suffering, pain and disappointment. Broken dreams, hopes and even broken promises. What happens to love, then? I have the unfortunate role of seeing the foundations crumble for those who have built their relationships on the emotional sand of “falling in love.” When the rain comes, when the wind blows, those who took the unintentional fall of love find themselves unintentionally falling right back out of it.
That’s the thing I learned about the “feeling” of love—it was never meant to stand alone. It was never intended to be used as a noun: an object, a thing, a feeling, an idea. To do so is to do the concept of love a grave injustice. To do so is to reject the very definition of how God has asked us to love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The most dangerous part about the myth of falling in love is that it is based on a definition that has no sense of predictability or control. It offers no guarantees. If you can fall into it, you can surely fall out of it. It’s no wonder our country’s divorce rate hovers around 50 percent, with divorce among Christians tagging right along.
The truth is, love was never just intended to be, it was intended to do. DC Talk had it right when they wrote the song “Love Is a Verb” (or rather, “luv”). That’s the truth.
Frankly, it’s the hardest verb you will ever do. It’s a verb that requires a selflessness and altruism beyond any other experience on earth. It’s a verb that is not always felt but must always be chosen. It is a commitment to do what is right, even though the one standing before you may be entirely undeserving.
A Choice Worth Making
You might be wondering what happened to Sherry and Jake. After a series of sessions and conversations, they realized when the feeling of love dries up, it is time to call on the reservoir of choice. They entered into a commitment to “do” love for the next three months.
They learned to put the other first and committed to loving; even when they were hurting, tired and when they had been wronged. Each one of them had to learn what it meant to see love as a choice. In the end, they found themselves more in love than they ever imagined. That’s the beautiful thing about love—the actions come first, but the feelings are sure to follow.
Throughout the Scriptures, God’s love for us is not described as a feeling, but always comes in the form of doing: healing, forgiving, befriending, feeding, visiting and communicating. It’s an example of how the best form of love can be shown in marriage. It’s a love that doesn’t depend on feelings that come and go but instead depends on an everlasting choice to sacrifice and love unconditionally. In short: the best example of marital love anyone could possibly imagine.
This article is adapted from one that appears in the July/August 2011 issue of RELEVANT magazine.