What Kind of Love Sustains a Marriage?

Mr. Reznicki was my high school social studies teacher.  He was also a bit of a relationship counselor.  He taught us two things I remember:  The first was about love and marriage.  One day in class the subject of marriage came up and Mr. Rez, as he liked to be known, stated emphatically: You have to marry your best friend . (I hoped he was wrong.  My best friend was the starting lineback on the football team and I was sure I didn’t want to marry him!)

Actually, Mr. Rez was talking about the special love between a husband and a wife necessary for a lifetime commitment to marriage.  This unconditional love is greater than physical attraction or trusting friendship, though these are important.  Marital love is absolute love, a relationship where, with the exception of Jesus Christ, the husband and wife prefer each other’s company to the exclusion of all else.  God created man and woman to support one another unconditionally as husband and and wife in the sacrament of holy matrimony (See Tobit 8:7).

Houses of the Holy

In his first encylclical, Deus Caritas Est , Pope Benedict XVI writes of the "love which God lavishes on us and which we in turn must share with others."  The Holy Father identifies three types of love: eros , or erotic love; philios , or friendship; and agape , unconditional love: the love a parent has for a child, or the love between spouses.  Agape also is the type of love God has for his children, a love so great and far reaching it can never be exhausted.

All three types of love are necessary to sustain a healthy, holy marriage.  But by themselves, eros and philiosagape are insufficient to support a commitment to marriage.  A relationship founded on romantic love alone is like a house built on sand: the waves will come and wash your dreams away.  Mature couples married in the Roman Catholic Church have designed for themselves a future with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone of their dream castle.  Theirs can be a home constructed on a foundation of rock, solid as a mountain that will withstand the wind and the rain. In good times and in bad, in sickness or in health, a marriage built on the unconditional love that is agape is more apt to endure through the difficulties of life, which befall all married couples.  No marriage is perfect — that’s unrealistic — but agape love trusts in the fidelity of God’s promise: the basis of a healthy, happy marriage.

To those who marry God promises the graces that will empower you to be faithful, to keep unselfishly  putting the interests of your spouse and children first, to bear with your spouses weaknesses with the same forgiving love that your heavenly Father gives to you.

Honey – Hurry! – I’m Home!

I didn’t marry my former teammate.  But I do remember something his mother told me years ago.  Her name was Sandy.  I once asked her what being in love was like — real love, not puppy dog infatuation of the pangs of lust.  She had been married to the same man for thirty years.  How did she know it was real?  She said: "After all this time I still get butterflies in my stomach when I hear his car pull in the driveway."

I imagine the joy they find in rediscovering one another day after day.  They are growing old together, yet their love never grows old.

Sandy told me another story.  When they were newlyweds she got pulled over for speeding.  As soon as she rolled down the window she burst into tears. (This brings me to the second lesson I learned in Mr. Rez’s class: if you ever get into a fender-bender, or pulled over, never admit guilt.  Leave the burden of proof on the law.) Well, Sandy didn’t need to plead her case to the cop; she simply told him the truth: "I was speeding," she said,  "because I work first shift, my husband works second shift, and if I didn’t get home I would miss him before he went to work."

How did she and her husband survive those difficult early years of marriage.  Everything seemed to be working against them and yet they persevered in the hope things would get better.  And they did.  It was worth it to endure a relatively short amount of hardship, considering they planned to spend the rest of their lives together.  Sandy and Ramsey committed themselves for life. Sustained by the power of agape love, thirty years later they are still discovering more about one another each day.

Love Everlasting

This agape , this unremitting love that transcends temporal boundaries because the match was made by God in heaven is what Saint Paul writes of in his First Epistle to the Corinthians : love "bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  Christian love, agape , characterizes our existence now and forever.  Love never fails in the sense of falling away as do the items of the material world.  When we share our love with the Lord and with one another — as Benedict instructs us to do — it grows from friendship and physical attraction to a spiritual union, as unbreakable as the sacrament of matrimony itself.  The relationship is sealed by God in a covenant, an agreement that cannot be dissolved.

Love never fails.

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