There are many ways to address this topic, but I want to call our attention to what I think is the biggest problem in marriage. What I am about to say may come as a shock to many people, but the thing most people get wrong is love. The most common objection to this is that people get married because they love each other, so how can love be the problem?
We need to begin with the question: what is love? I used to ask this of the couples I was working with in marriage preparation, but I quit asking the question because I always received the same answer. Most of the time I heard about the wonderful or warm feeling the couple had when they were together. Sometimes I heard about the various positive attributes of the other person and how they really liked what the other could offer.
We need to begin with what love is and what it is not.
Love is not an emotion. There are emotions that come with love, but love itself is not an emotion. My favorite definition of love is very simple: doing always what is best for the other. In the previous paragraph it was mentioned that some couples appreciated what they would gain by marrying this other person. There is, indeed, a great deal of gain for each of the persons in a marriage, but love is not about what you get, it is about what you give.
On the day of marriage, the couple vow to love one another. This has never been easy, but it has become exponentially more difficult in our society. Why? Because we live in the most selfish society in history. This impacts marriage directly because selfishness is the opposite of love. So, if we reword the vow to love we might say “I will never be selfish” or “I will put you and your needs before myself and my needs.”
We tend to be selfish by nature, and living in a selfish and materialistic society only increases the temptation to selfishness. This is the beauty of married life and love: it is God’s way to overcome our selfishness and to become saints. This is really what married life is about. The goal of marriage is to make one another into saints and to raise up new saints for God.
In a paragraph taken from my book God’s Plan for Your Marriage, I state the following:
In marriage, the vow to love implies that two people have freely chosen to serve one another, to build one another up, to seek always and only the good of the other. In the most fundamental sense of this vow, doing what is best is to help one another to grow in holiness, to help one another to become saints. The call to married life is a call to sanctity, to become saints. All too often people think of marriage as a lesser vocation. Marriage is a call from God to a particular way of life designed specifically to make each of the persons into saints. The saints in the Church have served God in a variety of ways, but it is not the works they did that made them saints; it is their heroic love for God and neighbor that made them saints.
Selfishness in a marriage leads to frustration and division; loving one another, seeking only what is best for the other, brings unity and fulfillment because the couple, made in the image and likeness of God Who is love, will be doing what they were created to do.
God’s Plan for Your Marriage: An Explanation of Holy Matrimony from Genesis to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb will be released September 27 by Sophia Institute Press.