The Three Unifying Love That Sustains the Marriage Institution
Marriage in this contemporary time is no longer the safe haven it once was, in fact, it is just the opposite. Now, it is a journey to the land of the unknown, of which the couple do not know what to expect, be it positive or negative. The couple leave the safe harbour of life; the immediate hands and comfort of their families, their neighbourhood, their town or city, and often enough, their circle of friends; and journey together. Thus, as a consequence, they run the risk of an expedition with all its uncertainties and imponderables. Besides fidelity and commitment, the word “marriage” in our day has taken on such new meanings as hazard and risk. People are beginning to doubt the marriage institution. Some who go into it have a premonition of doom thus they already have a conceived alternative plan when the marriage ship finally sinks. A person who marries takes a dare.
However, there are many young people today who understandably hope for success in their marriages, but they also have anxiety about becoming shipwrecked. In these individuals, both of these, confidence and concern, trust and doubt, are closely connected. Married life today has become demanding and challenging; and at the same time it has become humdrum and dubious as an institution. This has made many to doubt their ability to see it through to the end. Yet there is in many the hope that they are capable of living with another person without conditions, hesitation, and doubt. This hope that is still alive is a sign of a positive outlook to the marriage institution, and it should be encouraged so as to inspire others to realize that marriages can last till the end for enduring couples.
Marriage has been defined with words such as faithfulness, commitment, intimacy, friendship, and truthfulness. They are indeed important and needed, however, love makes them easier to attain and love has a life span that can cater for the "forever" of marriage. Paul in the letter to the Corinthians tells us that three things endure: Faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. Jesus tells us that love is the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all our soul and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).
In marriage, three (3) types of love are important. They are to be expressed in equal proportion for they are all needed at once to stabilize the marriage institution. Not one of them should not be lacking or inadequate. They are at the service of one another, and they help in the realization of one another. To get an insight into this, we will use the symbol of equality; it will be helpful in trying to understand how the three types of love are expressed and balanced.
The first type of love is the love of the other person. Love shown towards the other party in the marriage. Marriage depends upon whether or not one has learned from childhood to be supportive of the other person. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:12). Joy, not only in marriage, but also in life generally, begins at the split second in which we give up the search for our own happiness and try to give happiness to the other. The way to fulfilled love leads us to other human beings, even in our daily work in the world. Love is the gift of self. It means emptying oneself to reach out to others. In a certain sense, it means forgetting oneself for the good of others.
The love proper to marriage is a relational love. It emphasizes love of neighbour where the role of proximate neighbour is taken by the spouse. It encourages not just the shared management of the home and family, but also the inviting of one’s spouse to accompany one on the journey that unites them as one. When the spouses give each other their love, they always will seek for the good of each other. Here, selfishness is abolished, self-centredness crumbles and each seek the happiness of the other. They begin to outdo each other in virtues, in understanding, in patience, and in love. In the symbol of equality, the love of the other person fills the first side of the balance.
The second type of love is the love of self. In Christ’s principal commandment, earlier seen, this message doesn’t ring too loudly; “love your neighbour as yourself”. However, this is important because you cannot give what you do not have. This self-love is not to be confused with egoism, but it is the foundation for all genuine love. First of all, I must say yes to myself, just as I am. I need to say yes to my appearance, to my positives and negatives. I do not love myself if I cannot properly love another person; and in that case I only cling to that person who then must drag me along. This one sided relationship is tiring, and because of the excessive demands made by one partner in marriage, many marriage relationship simply die. When the love is one sided, the other feels used and not important. The complaint always is: “I am tired of putting up with my spouse while half of my life is still in front of me, I want to put an end to this marriage''.
No one wants to continuously drag the other in a relationship. When love and commitment is given and one doesn’t receive in return, the individual feels he or she is worth nothing. The absence of a feeling of self-worth in many marriages, is a cause of crisis. If, for example, a person hasn’t accepted one’s singleness, he or she will never be able to live together as a twosome. As long as a person keeps saying no to one’s situation, that person cannot wholeheartedly say yes to the spouse. Self-love is a necessary conditions for love of neighbour and love of God. Like an unbalanced scale, marriage remain unbalance when one side loves while the other cannot reciprocate the love because he/she does not possess love. When the person accepts his limitation and embraces love himself, he grows to extend love to the other. This balances the scale.
It seems like the symbol of equality is balanced; but where is the love of God, which Jesus puts first in his commandment as the base foundation for love? The third type of love is the love of God, and it is the standard on which both sides are hinged and on which they both depend on for stability. This stand is easily overlooked, just as now much is overlooked in our increasingly unchristian and irreligious world. If however this stand does not support the two sides, both sides of the love of spouse and self-love will fall away. The love shared by the couples is a participation in the love of God. It is God who sustains the love between them as they in turn immense themselves in God.
It seems difficult, even impossible to bind oneself for life to another human person in marriage. Truly it is difficult and impossible when we examine the unstable nature of the human person. However, it is important to proclaim the Good news that God loves us with a definite and irrevocable love, and that married couples share in this love, that it supports them and sustains them. God who created man out of love also calls him to love, for he was created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. They abide in His love, and their love is nurtured and nourished in Him.
Marriage is a living together, the sharing of life-supporting tasks between a woman and a man who are married to each other in the eyes of the church and the community. Their marriage is the result of a decision, freely made by both, to honour, respect and love each other until death. We cannot live without love. If we do not encounter love, if we do not experience it and make it our own, and if we do not participate intimately in it, our life is meaningless. We are called to love God, the self, and our neighbour, which in the marriage institution is our spouse. Without love we remain incomprehensible even to ourselves.