Love is a choice. That’s the name of a book my mother had on her shelf for many years. I used to think it said, “Love is alcohol” and made myself really look at it when I was in my 20s. While the latter is a funnier title, the former is pretty accurate.
My maternal grandparents were married over 65 years. My paternal grandparents were married over 40 years when my grandfather died. I have maternal aunts celebrating over 50 and 60 years of marriage while my parents were married for 36 years when my father passed away. Both sides of my family are filled with people who are full of love for others. There have been divorces, more so in recent generations, but the number of lasting strong marriages outnumbers the broken marriages.
Divorce is a hard topic, it happens and no one can judge why or if it should, except the couple and God. I used to assume it was because they just didn’t love one another enough. The fact is, I think it’s more about the willingness to put in the work than a lack of love.
I’ve been observing marriages my entire life, from the fights to the fun times and many gray areas in between. I’ve always assumed I would do well in marriage because I’ve learned a lot from my observations. I’ve recently gotten married and I want to share what I’ve recently come to realize.
1. Looking ain’t doing: All the observation in the world couldn’t prepare me for the unique, intimate and complicated relationship that is my own. I can apply some of the things I learned along the way, but many of the rules are made up as we go. Love is a choice – a very personal one that looks different for every observer.
2. Marriage requires work: I know living with someone can be challenging. Sharing space and routine with another human being is tough. But when that person is someone you have pledged to spend your life with, to trust above all others, to protect and consider before everyone but God and yourself – that’s a whole other level of challenging. Every word can break down or build up the relationship and there’s no escaping the fallout of a disagreement. You can’t run off to friends and complain about your roommate – that’s your mate to protect. There’s no cooling off until next week when you meet for dinner – this is your most trusted friend with whom you make your life. Making the daily rollercoaster work requires creativity, humility, and mercy. Fatigue / Health, outside people (including family – especially family in some cases), and pressures of the daily grind required to survive can wear you down like sand against a stone. The question is whether it will erode your relationship or smooth it out? Love is a choice – one that comes with requirements and consequences.
3. Relationships need nurturing: Much like having a newborn child, new puppy, or even a young plant - relationships require tending. Even if they get to the point where they seem “self-sufficient”, they require the extra effort that got them to bloom in the first place. The extra nuances and small things which seem superfluous are the very things that allow the work of the relationship to come easier. Appreciation, admiration and availability can be tough to remember to provide. They are easily taken for granted, but without them – you stop being loving partners but more like friendly roommates. Love is a choice – one that you make every day in the small things you do or choose not to do.
So, those are my three big lessons so far. I don’t have solutions or magic suggestions on how to do these things with raging success. I’ve only been married a short while, but from what I’ve seen of the relationships I’ve been exposed to it all requires work from both parties. A willingness to communicate – even when you don’t want to talk about it – combined with the ability to not always get your way (I’m working on this) folded into the knowledge that “This too shall pass” seems to be a major part of the equation. Feel free to chime in if you have anything to add to this.
If you’re married or about to be married or longing to be married, I can only suggest thinking about these three lessons I’ve learned. Expect the hard times, revel in the good times, and keep your eye on the biggest piece – you’re with the Love You Chose. And isn’t that the best part of all? If you’re still looking for that person, I will tell you that the way he (or she) looks, where they work, or what politics they have matter little when it comes down to the real challenges of life – those things can change on a dime. Who they are deep down when no one is looking; What beliefs they build their lifestyle and choices on; How they treat those who are in a lesser position, and Whether you can fight with them without personal attacks and cruelty are much more important.As a small aside, for all the fighting and nonsense I saw my parents go through (times when we kids even said, “Just get divorced, it’s easier”) they worked together on every single issue and were stronger for it. When my Dad died unexpectedly, they were at the best place they had ever been – and loved stronger than I had ever seen. My Mom may take a long time to get over losing my Dad, and who can blame her? Her marriage wasn’t movie perfect – it was real. I’ll take that, any day of the week.