Over the past several years, I have seen some of my friends divorce. When we see marriages fail, we might consider the occurrence an opportunity to work on our own.
Some marriages end because of serious abuse or other situations which make it impossible for the spouses to live together. But many marriages end simply because the spouses “fall out of love.” It has been said that such couples should remember why they fell in love in the first place. That’s a cute idea, and it might work. But it seems flawed for an obvious reason: namely, that the original reasons may no longer exist. A man may have fallen in love with a girl because she was tall, young, and had long, flowing blonde hair. But twenty years later, her body may have relocated those inches of height to her waist, she looks a generation older, and her blonde hair is turning gray.
The girl may have fallen in love with her man because he was so athletic, and full of energy, and never turned down the opportunity to do exciting things like travel to exotic lands. Two decades later, he may regularly fall asleep on the couch, and his idea of exotic travel might mean going to the International House of Pancakes.
Instead of remembering reasons why you fell in love years ago, try this: Look for new reasons to fall in love today, and pray for the grace and the will to find these reasons.
Catholic theology teaches us that love is an act of the will—and we have control over our wills. When a husband falls “out of love” with his wife, the essential problem is the deficiency of will. Yes, wives are sinners, and they can do things that greatly distress their husbands. But honesty and humility dictate that husbands are also sinners, with our own set of foibles and spiritual gaffes, and neither husbands nor wives should make imperfection the enemy of love.
At some point in the breakdown of a relationship, the argument becomes: “that person is imperfect, and therefore, is no longer worthy of my love.” Despite any faults, each person is worthy of love on an ontological basis—that is to say, God created them. A wife is due her husband’s love based solely on the fact that God created her.
Love contains certain ingredients, as Scripture tells us. If love is patient and kind, then the lack of love is impatient and unkind. If love “keeps no record of wrongs,” then the lack of love keeps a record. In fact, the more love lacks, the better the record keeping.
I’ve expressed to my children that every human relationship is flawed because it consists of two flawed persons, and charity is often lacking in each relationship. It might help to think of human relationships as a game. Here’s how it works:
In this game, you score points by having Christian love in your heart for each other. Each person can score from 0 to 100 points at any time he or she desires, which means the cumulative score can be anywhere from 0 and 200. (Unlike in most card games, you decide which cards you are dealt. No one can force you to have a “bad hand” except you.) If the score is 200, you are in the rarefied realm of the great saints, and if the score is 0, you are in the inglorious realm of the devil and his minions. For the game to operate well at all, it must contain at least one hundred total points of love. If the number drops under one hundred, the game slowly withers away.
The genius of this game is that you have enough points to win all by yourself—you can score 100, even if the other person scores 0. No matter who scored, those 100 points are enough to win the game. Let’s be honest with ourselves—there have been times when we have had pretty low scores, but hopefully there have been times when we scored 100. If that number in your marriage is low, you’ve got to deal yourself a new hand. Go ahead: deal yourself four aces. It’s not cheating; the only way to cheat is to keep looking at your wife’s hand and wonder why she keeps dealing herself bad cards. Don’t look at her cards—look at yours. And, a very important part of this game to remember is this: do not insist that you’re holding a Full House when you really only have a Pair of Deuces. It doesn’t work in Atlantic City, and it won’t work in your marriage.
Reducing the concept of love to a card game might sound simplistic, but love is simple. We may never be able to control the love of another, but we have control over our own will to love. On a practical level, we need to pray to be better husbands, to love our wives more, to offer sacrifices for them, and to see Christ in our wives. Moreover, your success as a homeschooling father is probably directly relational to the love you have for your wife.
Maybe all of us, whether we have a blissful marriage, or one that is in need of serious repair, should ask God for the grace to help us fall in love with our wives in a deeper way, every day. Maybe we should ask God to help us look for these “falling in love” moments—these moments that draw our affection and love for our wives.
Chances are, your wife does some things that most people would consider strange, but these are often the things that define a person. Maybe your mission as a husband is to find those things about your wife that are endearing and lovable, even if the rest of the world “doesn’t get it.” That’s OK. The rest of the world doesn’t have to—all that matters is that you do, and that you desire to find new and better ways every day. Maybe failed marriages are too intent on “the way things used to be”–and the reasons that they originally fell in love. Good marriages should center on the now, in recognition of the eternal now that is Heaven. Even if your marriage is in desperate straits, you haven’t missed the chance to fall in love again with your wife. There’s still time…right now. Who doesn’t want to fall in love, anyway?
Header Image CC Ryan Smith Photography