My daughter was recently in her school’s performance of Fiddler On TheRoof. She was one of the daughters. If you don’t know the story, it focuses on the changing culture of marriage, from one where the marriage is arrainged by family and community to one based on mutual attraction.
In one of the songs, the main character asks his wife if she loves him. She replies that for 25 years, she has shared his bed, made his meals, tended his house, raised his children — so what kind of question is that? The point is that in their relationship, love wasn’t even a question or consideration. But after some back-and-forth, they decide that, indeed, they love each other.
This led me to think about what I know about marriage. And here is what I think about the question of love and marriage: we fall in love to get together, then spend the rest of our lives learning to love the other.
You see, the initial attraction is really about “I.” “I” feel a certain way, so I know I am “in love.” But that part of the relationship is driven by my need to feel that way, my need to be with the other person, my need to have my needs met. My needs are fueled by my desire to feel the intense emotion of “being in love.”
But in reality, love is a verb, something I do for the other. So, it takes the rest of my life to learn how to attend to my spouse’s needs. From my desire to be with my spouse comes my desire to meet my spouse’s love needs.
We are “fooled” into commitment by the overwhelming feeling of attraction, and then we have to put forth effort to create a sustained relationship. I say “fooled” because our culture has us believing that this love is the foundation of a relationship. It is not. It is merely a temporary starting point. It is not the destination. It is just a part of the journey to a lifetime relationship.
Those intense feelings will calm over time. The overwhelming need to be with someone that marks the infatuation portion of a relationship is not sustainable on its own. It’s like placing a flame in a bottle. Eventually, the flame will burn all the oxygen in the bottle and be extinguished.
So, there has to be some “fueling of the fire.” This is “love,” the verb. When I act in loving ways, I fuel the fire and keep it burning. If I stop tending to the other’s needs because I don’t feel that infatuation, the relationship will slowly (or not so slowly) die away.
When we continue to believe that “love” (infatuation) is the heart of a relationship, when that feeling is gone, we believe we are no longer in love. That is not the case; we have just failed to fuel the fire.
Reality TV has proven that any two people, given the right circumstances and settings, can fall into love (chemistry of infatuation). But story after story shows that it is harder to make the switch to “true love” that comes from action. Choose action, and don’t be fooled by chemistry.
By acting on love, by making love a verb and not an emotion, we keep the emotional fire stoked. And that is the great irony: if we depend on the feeling of being in love to keep us together, it will fail. But if we set that aside and focus on being loving, the feeling of being in love is sustained. Mature love is a verb, not an emotion.
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