Love and Marriage

by Martin Poehler

Marriage. What images does it bring to your mind? Perhaps you imagine a lavish wedding attended by many finely-clothed guests. After a solemn ceremony, an expensive car pulls up to take the newlyweds away for their new life together. All attending the wedding have great hope that the couple will share many years together filled with love. People hope that love will help the couple over many difficult times, and be a source of joy and hope to others.

People begin marriage with high expectations of love, joy, and happiness. The old song goes, "Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage." Though the words are corny, they echo what most of us think marriage is meant to be--filled with love. We feel gladness when we think about a close marriage between a man and woman we know, especially if that marriage lasts a lifetime and isn't diminished even by old age.


Our idea that marriage should be filled with love is consistent with the old book, the Bible. One sentence in it says, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." It means not just to love our neighbour, but to love him as yourself--in the way we would want ourselves to be loved. This means the love we give to the other person costs us dearly. It isn't a casual love, an on-again-off again love. Is being loved casually the way you or I want to be loved? Of course not. Really loving your neighbour means giving them what is very precious to you, and giving it constantly. It's wanting them to have the good thing more than you want to keep the good thing yourself. This selfless giving is central to what most of us think marriage is meant to be.

Does selfless giving in marriage cause all marriages to work and be happy ones? The answer is no. As we know, many marriages today--about one in three--end in divorce. What started off in beautiful weddings and pledges of lifelong love often ends with people leaving each other citing irreconcilable differences. The initial bright hopes often turn into a nightmare--both for the partners and for children and close friends.


There's a strange situation going on here. We feel love is important, and will make marriages work. But in practice one in three marriages doesn't work. Could this be because love cannot keep a marriage together? People who divorce would usually say they initially had love for the other person, but it evaporated and tensions grew. Thus it isn't that love can't keep a marriage together, but that love for the other person dries up somehow, and the marriage dies. In contrast, where two married people continually express love to each other, the marriage seems to not wither, but to flourish.

So we all feel that love is very important in life, and agree one of the greatest things we can do is to love our neighbour. Though it's evident marriage can be one of life's wonderful relationships, on average one in three marriages fail because of lack of love. Why is it we who treasure love often cannot practise it? What keeps us from truly loving, in the way we would want to be loved? What kind of beings are we, who long for a fulfilling relationship with another that seems to be within reach, yet it eludes many of us? Something seems terribly wrong--either in the world we live in or in us ourselves.

Renewed hope comes to us as we consider those people who, by some rich enabling power, seem to have found a secret to happy, loving marriages.

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