What’s Love Got to Do with It? Everything!
One of the modern miracles of technology is the fact that you can have 500 channels and nothing to watch. As my wife and I suffered through the selection process a few nights ago one title caught our eye: “Married at First Sight.” We agreed to just “watch a few minutes,” which of course turned into two full episodes.
The idea of the show was intriguing. Participants submitted online profiles and a few were selected for personal interviews with three marriage experts. The so-called experts then matched each participant with a compatible mate from the participant pool. What really kept us watching was the participants’ commitment to “marry at first sight” the person with whom they were matched.
On the surface it seemed reasonable. Compatibility is a very important part of marriage and the important details of attraction, education, motivation and religion had all been considered. The matches seemed logical, however, it quickly became apparent that there was one thing they had seriously missed: Love!
Even though compatibility is important, love is more than compatibility. More material has been written, sung, and studied regarding love than practically any other topic. Truly the love that should exist between a husband and wife is multi-faceted. Were it not so, the marriage decision would be extremely simple. The man or woman could say, “I want someone with black hair. You have black hair. I love you!” For most people a fair number of “stars must align” for love to develop.
Friendship, Passion, and Commitment: The Marriage Essentials
Robert Sternberg, a well-known American Psychologist and educator, theorized that “consummate love,” or what I call “spousal love,” consisted of three separate but connected concepts. First, friendship or emotional intimacy. Second, passion or a physical desire for one another. Third, commitment or a conscious decision to continue the relationship and to make plans for the future with another. This trio of ideas is known as “Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.”
Even though there are some obvious oversimplifications and extreme differences in how these concepts function amongst couples, there are great lessons in this theory. This is particularly true as we seek to build and strengthen marital relationships.
Friendship (Emotional Intimacy)
If we want to increase the overall amount of love in our relationship, a good place to start is by increasing our level of friendship. Friendship is a mutual feeling of affection. A friend is more than just a person “we have fun with,” even though that can be an important part. Friendship also entails a mutual and genuine concern for the happiness and well-being of the other. I learned this in a very memorable way.
When I was in my late twenties, I went with several friends/colleagues to visit the ruins in Mexico. At one point there was a disagreement on visiting an additional site. I eventually persuaded a group to go with me–which left a part of the group not knowing where we had gone (sounds really terrible in writing—it actually sounds just as bad when I say it!). When we returned I was confronted by one of the men who had been left behind. I argued that he would have done the same thing. His reply severely stung, “I would have never left you, because I am your friend.”
Caring deeply for another requires deliberate effort. Friendship is a very “living” part of the marriage relationship, and must be treated as such. As Bill Hanawalt explained, “Friendship has to be nourished and nurtured regularly or it faces the danger of becoming a business relationship. I have seen many distant and business-like marriages where careers have developed and children have come into the picture, and the priority of emotional connection has been left to die on the vine.”¹
So how do we become better friends with our spouse? Consider these three suggestions:
- Do things together. C.S. Lewis said of developing friendship: “It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up — painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, and fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction.” Doing things together builds the bonds of memories and plows the soil for fruitful communication.
- Learn more about each other. As we learn more about our spouses, particularly their past experiences, our understanding of their feelings and behavior deepens. We readily like those we know and understand. It is said that Mr. Rogers carried a quote in his wallet that read: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” (Mary Lou Kownacki)
- Strive for the happiness of your spouse. We’ve all heard the adage that we love those we serve. This is especially true in marriage. Friendship requires a high degree of selflessness. As David O McKay said to his prospective Father-in-law “I can give her nothing but a true love and a heart and mind whose one desire is to make her happy.”
Advice for Prospective Couples
Physical attraction is often what brings couples together. Passion, therefore, is usually not a problem during the early stages of a relationship. Friendship, on the other hand, of necessity takes time and effort. While I was teaching a college philosophy class a student told the following story that perfectly illustrates this point. She said, “When my husband and I were newly engaged our relationship was full of passion. During our wedding planning months He was called into active duty and left to serve a tour in Iraq. The distance between us stopped many of our expressions of passion, however, we spent the 9 months he was gone developing our friendship. We learned things about each other that we might have never known had we not been separated. We also learned what it was like to work and worry for the well-being of someone else. When He returned home our passion quickly reignited, but this time it was matched by a deep level of friendship. I can’t imagine what we would have missed if true friendship had never been given a chance to develop.”
A Thought for the Growing Couple
Make a goal to really connect daily and then fiercely guard that time together. As you find your career and family growing, you will need to make a conscious effort to grow together instead of apart. It won’t be easy. Because our children came very quickly, we spent most of our college years with a young family. To provide for our family during our schooling, I worked a swing-shift 50 miles from our home. Even though I wouldn’t arrive home until 1am, I always found my wife awake and waiting to spend time together. It obviously wasn’t much. We usually just spent 30 minutes or so watching a re-run and discussing the details of the day, but it reminded us we were pulling the load together.
A Question for the Seasoned Couple
A curious thing happened to me a few years ago. I had just moved into a new neighborhood when a man in his sixties came across the street to talk. Knowing that I was very interested in the subject of marriage, his asked me this question: “Why are so many of our friends in their sixties getting divorced?” I reflected the question back to him, to which He answered: “They say that with the children gone they no longer have anything in common!” For many of these couples retirement had opened their eyes to the fact that they were living with a stranger. For too many couples, friendship was a focus during the dating and courtship years but neglected throughout their marriages. We are never too old, and it is never too late, to deepen our marital friendship.
The Best is Yet to Come
On my parents’ living room wall hang two pictures. One from their wedding 54 years ago; the other is a recent portrait. The caption over them says, “Grow old with me, the best is yet to come.” I’ve never worried about them just sitting in their rocking chairs waiting for me to visit. I often call and discover that they are in Colorado at a hot springs, or in Yellowstone watching the wildlife. Their example has taught me that spousal friendship can be the best part of life, no matter your age.
(Next week’s article, Marriage Essential #2, Passion: The Mortar of Marriage!)
- My Father, David O McKay; David L. McKay; Deseret Book Co., pg 7