Our culture glamorizes young love. And, of course, when you’re young and in love, you might not notice this imbalance. When you’re young and in love, everything feels fresh and new. And those old fuddy-duddies down the pew at church? You could teach them a thing or two about the spark of romance, baby!
Time and experience wear down snarky attitudes like this (an attitude I certainly had at times as a dating, engaged, and newly married young adult). So now, 13 years into marriage, I declare that pictures like THIS one ought to be the ones gracing the magazine covers, rather than glitzy girls in gorgeous bridal gowns or hot-bodied 20-year-olds smooching on the beach. THIS is what I admire. THIS is what I want to be someday.
Marriage isn’t easy. You’re told this often when you’re young and in love and when marriage seems like it will be quite easy. But marriage, even between two committed friends & lovers who serve God and want the best for each other, will bring out the yuck. It will bring out the yuck in him . . . and in you. And that’s tough!
Further, love changes. The love of a couple 10 years in is not the same as the love they shared at their rehearsal dinner. The love 20, 30, 40 . . . even 80 years in? I imagine it’s rich with history, self-knowledge, God-shaped humility, mountainous piles of forgiveness, and fierce tenacity.
It can be hard, sometimes, to accept that love changes. Why? Because we easily buy into our culture’s worship of young love – with society’s infatuation with how it all begins. Romance and new love are good, good things. God made them! So I am not disparaging them here.
But it’s like a race with everyone fixated on the starting line – the whole crowd wildly cheering and staring at the first phase of the race and admiring those at the beginning . . . while MISSING the glory of the determined runners mid-race and the truly celebration-worthy sight of those nearing the finish!
It’s the “long-loved loves,” to borrow a phrase from Madeleine L’Engle, that I am being taught by real life to admire. Like wine growing richer and fuller with age, this is where the true, hidden beauty can be found. And if you’re more than a few years into marriage, you’re probably admiring that kind of love too.
The reality that love changes – that it’s not the same as it was in those first months of dating or marriage – is actually a good thing. It grows, it expands, it settles. I love this description from Intimate Allies: “Married life has bursts of brilliance in the midst of the struggle. The key to continued care and commitment is an attitude of mutual submission and love.” Add to that wisdom this insight from Sacred Marriage: “Romantic love has no elasticity to it. It can never be stretched; it simply shatters. Mature love, the kind demanded of a good marriage, must stretch, as the sinful human condition is such that all of us bear conflicting emotions.”
Married love – mature love – is more enduring and expansive than “romantic love.” Romance ought still be a part of it, of course, but a different romance. Not the romance of newness (which sets our hearts afflutering) but the romance that says: “I know you and your flaws, and I’m learning more and more to know myself, and I love you. I accept you as a human being – the real you.” It’s a love that is grateful for receiving a similar acceptance from one’s spouse. It’s a love that learns to prize kindness and laughter and a treasure-trove of memories. That recognizes the inestimable value of forgiveness and daily grace. It’s a love that fosters “bursts of brilliance” and is also content and even joyous in the gift normal, everyday, un-brilliant life together.
What do you see and admire in long-married couples? What insights do they offer you as you invest in your own marriage? Leave a comment on this post with your own observations.
If you want to explore this topic further, here are 6 ideas:
• Read “The Date I’ll Never Forget” at GiftedForLeadership.com.
• Contact someone who’s been married longer than you and ask her to pray for you and your marriage. (Consider sharing this blog post with her as a launching pad for some honest discussion.)
• Listen to Tim & Kathy Keller discuss this issue of healthy expectations of love in marriage in this fantastic 3-part radio interview.
• If needed, contact your pastor for counseling. There is NO shame in this. Marriage is tough. “Tough” may be an understatement for some issues that couples have to work through! Take a next step with courage.
• Dive into this issue (and many others) in Enrich Your Marriage.
• Read about John and Ann Betar (featured on ABC news), recently named the longest married couple. Married for 80 years! Set your eyes on the marital “finish line” and be inspired!