We all start out in marriage full of hope, brimming with love and unbounded generosity towards our spouse. Yet rarely do those euphoric experiences of early love persist unabated.
Disillusionment edges in as our natural selfishness and thoughtlessness crowd out our earlier bliss-generated altruism. With the realisation that the honeymoon is over, we begin the process of learning how to truly love and build a relationship that will endure.
A few generations ago, this process largely occurred through trial and error. Since the culture held couples together through this rocky period of discontent, most couples eventually came out the other side with a stronger, happier marriage.
However, in a 21st century culture that no longer supports couples enduring in a difficult relationship, trial and error is a dangerous strategy. A struggling couple today is more likely to hear, “You deserve better” than, “Yes it’s painful, hang in there”.
These days, marriages don’t endure simply because there is no other option for the spouses; they endure because couples adopt an intentionality in their approach to their marriage – a willingness to be proactive in building a better relationship.
Living an intentional marriage requires us to set relationship goals and then to actively pursue them, seeking out the skills and education necessary to become more effective lovers.
For Catholics, being intentional in our relationships is more than just a great idea, it’s part of our reason for being. Christian marriage is not just a mutually convenient living arrangement, it’s a vocation. That means that God has given us responsibility for a mission: a mission to love in imitation of God’s love.
The first recipient of this mission is our spouse. Our mission is to be a messenger of God’s love to our spouse, to love him or her as best as humanly possible so that God’s love will be real and believable. Without concrete, tangible experiences of authentic love, any talk of God’s love is literally un-believable; it has no credibility.
It is through the devotion and commitment of loving spouses that the reality of God’s love is most powerfully witnessed. This mission is like a job description and to do the job well, we have to do more than just show up occasionally and hope for the best. We have to give more than the leftovers of our time and attention after work, hobbies, family and other interests have taken their bit.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we put more thought and effort into our work, health and our appearance than we do into our relationship.
An intentional couple is one that prioritises their relationship above their other responsibilities and passions. At times it’s inconvenient, boring, confronting or even hurtful. None-the-less, this is our vocational call as a couple.
And even though it can be hard, ultimately it’s worth it. Couples who prioritise their relationship are more likely to harvest the fruits of a vibrant marriage as the more we invest, the more likely we are to succeed.
This is one of the reasons why our early relationship was so delightful – we were putting in massive amounts of time, attention, and effort. Yes, there was some brain chemistry to help us along, but that brain chemistry was fuelled by our efforts to grow more in love. Stop the effort, and the ‘in love’ feelings soon dissipate.
With our daughter completing her final HSC exam this week, the phrase, ‘just do your best’ comes up a lot in conversation with her and her friends.
Do your best.
It’s good advice for students and it’s excellent advice for couples. There’s no guarantee of success but the odds are a whole lot better when we put our best effort into our relationship and work with intention to sustain the love.