No matter how easy it may seem to fall in love, staying in love requires attention and effort.
We all start out in marriage bright in hope and full of brimming love. Yet rarely do those wonderful, euphoric experiences of early love persist unabated; for many of us disillusionment creeps its way into our consciousness as our natural selfishness and thoughtlessness crowds out our earlier bliss-generated generosity. With crushing realisation, 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 clumsily through trial and error. In a culture that held the couple together through this rocky period, most couples eventually worked it out.
However in the twenty-first century culture which no longer supports couples through difficult times, trial and error is a dangerous strategy. Today’s culture is more likely to tell a struggling couple “you deserve better than that loser” rather than, “yes it’s painful, but authentic love takes time and self-sacrifice”.
These days, marriages no longer endure simply because there was no other option for the spouses; they endure because they adopted 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 nice idea, it’s part of our Christian responsibility. Christian marriage is not just a mutually convenient living arrangement, it’s a vocation. That means that God has given us a mission: a mission to love.
And 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 them as best as humanly possible so that God’s love will be real and believable. Without concrete, tangible experiences of authentic love, 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, I have to do more than just show up occasionally and hope for the best. I have to give more than the leftovers of my time and attention after work, hobbies, family and other interests have taken their bit. Let’s be honest, most of us 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. They are also more likely to harvest the fruits of a vibrant marriage as the more they invest, the more likely they are to succeed.
Most people drift into love, marriage and family without a whole lot of conscious planning about the kind of relationship they want to have five, ten or twenty years down the track. Like us, they get swept up in the present moment, and assume that the love they experience today will be indomitable and unwavering. Whether we are married, engaged or dating, it is never too late to be more intentional in our relationship.