With Valentine’s Day upon once again, we are flooded with reminders of romance and romantic love. But with so many broken hearts today, one wonders: Is romantic love just a myth?
My long-time pastor, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, once told me: “Over the years of my ministry, I have noticed a repeated pattern in terms of the people who seek me out for counseling, when it comes to family matters. I find single people coming to me who wish so much that they were married. Then I find married people coming to me who wish so much that they were single—or at least that they were no longer married to their particular spouse.”
Of course, there are real feelings of romance. But feelings come and go. However, commitment remains. In short, romantic love alone is an insufficient basis for marriage.
Hollywood helps promote the myth of romantic love as a sure foundation for marriage—or even just a stable relationship (since many today simply choose to “live in sin”).
Look at many Hollywood marriages themselves. Virtually from the beginning of the movie industry, the stars themselves often had multiple marriages, divorces, relationships. It’s been a mess, and it’s still a mess.
I just read recently about a Hearst columnist in the 1940s defending a scandalous divorce and love child of a movie starlet. The columnist “argued that movie people were different and should be allowed to live by different standards. Their human frailties should not be judged so harshly as their purpose is so noble.” (Louis Pizzitola, “Hearst Over Hollywood,” 2002, p. 436).
Why so many marital breakups in Hollywood and now the rest of the country? Partly because it’s all based on this wrong premise—that romantic feelings are the foundation of a happy marriage.
But think about the seriousness of common marital vows—for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…as long as you both shall live. Or until the feelings dry up?
Is the alternative to a feelings-based approach to marriage essentially a “gray, drab, suicide pact,” as a friend put it? No. The true commitment, through thick and thin, is what allows the soil of true love to grow in.
There is wisdom from the old Catholic bishop who was on TV for years: Fulton Sheen. He said there are three to get married—Christ and the bride and the groom. To my wife of 33 years and me, the most important aspect of our marriage is to keep Jesus at the center. It may sound trite, but the old saying is so true: “The family that prays together stays together.”
Obviously, taming the tongue plays an important role in a good marriage—and a bad one. Praising others (sincerely, not flattery) is like making deposits in a checking account. Criticizing others (even constructively) is like making a withdrawal. Too many of us are overdrawn and bouncing checks all over the place—including our homes.
Even where there had been positive feelings before, enough criticism can be destructive to any marriage. I remember hearing about a lady complaining in a marriage counseling session, “Well, he wasn’t that way when I married him!” The counselor said, “Oh, so you changed him?”
Dr. Kennedy once said: “Love is not some romantic sort of an exotic bird that comes flapping down with its wings and sets our hearts aflutter and then disappears just as mysteriously. But love, as I Corinthians 13 tells us, is a way of treating other people. There is not an emotion in that whole chapter, but there is instruction about how to deal with people. ‘Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.’”
These are not just beautiful words to be read at wedding ceremonies. These are liberating words that can make virtually any marriage work—and work well.
Kennedy adds, “We may have that feeling in great abundance before we are married. But if we treat our spouse in some contrary manner, we will find, before long, that the mysterious bird has flapped his wings and flown away. We say, ‘Alas, what can we do? There is naught left but the divorce court, because, you see, I don’t love him anymore.’”
But, he notes: “That is all a bunch of baloney. We have been fed a lie, and we have believed it and we have based our whole society on the romanticist concept of love. Therefore, we have rejected the biblical teaching about the subject.”
So it isn’t just who we marry that matters, but how we marry.
George Washington said, “I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.” That foundation is best laid with a lifelong commitment in mind, as opposed to rushing to the altar based on feelings alone.