The reason this is such an important question is because, despite all that we've seen, the state of our current or previous marriage, what we've seen in our parent's marriage and what we generally see in society, there's something in all of us that thinks this is STILL POSSIBLE. There is a glimmer of hope in us that we can be in a life long love story. "I think that is a little bit of the image of God in you... and in me." We know the world out there and we know that it isn't probable that we will have this kind of a lasting marriage, but we have the hope that we will. We have the hope that, by some miracle, our lives will reflect the love story.
We would all like to know that there is that one special person who we sense is out there that we could live happily with all of our lives. Early on, we begin looking for the person to whom we'll fall in love. "We need to spend about 10 seconds talking about 'falling in love' because that's all it really takes...if we have a pulse" There's people out there that make our hearts flutter. "It's so easy to fall in love with all the new forms of communication and ways of meeting people, but it's never been more difficult to stay in love." Few people have ever been around a couple that remains romantic and maintains a healthy "staying in love".
The laws of relationships in our society are so wrong, but yet we've adopted them making it impossible for us to stay in love:
Do unto others as they deserve to be done unto,
Do unto others as they do unto you
Do unto others as your mood would have it
Do unto others so as to get them to see things your way
Do unto others until you wear them down and get your way
Do unto others until you are ready to leave
Sometimes we see that people stay together, but we usually also see that they aren't happy. We, as a society, are completely ill-equipped to know HOW to live happily ever after. The other thing that makes it so hard is what we felt growing up. "A bunch of smart people got together and found out what it takes for a child to grow up in a nurturing environment to be emotionally equipped to engage in long term relationship." Here is that it takes; massive doses of respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection. Sounds like the family we all grew up in, right? So, if that's what is required for us as adults to have a long term relationship, how difficult is it then to meet someone else who has had the same experience? "When we get married, are you going to constantly demonstrate to me respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection or are you just cute?....or do you just have a good job?" Over time, our relationships turn into strangleholds trying to squeeze these attributes out of each other.
The disturbing statistic is that 40% of the children in our society today are born without a dad. We can argue all day long about supportive single mothers, but if it takes all of these characteristics for a healthy long term relationship, these children are really going to struggle!
Another thing that makes this extremely difficult is that our society has a really low threshold of pain relationally. It doesn't take much before we decide to get out. The message we get every day is that, if we are unhappy in a relationship, it's because we haven't met "the right person". "You chose poorly and you need to re-choose." But if you ask someone whose been happily married for 20 years plus, they will tell you that there were many times when they asked themselves the question, "had they married right person?". Choosing the right person is certainly a part of it, but becoming the right person is the hard part and that's the part where we get little or no help in our culture. The odds are against us in our society. It is possible, but not probable.
But into all of this chaos, Jesus speaks to us the foundation for enduring relationships. What he says to us is so counter intuitive but it works. "Don't take my word for it, just ask someone who has a long term relationship....Here is what you are going to find..." In John 13:34, Jesus says, "a new command I give you." In this passage, the Greek word for "new" means extraordinary, hidden and discovered, remarkable. He says, "love one another." But listen to what Jesus does in this sentence. He takes a word that we normally use as a noun and uses it as a verb. It's an imperative. It's a command. People say they are in love, but Jesus might say, "no, no, no. You used to noun. Now I want you to verb." We can't feel it. We have to do it.
Years later, the apostle Paul put it another way, but he uses a word that is offensive. It just sticks a little harder. But it is a powerful word that helps us understand HOW to love. In Ephesians 5:21, it reads, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". Paul says the foundation of marriage is mutual submission. We should make each other the priority. If we have ever seen this in a relationship, we can see love is alive and well. This is a choice we have to make. We might think it doesn't make sense, but it is the key to staying in love.
(Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) playing impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. He turned 90 in February.)