In Western culture the image of young couples in love stepping into marital bliss is ubiquitous. During my 30 plus years of experiencing loving relationships and 10 years of counseling parents through marital discord or divorce I have made some keen observations about love, marriage, and successful relationships that I will share during this rationation.
In sharp contrast to the romantic norms of Western culture is the practice of honour killings in the Middle East. There, parents may kill their child for engaging in love based copulation instead of forsaking such until consummating an arranged marriage. Such love based acts are said to bring shame upon the family.
So where does love properly belong on the spectrum of marital motivations and what shall spouses do about loving relationships? I do not propose that there is a natural standard wherein that point lies.
Clearly love-at-first-sight, lust at-first-sight, or infatuation-at-first-site can form the basis of attraction. But the distinction between these must be finely attenuated as the expectations, subsequent acts, and potential for longevity vary greatly among them.
Many a marriage is based upon purported love and dies upon the waning of it or perceived transgression. Love is difficult to define generically and even when limiting a definition to a distinct form such as the love for mankind, your child, or the passing stranger who becomes a primary interest. It does seem as though certain characteristics are uniformly applicable; unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, empathy, and selflessness directed to the object of love.
In distressed or broken marriages I see some or all of those characteristics lacking. In some cases they may not have existed in the relationship. What some may call love could have actually been lust or infatuation. Another set-back is the promise of loving throughout one's remaining life and denying similar love to all others. Both, I contend, are absurdities.
Love is immutable. It cannot be suppressed by tradition or institution. Likewise, while it should be directed to the essence of a person rather than expressed behavioural traits a manifest essence is not fixed throughout a person's lifetime.
My early romance based relationships which I call loveships were likely infatuations and as hormonal influences increased were lustful. During adolescence loveships are quite possible but the clumsy fumbling around what actually constitutes love and gleaning one’s essence ultimately leads to break-ups of passionate loveships.
While I had some steady girlfriends in high school that were loving relationships true love was aroused in me my sophomore year. That is when I found a love-at-first-sight woman who maintained a steady loveship with me until she relocated five years later. She and her husband loved each other dearly. While he was away for long periods pursuing his career she lamented his absence.
On one such occasion around midnight while we were lying in bed looking through photo albums and sipping wine he called. As her call was reaching its conclusion I reached for the phone and her hand immediately grasped my mouth. My perplexed expression was met with the statement, "If he knew you were here now he would kick your ass into next week." I was bewildered as to why my friend would be upset with me.
I loved the woman to whom he was married and she loved me. We accepted each other unconditionally. We gave of ourselves to each other. I was at their house when they came home with their newborn daughter who would become the recipient of my first diaper changing. I was at their house nearly daily when he was gone but much less frequently when he returned. I provided companionship, support, and loving embraces or snuggling to his wife during those times when he wasn't there to do so. I was supplemental to him, for her. I was doing him one great big favour. So it seemed.
After more life experience I came to realize why she said he would kick my ass into next week if he knew I was with her at midnight. It may have been next month had he known we were lying in bed snuggling.
That is based upon an expectation of exclusivity though. Something I clearly find confounding. As I stated previously love is immutable. It is a conclusion of the subconscious mind not a rational decision of the objective conscious mind. Its nature is reflexive. Thus, to say it is forbidden or should be suppressed is unnatural and unrealistic. This, I feel, leads to forbidden love as a popular subject of drama, notably Romeo and Juliet.
My favourite actress and childhood crush is Audrey Hepburn. Her break-out role as princess of an unspecified country in Roman Holiday illustrates the nature of love. There she abandons her role as princess and engages in a whirlwind affair for a day with an American journalist played by Gregory Peck. Unbeknown to her he knows who she is and has been assigned to interview her. They demonstrate a strong emotional bond throughout the film. SPOILER ALERT - The third act returns her to her role as princess and Peck as journalist who both pretend to be unknown to each other. Hepburn astonishingly portrays the pangs of making the selection of returning to her role as princess or going forward with a loving relationship with Peck. She opts to follow her predetermine role as a political representative of her country. The viewer is left to determine whether love-at-first-sight was represented or was it just an infatuation that provided a loving respite from the haughty and demanding role as princess.
Prohibitions on love can cause intense mental anguish and conflict within existing relationships such as marriage. Hence, it seems to me to be at odds upon taking an oath to love the imminent spouse to then follow that by inducing such pangs of the mind when a loveship develops by expecting love to be exclusive to spouse.
I now explore whether exclusivity of love is a realistic expectation within marriage and is love a rational basis for marriage.
I tend to avoid using the phrase falling in love in favour of love or growth of affection. Semantics aside I propose that love should not be the basis of marriage. For if one can fall in love then one can rebound from that descent or fall out of love catapulting the marriage into disarray if love is its foundation.
Marriage is a contractual agreement which should be based upon rational deliberation. There is an offer made, an acceptance, consideration, and reciprocal obligations. Marriages are legally dissolved under contract law. Thus, marriage is like any other business partnership. The goals, considerations and obligations, and the anticipated path the relationship is expected to take should be agreed upon prior to consummating the agreement as the partners are legally bound. Mutual love is not a proper consideration upon which the agreement should be based but rightfully is proper as a binding agent between the partners.
Love is an emotional manifestation. Love-at-first-sight is an actual occurrence which is demonstrative of the power of the subconscious. If you have experienced this you are aware of your inability to rationally quantify the bases for that love. Likewise, you are aware that it can happen spontaneously. Clearly then it is irrational to expect or promise exclusivity of love. Partners in a secure relationship should not feel threatened by spontaneous love and any subsequent loveship nor should it be prohibited.
When my son first entered preschool I experienced spontaneous love upon seeing another mother walking her child to the door. Within a year we were spending days together on a near daily basis while her husband was at work. I often stayed around in the evening preparing dinner with her and then we would all play cards afterward. Sometimes I would stay overnight. I also loved her sister and eventually lived with her for awhile but that was much later. It does give pause for consideration of what must be the components in my mind that determine love.
This couple did not have what I considered to be a healthy relationship. Marriage for them was thrust upon them as a result of pregnancy. The pregnancy was a result of carnal lust. The pro genesis to marriage of this type often fails to meet what I propose are the proper premarital considerations. Rather, theirs appeared to be pedantic, following Western cultural expectations. Yet, she and I had a loveship. She wanted to fully experience life with me and one day mentioned that she wanted me to be a second husband to her.
I was stunned to arrive at her home one morning to a greeting of, "Well I asked him last night" to which I responded, "What?" That is when she revealed that her aforementioned desire was the subject of her query to him. As expected his response was a firm no.
So our loveship continued basically as day-spouses. Additionally there were those times when they would argue and she would come sleep in the living room with me. This arrangement seemed somewhat amiss to me. Being a husband figure with all the attending interactions had been squelched but engaging in pillow talk as we drift into our slumber was acceptable. My bewilderment is further boosted by scenarios such as when I came over one morning, got into bed, started to strip off my clothes and she told me not to do that. I said don't be silly, it's not like I am going to lose control and jump you to which she responded, "I know, but i will."
Sexual relations provide a bright line demarcation for many. Not surprising to me it did for that couple for their marriage was conceived upon sexual relations. But sexual relations, especially the lack of exclusivity, tend to be the distinction between spouse and other while also being the trigger for breakdown of a marriage. Likewise, the potential for sexual relations between spouse and other triggers a defensive response, predominantly in males.
In my years of counseling and interviewing hundreds of current or former spouses I have found that sexual relations outside of marriage are viewed differently by gender. This is logical as evolutionarily it has been beneficial to males to maintain the sexual exclusivity of their mates while females can benefit from mate shopping. Men tend to not want their wives in the unaccompanied presence of other males but appear not to be threatened by non-sexual relations. Women, however, tend to feel betrayed by having the attention of their husbands drawn to another regardless of whether there is a sexual element to the relationship. That is, they tend to be threatened by a budding emotional relationship.
Specifically I recall relationships with three other wives over the years whose husbands didn't want me at home with their wives while they were away. Yet, long phone conversations during the day met no resistance and I was readily welcomed to accompany them as a couple. At some point all three had complained, with an undertone of betrayal, to me of their husbands "talking" to some other woman with no indication that a sexual affair was present or likely to occur. This provides insight into marital motivations of these couples. I hesitate to apply them generally as it may just be that women in marriages meetings these dynamics may be attracted to my personality type.
In those marriages the men appear motivated by reproductive surety while the women seem to place a greater emphasis on being the object of affection. In my marriage this was profoundly demonstrated following the birth of our son who became the central focus of my life and great affection. Although I think I have plenty of affection to go around his mother still became dangerously resentful of him as an object of my affection. This led to the demise of our marriage. Similarly, those other three marriages also ended in divorce.
To me this is supporting evidence for my proposition that marriage should be approached as though it is a business partners. It is imperative that the partners have complementary goals, consideration, and expectations. In premarital counseling I ask the potential partners to list these specifically. I also ask those in marital counseling to do the same.
There is a current wife with which I have a fond loveship. I tried not to based upon some of her observed behaviours, particularly the cigarette smoking. But, alas, that was an effort in futility. We love each other. She loves her husband. Their marriage is in distress. Their contributions to, expectations of, and global perspective on their marriage are separated by a wide chasm.
I regularly find her in distress and overwhelmed. I desire to take her away from all that ails her. I want to provide comfort to her and be a steadfast pillar of support for her. I want to share in life experiences. I want to give of myself to serve her. In short, I want to give her everything she expects and desires in a husband. But, I won't seek for her to be my wife. I won't broach that potential. Our specific marital traits are not nearly aligned enough to make that potential viable. Being rationally based, marriage is not ripe for consideration for us. Emotionally though we do love each other. Early in our relationship I once said, "I want to be inside of you." In conforming to my expectation she appeared aghast. To which I noted her response being consistent with societal assumptions and then explained that I wanted to explore her mind. I wanted to know why I love her. I wanted to know what makes her tick. She revealed that as a young child when she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she replied, "A thinker." That is with whom I want to spend my remaining days - a thinker. But as I also said she loves her husband. She loves her husband even though he is not meeting her emotional needs nor fulfilling her expectations of spouse.
The rational person may then want to ask that which I have heard so often, "Why do you love him?" Parents, siblings, and friends readily ask their child, sibling, or friend in a hostile or unfulfilled relationship to justify their love for the mate who is seen as the root of the problem. This also is an effort in futility. Love is an emotion. One that is immutable. It is not subject to deliberate rationalization.
I contend that love resides solely in the domain of emotion and should not be viewed objectively. Therefore, it is not the proper basis for a marriage, it should not be exclusive to a marriage, it should not be inhibited, and, it can compel one to remain in a hostile marriage that one would have otherwise dissolved. Successful relationships are based upon rational considerations and secured through love.
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