By Lynn Griesemer
During our marriage preparation in 1985, my husband and I were introduced to the concept of “Love is a decision.”
A decision is a deliberate choice and for us, marriage was a serious lifelong commitment that wasn’t to be taken lightly. Sure, we were best friends, we were compatible and we were in love. Many people approach marriage this way, but when things go wrong – when they no longer feel like they are best friends, when they drift apart and when they are no longer in love, the marriage deteriorates and divorce is an option.
Did you notice the word “FEEL” above? That means, if things change,if our emotions change, we can make decisions based on “irreconcilable differences.” This is like basing a relationship on quicksand and not a firm foundation. I understand that major things can happen in a marriage that would warrant serious consideration for a break up, especially when one partner flagrantly breaks the vows or promises that were made, with no intention of returning to the original promises.
Marriages with strong foundations include a worldview that goes deeper than compatibility, best friends and love – deeper than feelings. What is unseen in these relationships is the interesting view that the goal is not happiness; the goal is oneness. The couple know they are a team, with most of the following philosophies:
(1) Each one is out to make the other happy, rather than focus on making the self happy.
(2) Happiness is not the goal of marriage. There might be times we are unhappy with our marriage or our spouse. This doesn’t mean you are waning in love. Happiness is like the ebb and flow of a tide, always changing.
(3) The goal of marriage is deeper. Some believe that they are joined together for the betterment of each other. A friend of mine once said, “Marriage is for the betterment of our souls.” Together, we are stronger, and left alone, we might persevere in bad habits and selfishness. Marriage helps us reach virtues and maturity. Through sacrifice and consideration of another person, we must come out of our cozy caves.
My husband and I were married in the Catholic Church, which contains three main vows: accepting children willingly from God, promising to stay together until death and the concept of oneness – that two become one flesh.
Because of these vows, we have agreed to work hard on our marriage when needed, continuously work on our communication skills, and live as a team, seeking unity and harmony. We have very different temperaments, but our values are in alignment.
As you can see, our decision overrides our feelings. There are times when we are annoyed with each other, and we have to work through those difficult times. We do not let feelings dictate our hours, days and weeks. They emerge; we deal with them. We set them aside and move on. Difficult times in marriage are a great opportunity for forgiveness, gratitude, and humility.
Because we made a lifelong decision and commitment, we want to be happy. Who would want to live until “death do you part” with an obnoxious, boring, selfish, negative person?
Author Gary Chapman said, “Forget about your feelings. You do not have to feel anything to love your partner. Feelings may change because of your actions, but feelings should not dictate your actions. Choose to love your mate, no matter how you feel.”
I would like to insert an example here. Let’s say your spouse, in a moment of weakness, had a one night hook-up with someone. You learn about this betrayal and your feelings are off the charts – anger, fear, rage, sadness, violation, breach of trust, humiliation, embarrassment, exposed, disbelief, disappointment, disillusionment, despair.
If love is a decision, your problem-solving approach will be quite different than if love is a feeling. If both partners have decided to stay together until death, then they will both be willing to do whatever it takes to save the marriage and rebuild. It’s not easy, but it can be done and many have reported a stronger marriage after the recovery and healing. If one partner is unwilling to dig in deep and decide to make the effort, then the marriage will suffer or dissolve.
I am not sure if the statistics have changed, but last I knew, up to 70% of marriages will deal with some type of “affair,” at some point in their marriage. 25% of married partners have admitted to a sexual affair with someone else. It’s difficult to get an accurate report due to self-reporting accuracy (depends on who’s telling the truth) and agreement upon the definition of an affair. Of those marriages that were shattered by betrayal, 30% will divorce.That means, there are many marriages trying to heal from affairs and indiscretions.
Is love a feeling or decision for you? Betrayal is the hardest test of your love and could possibly be the most challenging time of your life,sometimes more than death of a loved one.
Let’s move to a lighter example of decision vs. feelings. How about all of the couples who think they marry the perfect partner and have so much in common? Years go by and differences emerge. It’s only natural. Now there is a sense of drifting apart. This is simply life unfolding over time, with new situations and experiences that come your way. You will discover more differences over time.
Be careful to not mistakenly think you are less in love and “feel” differently for your partner. This is a common pattern when people say, “We were so compatible in our early years of marriage, but we’ve grown apart. We have irreconcilable differences.”
True love is a decision and a commitment. Feelings will come and go, like the wind and rain. For a happy lifelong relationship, do not let feelings dominate.
Lynn M. Griesemer, founder of the “Your Marriage Matters” Movement, is host of Your Marriage Matters podcast and author of “Re Energize Your Marriage in 21 Days” (2011, 2018) and “Make Your Marriage Great: Clean of Heart” (2018). She can be reached at: http://www.marriagecoachlynn.com