When people ask how my wife and I manage to stay happy and in love with each other after 20+ years, I can only say it’s easy. In fact it’s pretty much effortless. The secret isn’t having interests in common, or having similar personalities, or liking to read the same books or do the same activities. We have very little of any of that. Also it’s not that we were friends before we started dating, because we weren’t.
I think the key is that if you don’t stop loving God, then you won’t stop loving each other. I recall Tony Campolo saying years ago, in a talk called “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming” (paraphrased from memory): If the most important thing in your life and in your spouse’s life are the same, then as you each grow towards the thing that’s most important to you, you can’t help but grow closer to each other.
I don’t mean to say that life together is always easy. At times we lose our tempers, have a hard time understanding each other and get frustrated. What’s easy is not necessarily living together; what’s easy is loving each other and being faithful to one another. You work through the bad stuff and that can take courage and patience. But you’re willing to expend the effort, in fact you don’t even consider doing otherwise.
How do we keep loving each other? That’s the part that takes no effort. I just do love her, period. And I think a virtuous circle (if that’s the right term for the opposite of a vicious circle) is at work: I am grateful to her for continuing to love me, and that makes me appreciate her; and my appreciation of her makes her appreciate me, and it snowballs from there. All I have to do is roll with the snowball.
And the reason it’s effortless is that we both love God. Of course loving God might be the same kind of a virtuous circle: God is good to me; I love God because he’s good; because I love him he blesses me; and because he blesses me I love him, etc. Of course with God it’s not really a circle, since he is the origin of me and not vice versa. He got the ball rolling, and all I do is try my best, not to keep the ball rolling, but just not to stop the ball.
However, underlying much of this is the fact that divorce is, and always has been, simply out of the question. Not even a possibility. We knew this going in, and made sure we both understood it. Not because we promised each other, but because God had commanded it. And so what really underlies it all, is faith.
So my advice to new, prospective married couples, is make sure the person you’re marrying has faith. I mean real faith, and make really sure. Be sure you’re not fooling yourself, which is easy to do when you’re in love. I could not have trusted my wife to be true and faithful because of her being a true and faithful person. No one is perfect. I trusted her to be true and faithful, because I knew she had faith.
And I mean real faith, the kind I have written about elsewhere on this blog (see posts tagged “Faith and Doubt”). The kind of faith that believes divorce is out of the question, not because it’s a good idea to have divorce be out of the question, not because it makes one feel secure to have divorce be out of the question, but because God has commanded that divorce be out of the question. And believes that simply because the Church has taught it.
If someone doesn’t believe things for no reason other than that the Church has taught it, that person lacks the kind of faith you can count on, in season and out of season, your whole life long.