Marriage: Love Is A Choice

On the day that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, my parents celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary.  They did so by spending the whole day driving home after a week in Chicago filing paperwork for my grandmother, who passed away in April.  Their marriage is one that society could really learn from.

A few months ago, a friend posted on his Facebook that “With a sky-rocketing divorce rate, maybe the real question we should be asking ourselves is ‘What is wrong with heterosexual marriage in general?’  While he did not specifically mention gay marriage, many supporters will use this premise.  Looking for problems in the institution of marriage itself as a means of supporting gay marriage is a logical fallacy.  This is what philosophers call a false dichotomy.

A Cultural Misunderstanding

Today’s high divorce rate does paint a rather bleak picture for marriage.  Many people are discouraged, but one reason I see is that they don’t understand what marriage really is.  Marriage is a lifelong celebration of love, but also a commitment to humble service of husband to wife and wife to husband.  A man and a woman must enter marriage of their own free will and consent.  It is a decisive point and not the next logical step, as many people today learn to see it.

This is why I don’t believe in “sexual compatibility”, cohabitation, or anything else that supposedly determines whether a couple will survive.  Things like this create an assumption that love will sustain itself and not require effort or education.

“Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will.  It aims at a deep personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul…” – CCC 1643

The Union of Love and Justice

The Catechism says of love…

“God who created man out of love also calls him to love – the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.  For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.  Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man…” – CCC 1604

A woman wants a man who will fill her life with tenderness and romance.  A man wants a woman who will support him and let him be himself.  From what I’ve observed of our culture today, there is a general unwillingness on both sides to understand that mutual sacrifice is necessary if “…the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  A husband and wife live with each other for each other.  Each lives for the betterment of the other.  They may retain their own desires, but will occasionally make sacrifices for the good of the other and ultimately, the marriage.

This is where the virtue of justice gets involved.

Marriage is unique in that it is the only relationship that involves all four loves as defined by the Ancient Greeks: eros, storge, philia, and the key aspect, the unconditional self-giving, agape.  A just couple knows that they cannot love each other on the condition that one loves the other.  A man loves his wife unconditionally, therefore she knows that the only just thing for her to do is to love him unconditionally in return and vice versa; she loves him unconditionally, so he knows that it is only just that he does the same…

“Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.  Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion’.  Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.  The just man, often mentioned in Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of character toward his neighbor…” – CCC 1807

Notice the connection.  Love and justice are vital to each other; they are inseparable.  This is why the Christian family is often called the “domestic Church.”

Love Is A Choice

The beauty of everything that I’ve discussed is the universality.  These things are important for all marriages, not just Catholic ones.  The problem, therefore, is not with marriage.  It is with the people who are getting married.  There is a cultural misunderstanding of what love is.  People are afraid to love because society no longer distinguishes between attraction and love.  This is why men and women are afraid to say “I love you” and why they have trouble defining love.

With “irreconcilable differences”, no-fault divorces, and pre-nuptial agreements, today’s world does not understand love’s requirements, but even more importantly, love’s rewards.  People act on emotion and judge love on attraction or on “compatibility”, but there could be a thousand women with whom one man may be “compatible”.  There may even be one that he is more compatible with than his wife, but he chooses to love his wife and forsake all others.  Therein lies the aforementioned danger, the belief that the relationship should sustain itself.  And that is what all this comes down to.  Attraction is not a choice, but love is.

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