By Richard Reynolds, LCSW
I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of watching the movie "The Princess Bride", but it is one of my favorite movies. There is nothing better than watching a movie about "True Love." It's a story of how Wesley and Buttercup overcome adversity for the sake of "True Love" in order to be united in a blissful union. In one of my favorite scenes, as Wesley heads off to storm the castle to rescue his beloved Buttercup, Miracle Max and his wife Valerie yell after them, "Have fun storming the castle boys!" She then turns to her husband and asks, "Do you think it will work?" "It would take a miracle," he replies.
Our souls resonate with the theme expressed in the movie. We long to experience what Westley and Buttercup portray. We relentlessly pursue what we don't have in an attempt to obtain what we believe will finally fulfill our desires and make us complete.
Our only problem is that it never works. What we call "true love" is based on a concept called romanticism. Romanticism is based on the dynamic of two individuals longing to be together, but who are separated by life's circumstances. Romanticism can only apply to love outside of marriage, and the ingredients always consist of secrecy and mystery (such as the stolen glances or secret opportunities). Romanticized relationships, therefore, have a premarital or extra-marital association. Poets rarely write of the romantic love of marriage, the care required for children, or the mutuality of love in old age. Romanticized love, by its own definition, is something "beyond" or "out of this world" which cannot be contained in the defined walls of a marriage. The theme never differs; it is always the same song with a different verse. Consider the great romantic plots through the ages, such as Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, or movies like “The Notebook” or “Pretty Woman.” There are endless examples, all with the same theme of two individuals searching for the fulfillment of love, longing to be together, but whose efforts are tragically foiled by circumstances. Even more telling is what happens at the end of these stories, when they finally manage to come together. They live happily ever after. After what? The curtain falls, the music plays, and the story ends.
At best, relationships based on romanticism are immature and unrealistic. Indeed, they contain intense emotions, but they are not about mature, lasting love. Instead they are based on wanting what I don't have and the sacrifices I'm willing to make to get what I want. They are not based on what's in the best interest of another; they are based on what I believe I need in order to be happy. In the end, this romanticism is incredibly and unequivocally selfish.
While romanticism is based on wanting what you don't have, marriage is based on having what you don't always want. There always comes a point in marital relationships where we are wounded or disappointed by our mate, and it's not until that moment that we have the opportunity to really love another.
Until that moment, love is based on the belief that you can complete me; being with you will result in happiness and fulfillment for me. But after that moment, when hope is crushed and I've abandoned my illusion that you are what I need, then my love (if I'm able to love) becomes something more mature and divine. It’s the opportunity for my love to become less about me and what I want, and more about truly choosing the other person. Love is selfless and will continue to act in the best interest of the other even when it doesn’t immediately benefit me or bring instant gratification. I know the difference between romanticism, making everything about me, and love. Love is compassionate and concerned for others instead.
So if romanticism seeks “true love,” which is nothing more than a selfish desire to have my needs met, I believe the real goal in marriage is to “truly love.” To truly love your spouse requires sacrifice. It requires you to be for them even when it feels they are against you. It requires you to choose them when they don’t deserve it. It requires you to care more about saving the relationship than winning the argument. Above all, it requires selflessness.
One key to gratifying and enduring love is equity. When equity exists a couples chances for sustained and satisfying companionate love are good. Mutually sharing self and possessions, making decisions together, giving and getting emotional support, promoting and caring about each other’s welfare – all of these acts are at the core of a real love relationship.
Truly loving another is the most difficult thing we can do, and it’s completely counter-cultural, but with practice over time it will lead to a more fulfilling relationship than you’ve probably ever known. Truly loving your spouse does not include enabling poor choices or remaining in unsafe situations. By the grace of God we do have the ability to forgive and the ability to "truly love” our spouse. My prayer is for you to experience the true love that comes when you least deserve it.
Activity: Intimacy can grow from pausing to ponder and write our feelings. Spend 20 minutes a day over three days writing your deepest thoughts and feelings about your relationship.