The Beauty of Enduring Love

“Home and possessions are an inheritance from parents, but a loving prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:14).

A Russian proverb has it that “to marry well is half of life.” A happy marriage is one of the surest paths to general happiness in this world. Martin Luther said, “There is no sweeter thing than the love of a good woman – may a man be fortunate to find it.” Research finds that good marriages promote health and longevity.

However, research seems to conclude that really good marriages are rare. One researcher went to far as to say that the term “happy marriage” seems to almost be an oxymoron in the United States. C.S. Lewis stated, “If we are friends of God and belonging to him, we shall find our own true love, which rarely happens in this world” (A Grief Observed).

According to Genesis 2:21, the woman which God fashions for Adam is not taken from the ground, as had been the case with both man and the animals, but from the body of Adam himself. What is the meaning of this image? It tells of God’s intention to create a unique type of communion between man and wife. One’s spouse is essentially more than and different from anyone else in the world.

A body of research provides information on factors related to success in marriage. The main factor is that the couple have a great deal in common. They are equally matched on a variety of characteristics and attitudes. They share a similar vision, the same ideas about life. They come from families of similar socioeconomic status. Opposites attract, sometimes, but only superficially. Opposites are poor marriage risks.

Survey data indicates the following factors: When husband and wife attend church together regularly, they have a higher degree of marital satisfaction than couples who do not. Romances formed in the teens usually break up after several years. There is the boom in latein-life divorces. Most marriages (50 percent) nowadays are preceded by cohabitation. Several studies have concluded that the divorce rate is 38 percent higher among couples who live together prior to their marriage.

Generally, marriage is not a cure for lone liness. Rather, marriage is often the source of loneliness for many, they feel alone. As divorced people often say, there’s nothing lonelier than living with the wrong person; I was more alone with him than I would be without him.

A body of research concludes that the real problem with some marriages is that the couple were mismatched. They simply never should have married each other. It was not “when did it all go wrong” but “when was it ever right?”

Julia Alvarez, in her book Homecoming, stresses “the stranger we marry.” At a self-improvement weekend she heard this conversation bit:

She: Statistics say most couples get divorced.

He: Better to love and lose than not at all.

She: Better to read the writing on the wall.

(Homecoming, p. 82)

Sometimes a slow transfiguration can take place. I’ve heard some husbands say, “I never knew how selfish I was until I got married.” The selfishness begins to drop away. The water becomes wine, and by grace someone becomes, little by little, truly loving and lovely at last. Marriage can become a school of purification and transformation, and something very good comes into being, a profound loyalty. Friedrich von Gagern, a German Catholic psychiatrist, said: “Often it is only through his wife that the husband becomes truly a man; and through her husband that the wife gains true womanhood.”

Vatican Council II expressed the thought that married love should never be profaned by adultery or divorce (Gaudium et Spes, 49).

There is the beauty of enduring love. It is evident in some older people. They seem blended, as it were, into one being. It is obvious. One senses their delight in each other. They defend each other, baby each other. There’s the mutual confidence in each other. The Islamic Sufi Sarmad said of them, “They go everywhere together, like the flower and its fragrance.”

I have an enduring memory of two old lovers quietly dancing to a soft clarinet and piano melody, safe and relaxed in one another’s arms, and unconcerned whether anyone was watching.

An exquisite description of married love and the extended family it brings is given in the Biblical book of Tobit. Tobias (son of Tobit) and his wife Sarah have married and been living at Sarah’s home. After a time, they decide to travel to Tobias’ home. Raguel (Sarah’s father) speaks these farewell words to his daughter: “Honor you fatherin-law and your mother-in-law; they are now your parents also. I hope to hear nothing but good of you.” And he kissed her. And Edna (Raguel’s wife) says to Tobias, “See, I am entrusting my daughter to you, never make her unhappy as long as you live. From now on I am your mother and Sarah is your beloved wife. May we all prosper together all the days of our lives.” Then she kissed them both. Tobias says to Raguel and Edna, “May it be my happiness to honor you all the days of my life.”

They travel to Tobias’s home. When Tobit meets Sarah, the wife of his son, he blesses her saying, “Come in my daughter, and welcome. Blessed be God who has brought you to us. Blessed be your mother and father. Come in now, and welcome with blessing and joy. Take courage my child. I am now your father and Edna is your mother, and we belong to you as well as your beloved, now and forever.”

Then he prays for both Tobias and Sarah: “Blessed are you Lord, because you had compassion on two only children. Be merciful to them, and keep them safe, Bring them to fulfillment in happiness and mercy.” With merriment they celebrate Tobias’ wedding for seven days, and many gifts are given to them.

There’s a scene in Tobit where the angel Raphael tells Tobias that “Sarah was destined for you before the world existed.”

Finally, let me end with some words I can’t reference but like very much: What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life— to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the last parting?