Why do people get married? Usually because they’re in love, right? Even today, with high rates of divorce and cohabitation, men and women in love have some internal pull that draws them to the altar. In lovedness is an erotic passion that lovers seem to have very little control over, and its only outlet and fulfillment is apparently marriage.
And why do people get divorced? Often, because they’re no longer in love. Or maybe they are, just not with their spouse. It must be hard to stay married to someone with whom you are no longer in love. When the passion fades and all that is left are the annoyances and petty personality flaws plaguing every passing moment, the natural inclination is to turn and run.
My grandmother married my grandfather 65 years ago. After a year of marriage, she told him that she was not, and in fact never was, in love with him. Last year she died. That’s 63 passionless years of marriage.
That must have been difficult. I wonder who it was harder for—my grandmother, not being in love with her husband, or my grandfather, not having a wife who was in love with him.
So what do couples like that do? Today, most of them just get divorced, but not my grandparents. They had six kids. They did mission work in Mexico. They regularly prayed together and had Bible studies and prayer groups in their home. They did pro-life work together. They regularly opened their home to strangers in need of a place to lay their heads. And in their elder years they spent a lot of time reading together, as well as playing cards—their favorite activity and the one passed down to the grandkids.
That list makes it sound like they had the perfect marriage, doesn’t it? Not quite. I left out the squabbling, disagreements, and petty arguments.
So how did they stay married all those years? Love. The true definition of love is willing the good of another person. My grandparents loved each other so much. I said that they weren’t mutually in love, but I never said they didn’t have love for one another.
The most beautiful example of this love I witnessed in the last couple weeks of my grandmother’s exile on this earth. Over Christmas I was staying at their home, and sleeping in the room next to Grandma. A little before five in the morning I heard her gasping for air and eventually calling out for help. I quickly got up and went to her side and asked if there was anything I could do for her. All she said was “Get your grandfather.” I went next door, shook my grandpa, and said, “Gramps, Grandma needs you.” Without a moment’s hesitation, he got up and went to his wife’s side. I went back to bed, but he stayed up making sure that the woman he had pledged his fidelity to “in sickness and in health” was comfortable, checking her oxygen machine was working correctly, and rubbing her feet with lotion.
Later that day grandma needed to go to the hospital, and after the ambulance zipped her away I saw my grandfather heading out the door and asked him where he was going. “To the hospital,” he said, the of course was implied, but I heard it. That’s where his wife was, so that’s where he was going to be. In fact, my 89-year-old grandfather slept in a chair (!) in her hospital room two nights in a row to be close to his wife; not because he was passionately and madly in love with her, but because he loved her, and that’s what love does; not because he couldn’t get enough of her, but because he pledged to love her the way Christ loved the Church and lay down his life for her.
I’m not holding up my grandparents’ marriage one for which we should all aim. But I am holding up their love for each other and their commitment to their marriage as ideals for which we should strive. Marriage isn’t about being in love; it’s about loving like Jesus did.