From Questions Young People Ask Before Marriage, Fr. Donald Miller, C.SS.R., 1950’s
Is love necessary for a happy marriage?
It depends on what you mean by “love”. I might add that it also depends on what you mean by marriage, but we shall take for granted that you mean what the Lord meant, viz., an indissoluble sacramental partnership between a man and a woman who pledge themselves to help each other toward happiness on earth and in heaven, and to beget and rear children for the kingdom of God.
What do you mean by “love”? Do you mean that violent feeling of attraction, that all-suffering sense of helpless infatuation, that overpowering “can’t-think-of-anything-else” emotion, which the pulps, true story magazines and mashy novels describe as love?
If you do, my answer is a quick “no”. This kind of love is not necessary because there have been thousands of happy marriages without it, from those in which the bridegroom was chosen for the bride (or vice versa) by elders, as was customary for centuries, down to the latest marriage of two young people who kept their wits about them all through their company-keeping and engagement.
The wild infatuation that some mistake for love is a minor form of hysteria, and hysteria is not only not necessary for, but a positive drawback to, a happy marriage.
But if you define love correctly, I say that it is absolutely necessary for a happy marriage. Love is an intelligent willingness to surrender self-will, to make sacrifices, to place fidelity, charity and duty above feelings, in behalf of a person whom one has found to be a good companion, a sturdy character, and a believer in the same purposes of life and marriage as oneself.
The degree of physical and emotional attraction behind this determination of the free will may vary greatly, but it is never the essence of love.
Too many young people have thought otherwise, to the effect that, with the inevitable lessening of infatuation after a year or two of married life, they have considered themselves no longer in love.
Love is a function of the free will, and it can last as long as the free will exercises itself according to the above definition.
Therefore, to say “I am in love” should mean “I am willing to surrender my will, to sacrifice my desires, to place duty and fidelity above all else, in behalf of one person whom I have found suitable for a successful marriage.”
Is Love Sufficient for a Happy Marriage?
If one is deeply in love with a certain person, is not that sufficient for a happy marriage, even though others advise against the marriage?
I am in love with a young man, and want to marry him, but everybody tells me he won’t make me happy.
I am so happy just being in love with him that I know I’ll be happy in marriage.
It has been set down as one of the most futile things in life to argue with a young person already in love, who believes that the happiness of being in love is a true measure of the happiness that will be found in marriage.
However, those of us who are interested in the happiness of married folk will still go on trying to convince young people of the danger of this mistake.
You say that everybody tells you that the young man you love cannot make you happy in marriage.
I presume that this means your parents, your pastor or confessor, your close friends. Such unanimity can hardly be a result of conspiracy against you, or unfounded on good reasons.
With eyes undimmed by the infatuation that makes you a poor judge of your boy friend, they must see something in his character that makes him unfit for the responsibilities of marriage.
Perhaps he is shiftless and undependable; perhaps a drunkard; perhaps unprincipled or irreligious.
After all, there are thousands of divorces in America each year, and tens of thousands of broken hearted wives.
Can’t you see that most of the latter married because they were breathlessly in love, and only afterward, too late, found out that love is not sufficient for a happy marriage?
You did not tell me on what ground everybody opposes your marriage to this boy, and therefore I do not say for certain that their opposition is justified.
There is a good presumption that it is, however, from the fact that it is unanimous.
I do say firmly, however, that you are clinging to a false principle when you say that “because you are happy just being in love with your boy friend, you know you’ll be happy in marriage.”
It takes more than love, I assure you, to make a marriage happy, and sometimes it is only your parents, pastor, and good friends, who can tell you whether that something is present or absent.
On Love at First Sight
“Do you believe in love at first sight?
I recently met a man and fell head over heels in love with him on our first date. He seemed to feel the same way about me.
If he asks me to marry him even after only three dates, I feel that I will just have to say Yes. Is not such a love sufficient to make marriage very happy?”
No, it isn’t, and if you look around, you will see hundreds of proofs of this fact. Love at first sight may be the preliminary to a happy marriage, but there is no guarantee that it will be.
I should say that the chances are definitely against a happy marriage, if love at first sight and three dates are the only preliminaries.
The reason should be clear: as a rational creature you are expected to use your head as well as your heart in all the important actions of your life.
There are few things more important than getting married, and once married, you are married till the death of either yourself or your partner.
This love at first sight that you talk about is an emotional reaction to someone who seems to have many fine qualities on the surface.
It cannot possibly see into the heart, into the conscience, into the will, into the past.
It is easily possible that a man for whom a girl would feel love at first sight would be able to present a very lovable appearance for a time, while under the surface he was harboring any number of vices and evils.
It takes time to find out whether a man has the interior qualities necessary to make a good husband and a happy marriage.
And it takes common sense on your part not to say such things as that “you would have to say Yes at once if he asked you to marry him on your third date together.”
By that time you might not even have found out whether he was married before; whether he had an ungovernable temper; whether he was subject to epilepsy, melancholia or alcoholism.
Most of the divorces result from short courtships and so-called love at first sight. Don’t be like the foolish ones of your generation.
If you like this man at first sight, remember that you must use second sight and third sight and twentieth sight to know whether you can have reasonable assurance that he won’t be giving you black eyes in the second month of your marriage.
Love at first sight is all right if after six months of going with the person you find that he is as good inside as he is outside, and that you won’t offend God or renounce God by marrying him.
“Undoubtedly,” Pope Pius XII remarked, ‘youth is a most beautiful thing of itself. But, if you have in this tender flower, the shining whiteness of Christian purity, then you have human beauty displayed as something noble and exalted, attracting the admiration and imitation of those who see it.”
This is a must-read for Catholic youth. The do’s and don’t s of dating, how to keep pure, what is a sin and what is just a temptation, the qualities to look for in a good spouse, etc. It is small, but power-packed, straightforward and balanced! Available here: http://amzn.to/2niVm2T (afflink)
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Very good reminders! A must for anyone courting or of that age. Thank you!