Someone once explained to me that love is like a tree that can live and grow forever, provided it is properly cared for. The only death available to it is through unnatural means such as neglect, thirst, starvation, or pollution. A hardy tree, it can readily survive the trials and tribulations of this life so long as it is well cared for and healthy. However, in the event it should die – it must be replanted and sprout anew from the seeds of the tree before it and will take a great deal of time to be restored to even a shadow of it’s former glory.
Marital love is much like that tree, and both partners tend to it. The tree of love requires the care of both to flourish and live. In the event that either partner neglects their responsibilities the tree will languish and die. While one partner alone may be able to carry most of the burden for some time, the tree will suffer the absence of the partner nonetheless and the partner will tire. Until in exhaustion, the basics needs for flourishing are reduced to merely surviving, and then even those needs can no longer be maintained and soon the death of the relationship occurs.
This care is a partnership, especially in that God in his wondrous creativity made Man and Woman different to better tend each to each other – and therefore their love. One must be mindful to recognize those signs of neglect such as emotional distance, aversion to physical contact, sleeping apart, anger, apathy, obliviousness, and silence. When you recognize any of those signs then your love may be lacking an ingredient necessary for it to flourish or it may be being attacked by environmental factors from outside your marriage. It then becomes your job to ascertain which, and take steps to bring things into balance whether you are the husband or the wife.
There are key nutrients that only one or the other of you can provide and it is only by working together that love can be sustained. This effort can be made harder or easier by factors outside your relationship such as work, friends, the television, the internet, the smartphone, in-laws, hobbies, and unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. Inside the marriage you have children, physical distance, emotional distance, loneliness, stress, and most of all – a need for time to just be together alone. All of these things can poison your love just as surely as chopping it down if you let them. Remember what is important, your vow to your spouse supersedes any obligations save those to God himself. For those who are horrified at this thought, remember that to unless your relationship is healthy – your ability to care for any children born of your marriage is seriously impaired. If you allow your children to come between you and your spouse and the marriage is damaged – they suffer the harm with both of you. The same applies to your job, your friends, your phone, your computer, your hobbies, or any other impediment to you being able to fulfill your obligations to your spouse be they physical, spiritual, or emotional.
Speaking of spiritual, I’ve often heard people suggest a couple should pray together. About this I have two things to say. The first is that they are absolutely right, and I deeply regret not taking this one aspect of our development together more seriously earlier, or more often. The second being that it does not need to be done in any specific form or manner – meaning that if she says a rosary before bed while I pray in silent meditation while we touch in some manner, I have discovered it can be a very profound spiritual experience. It can be as simple as saying your bedtime prayer invoking the intercession of your guardian angel to watch over you while you sleep, or reciting the Our Father while holding hands or each other. The adventurous may take a queue and recite Tobias’s prayer from Tobit (8:5-8:8). I’ll even quote from the King James to confound all my protestant friends who can’t find it in their bibles, as it was removed later.
8:5 Then began Tobias to say, Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed is thy holy and glorious name for ever; let the heavens bless thee, and all thy creatures.
8:6 Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve his wife for an helper and stay: of them came mankind: thou hast said, It is not good that man should be alone; let us make unto him an aid like unto himself.
8:7 And now, O Lord, I take not this my sister for lust but uprightly: therefore mercifully ordain that we may become aged together.
8:8 And she said with him, Amen.
Tobit very much influenced my impressions of marriage when I was young and I most remembered the passage in Tobit (6:17) which convinced me that people are sometimes appointed for each other by God and that I had but to have the courage to listen and act when the spirit told me I had found the one appointed to me.
“…fear not, for she is appointed unto thee from the beginning; and thou shalt preserve her, and she shall go with thee. Moreover I suppose that she shall bear thee children. Now when Tobias had heard these things, he loved her, and his heart was effectually joined to her.”
There is a third thing, one I’m not proud of or eager to say. I myself have made this mistake of ignoring this aspect of my own relationship far longer then I should have. Praying together is nothing more then coming together in communion with God. Don’t let your pride or self-consciousness prevent you from benefitting from this activity at least on occasion – if you can’t set those things aside and be yourself when you’re with your spouse and worry about the potential embarrassment of being spiritually naked, then you have enough to work on to keep you busy for some time. I have made that mistake, and I can assure you that when you die the last thing you want to do is regret all of those things you did not do, especially those that you knew you should have done. For it is not the things we did that torture us the most once we leave this life, but those we failed to do.
You may find the prayer from Tobias’ wedding night said quietly to be just the thing to remind you that marriage is a sacred sacrament ordained by God, by which we are also quell the lust enough to allow the spiritual and emotional bonds the room and opportunity they need to bloom and bear fruit. There is a deeply spiritual and emotional connection forged through marital intimacy where lust is extinguished and from its ashes an effective joining of two persons in body and spirit occurs – and it is in this joining that we feel truly fulfilled. All too often people flit like insects from partner to partner – like a roach from crumb to crumb, never satisfied, never full, always searching, ever hungry. Be mindful of Tobias’ prayer, cling to your spouse and take each other not only of desire satisfy a base instinct – but specifically join yourselves to renew and feed that bond, that it should grow and live forever, never suffering death. Not for either to abuse or unnecessarily deny the other, but to come together in a holy sacrament and renew the spiritual and emotional ties that bind your hearts together. It is through that binding love that you will also gain a glimmer of the awe and majesty of God’s love as well.
That said, lets be real too. Until our base appetites are satisfied we really don’t have a realistic hope of experiencing something which will be spiritually moving for more than about 30 seconds – and what we experience then will be a transient illusion, fading almost as quickly as it came. However, once the lust has passed there remains a longing to stay close and protect. An instinct that presents itself with those we love and not with those we use, takes over. It is in that closeness afterwards that we can truly bond physically and emotionally in a meaningful and lasting way.
To truly feel this, one cannot be filled with lust, or hate or rage; nor can one be selfish. It must be freely given from oneself without coercion or reservation, and received in the same manner by both parties. It is in those rare moments when we come together in true intimacy and a desire to be together with our love for each other that our love can blossom and root itself more deeply into our hearts. For us men, we suffer the most from biological needs and urges which can cloud or prevent this experience. However, we are in general not incapable of functioning after the initial physical need is satiated. Take one such moment and use it to give your wife the gift of true intimacy – where you join with her out of love and a deep longing for your physically separated hearts to be combined into a single whole as God has designed. Not because you are driven by hormones or biological imperatives, but because it is in the giving of ourselves altruistically when we give the most meaningfully of ourselves and receive the most unexpected and amazing gifts in return.
One can only hope that by experiencing this indescribable feeling for yourself and sharing you experience with others that it will spread throughout the country and then the world, changing totally the way we look at our wives, love, and marriage forever – and for the better.
**Please feel free to write or comment on this post, I’d really like to hear from those that are able to have this experience and how it is changing their marriage, their wives, and their lives.