A face-slapping 53% percent of marriages crash and burn in the end, so what’s the secret to surviving and thriving in the one relationship that is supposed to last for life? The root of the problem of this high attrition rate for marriages is that our generation doesn’t know how to love unconditionally. When the feelings are gone, so are we. The sad fact is that most of us will never offer nor experience unconditional love, and it will cost many of us our marriages.
The Rabbi Got it Right
The Greeks created the term agape to represent a love that exists with absolutely zero strings attached — a completely unconditional type of love. The odds of you spotting agape love in someone on our city streets today are probably as slim as your odds of stumbling on a gold nugget when you’re on a hiking trip. It’s just extraordinarily hard to find. But if you or I could find a way to begin thinking about and cultivating this type of love in our hearts toward our significant other, there is a good chance we could beat the ugly odds of divorce.
It helps to exalt a thorough definition of this deep type of love so that we have a goal to continuously shoot for. In all of the world, there is no better place to find a definition for agape love than in the writing of Shaul of Tarsus (שאול התרסי) — a rabbi from the first century. He stated:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Let’s break these love instructions down into their parts, identifying several of the main components.
Love is Patient
In marriage, it it not unusual for a person to take years to learn a particular lesson. In the meantime, that person’s spouse must suffer through life in the home of this person who has yet to be perfected. For example, anger problems, laziness tendencies, the practice of clamming up during conflict, rudeness, sloppiness, and many other issues are common to marriage. Can a spouse overcome these very real habits in the few hours between walking the aisle and arriving at the honeymoon suite? It is highly unlikely. The reality is that we each carry many problems with us into marriage, and it will take years, decades, or even a lifetime to overcome some of these things.
It will take immense amounts of patience as you continue to love and persevere with that person while waiting for them to change. The divorce attorney is always advertising, and you know that the exit sign is always lit. When the times get tough, that exit sign shines brighter. Yet it is during these tough times that we must remember that marriage was always meant to be a marathon, and the patience of agape love has no limit — because this type of love is unconditional (love that exists with no conditions).
Patience can be communicated by saying: “Listen, I am with you for life. I will continue to love you no matter how longs it takes to work through this issue. I believe in you, and we’re both going to keep improving. Just imagine what fantastic spouses we’ll be in a decade if we keep making a little progress in our lives each day.” This previous statement will need to be repeated again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
Love Does Not Seek Its Own
Without a doubt, it is human nature to primarily be looking out for our own self-interests. This is one of the major things that must be rewired in our minds when we come to marriage. The definition of agape love actually demands that we put our spouse’s interests a little higher than our own. It is difficult to explain the extensiveness of the renovation that must take place within our hearts in order to result in having our concern for our loved one’s interest actually surpass our concern for our own. Yet this is where the real magic happens. It is the real Jedi force — the real “black belt” type of love that is so difficult to accomplish in our own hearts. But if you can ever learn to express this type of love, you will have just experienced true love for the first time.
Love Never Fails
Can you imagine a situation where your spouse made you so unhappy in marriage that you would divorce them? If so, you have not yet expressed agape love; instead, your so-called “love” is based only an arrangement that depends on your spouse’s performance. Would you divorce your spouse if you felt no real “spark” of romance for a decade straight? If so, you do not have agape love for your spouse — your love is, in fact, conditional. Unconditional love never fails. If it ever ends – if you would ever imagine a time where you’d say “I do not love you anymore” – then it never was unconditional love. Agape love can and will continue to exist — even if the feelings of romance have died long ago. Interestingly enough, lost feelings often revive later on in much deeper, more developed, and firmly anchored way after time — after unbreakable trust and commitment have been proven through years of perseverance together through the hard times.
The Pursuit of Unconditional Love
Wouldn’t it be great to be loved unconditionally? I think this is what we all long for deep inside — to have one person in life that accepts us and loves us with such magnificent strength that they would never leave us, no matter how poorly we performed. Well, it should not surprise you that your spouse has that same secret desires. Welcome to the pursuit of unconditional love.
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