A marriage where there is love between those involved is truly special, but it is essential to qualify this statement by distinguishing between the several profiles of love.
Romantic love is passionate and exciting and involves a desperate longing for emotional and physical closeness. It is often a starry-eyed condition that transports the participant way beyond mundane aspects of living to a state that is almost euphoric. It defies commonsense and reality. It is exciting, invigorating and incredibly addictive. It is surely one of the pinnacles of life.
Many partners enter marriage experiencing this romantic type of love. It is a wonderful, joyful and remarkable introduction into what they hope will be a lifelong union. It ripens gently into a period of deeper discovery: a time of perception, accepting, empathising and identifying with other aspects of the new companion. Gradually the exhilaration of the early stages leads to a gentle familiarity, a comfortable state of deeper knowledge of the other’s needs and the growth of a new form of fondness. This is less passionate, less exhilarating; a different, possibly deeper and more knowledgeable love.
If we expect romantic love to last year after year, we are being unrealistic and probably offering ourselves up for disillusionment. Romantic love is part of the mating urge – nature’s way of ensuring that the species continues. The caring love that follows romantic love involves knowing the other person well enough to give the necessities of any partnership: encouragement, understanding, support, generosity, constancy, comfort in times of loss or disappointment, and most important of all, friendship.
When listening to or reading descriptions of partners from enduring and successful marriages, the most frequent comments seem to be “He is my best friend” or “She is my soul-mate”.
With regard to friendship, there are, without doubt, qualities that most people want and expect from a true friend. For most of us, these would include loyalty, honesty and companionship. Excitement and fervour might not be amongst our requirements at all. So a marriage that is based on friendship, a form of mutual loving closely intertwined with caring, is likely to be a give-and-take relationship where the partner finds reciprocal respect and fulfilment.
As for the soul-mate who is often described, perhaps it is someone who knows us inside out, warts and all, who can look deep into our soul and understand, admire and enhance what is found there.
This is not to say that romantic love passes and is replaced by other forms of love. On the contrary, partners observed in happy marriages seem to value the romantic element and work at preserving the yearning, the element of surprise, the excitement and the sense of fun that was present in the early days of their relationship. The modes of love seem to co-exist, each complementing the other.
Perhaps a marriage can survive without any love at all: there may be other features that will keep it intact and make it work for those involved, if they are really determined. But from my point of view, from what I have seen of flourishing unions, love and marriage go hand-in-hand.