Entertainment icon Tina Turner once asked the musical question, “What’s love got to do with it?”
When it comes to the long term success of a marriage, the surprising answer is, “Not much.”
At least that is the conclusion drawn by a new study by researchers at Australian National University.
Far more important factors were:
Age (a husband 9 years or more older than his wife is twice as likely to get divorced)
Children (one-fifth of couples who have kids before marriage — either from a previous relationship or in the same relationship — having separated compared to just nine percent of couples without children born before marriage)
Previous marital history (partners who are on their second or third marriage are 90 percent more likely to separate than spouses who are both in their first marriage).
Other factors that increased the chances of divorce or separation were smoking, finances (or the lack of them) and parental example.
The study, entitled “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” tracked nearly 2,500 couples — married or living together — from 2001 to 2007 to identify factors associated with those who remained together compared with those who divorced or separated.
So is love enough to guarantee a successful marriage?
It depends what kind of love we are talking about.
If we define love as a feeling, probably not.
When I meet with couples for pre-marital counseling, I get to see people absolutely overwhelmed with the emotional buzz of romance.
And that is a great thing.
Meeting someone you actually want to spend the rest of your life with should be a highlight experience.
But that ain’t all there is to building a future together.
In fact, its my job to bring a bit of, how shall we say, balance to this equation.
Most couples who are planning on being wed come into my office floating about three feet off the ground.
After a few minutes of watching them mooning over each other and using pet names like “lambie pie” and “bee’s whisker” I feel like I need to floss.
So I begin by asking them a few, well, more down to earth questions. Like:
“So who is going to balance the check book and set up a budget for the two of you to live on?”
“When are you going to start a family? How many children would youlike to have?”
“Whose family are you going to spend Christmas with next year?”
By the time we get to the dreaded Christmas question the mood in the room has changed noticeably.
And if I can illicit a sense of disagreement on these issues, so much the better.
It provides a great opportunity to share some insight into the fine art of conflict resolution.
Some couples will make that transition from feelings to the facts of what they are facing.
In fact, some have even referred to me as “The Terminator” in pre marital counseling because a number of couples I have seen haven’t well, made it to the altar, if you get my drift.
But if a relationship isn’t strong enough to stand up against a few tough questions in a pastor’s office, I guarantee it won’t stand up in the storms of life either.
Let’s face it, when a couple is enjoying the thrill of “being in love” who wants to stop the party?
But sooner or later, wise couples discover that a life together has to be built on a more solid foundation than a nice buzz.
The ones who don’t find themselves down at the courthouse, swearing to a judge that their marriage is irretreviably broken due to “irreconcilable differences” or the ever popular “we fell out of love”.
So is love enough to build a marriage that will last a life time?
It is, if we define love not emotionally, but spiritually and scripturally.
Consider this famous description of love that we find in I Corinthians 13:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:4-8)
Did you catch three important aspects of this description of love from God’s point of view?
First, there ain’t an emotional high to be found here.
Second , the entire list can be summed up in a single word – commitment.
God is really serious about that “till death do us part” stuff.
Third, this kind of love does not reside in us naturally.
If you doubt that, try this experiment.
Read through the passage above, but insert your name every time the word “love” is found.
How far did you honestly get?
I usually bail out at “suffers long”.
But here we find the secret to a long and satisfying marriage experience.
Marriage is intended to be a miracle.
When God designed marriage way back in the Garden of Eden, He intended it to be a relationship between one man, one woman and Himself.
As Jesus described marriage:
“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
Who is it who joins a couple in holy matrimony? Not a couple? Not their parents or a pastor.
God joins a man and woman together.
And God can also supply the love necessary to make a marriage something that becomes more beautiful as time passes.
But that love is a renewable resource.
Each day a wise couple will ask the Lord for His love not just to fill their hearts, but overflow them.
If we learn both to receive and relate God’s love to one another we have a real chance at a relationship that will not only bless us, but be an encouragement to others as well.
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