Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband..
- Ephesians 5:25-33
“And, of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to fell hungry. But what, it may be asked, is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love? There are several sound, social reasons; to provide a home for their children, to protect the woman (who has probably sacrificed or damaged her own career by getting married) from being dropped whenever the man is tired of her. …”
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
My wife lamented about 20 years ago that I was more of a brother to her than a husband.
I let that statement sit there as a paragraph unto itself, so that it could soak in. Had she ceased to love as C. S. Lewis suggests?
Now, for the back story.
When my wife and I first got married we were dinks, but only for a short time. (Dinks: Double Income, No Kids.) My wife quit her job in order to spend more time in college. She had gone off to war after high school. She never went to Vietnam, but her short time in the Air Force exposed her to the wounded who returned to a hospital at an Air Force Base in Mississippi. She was a surgical tech (MOS of medic with a surgical specialty). Some weeks, she hardly slept at all during those years.
With my income, we were doing well, but she had her GI Bill income for school. I was also in school, the same university, but in graduate school.
There was the physical aspect of the relationship, discovering each other in that regard, but our conversations were about our past experiences and our future desires and plans. We put those desires and plans into action after only a few months of marriage. When I finally had two weeks of vacation, we travelled from Southeast Texas to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. We crossed the continental divide and travelled to the Grand Canyon before going to San Antonio for the Texas Folklife Festival where my wife sang with her mother and sisters. Being a “Sink – Single Income, No Kids” wasn’t so bad either and we didn’t ‘sink’ financially.
Then with a single letter, we had a better view of our future. I got orders to go to Germany in the Army. When the details arrived later, I was to report to Ft. Belvoir outside Washington, DC for the Basic Engineer Officers Course. Then, I would be sent to Knielingen, West Germany, a suburb of Karlsruhe. I extended my college deferment by another year to finish my degree, but my destiny, short term, was set.
One of the things that we decided to do was have a baby before I had to report to the Army and go to Germany. Having a little one does not mean that the love that spouses have for each other is gone, but behaviors change and available time for intimacy, conversation, and simply relaxing together changes. So, the outward expressions of love change.
With two children, the second born in Heidelberg, Germany, even more changes occur. Getting out of the military and facing economic setbacks brought change. As the boys started school, things changed. As the boys reached puberty, things changed.
Then, that brings us to about twenty years ago. You get to the point of the empty nest. If you see our home, you see clutter. A symptom of the empty nest, especially when the boys are in a different time zone and a day and a half drive away – in different directions… The symptom is a bit of depression, I guess. You see a pile of stuff that should be thrown away except for two pieces of paper buried in the middle. You put it in a box and save that decision for another day. I guess that is a symptom of a bit of depression.
Then, the visits to the doctor become visits to the specialists. You find that you cannot do the things that you used to do. That physical expression of love is exhausted once you hug each other for a while. When the hormones get too far out of whack, there simply isn’t any desire for more than a really good and long hug. Your body changes.
Today, my wife and I are more like two close friends (or to borrow her words, brother and sister), but I cannot imagine life without her. Our love has evolved with the usual changes that most families have: the marriage trio of before, during, and after kids. If you are blessed with that trio, there may be the following grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. (We have a 21-year-old grandchild, but I don’t think great-grandchildren are in our near future.) But as some of us get older, the medical issues change what we do, how we do it, and with what gusto and vigor we do it.
Recently, we went to a wedding. At the reception, all married couples had to go to the dance floor for one of the songs. What we didn’t know was that we were about to dance in a dance marathon. My wife has a younger sister who finished high school early to marry her husband before he left for Okinawa with the Air Force. So, she was married before we were. Yet, her husband had just left the reception, having back spasms, so she was out before she started. This is important in that the DJ had the newly wedded couple sit, then it was everyone who had been married for only five years, then ten years, etc. After forty years or less were sitting, my wife and I looked around and saw only four other couples. By this time, the DJ was going one year at a time. I thought this was torture. I turned to him and asked if he’d seen the old movie, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” I don’t think he heard me, but he probably had not seen the award-winning film set around a dancing marathon. (Gig Young’s only Oscar win and a Golden Globe, a BAFTA win for Susannah York, but several other nominations.) We didn’t win the prize at our dance marathon. There were two couples left when we sat down at 44 years, one married 45 years and the other married 52 years.
I felt that the marathon should have been inverted. Us old folks were about to collapse halfway through.
My wife and I are closer today than ever, even if an outside observer would think our behavior more closely resembles siblings. I guess that’s what God talked about by saying the two become one.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.