Dr Brian T. Trainor (Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Social Theory and Co-ordinator of Postgraduate Studies in Humanities, Tabor Adelaide) wrote, in 2010, an interesting thought-piece on “Love & Marriage” for Ridley Theological College’s BriefCASE series. I was doing some “spring cleaning” and came across it again recently. It was helpful to re-read it, and while I could imagine some won’t agree with his line of thinking, it is interesting, and it is a thought-piece, albeit it quite densely written. Indeed, one would want to say a lot more about the importance of marriage as a means, par excellence, of growing and deepening the profoundly healing and transformative realities of love. One could also reflect on the basis of marriage not being a contract, but rather, as I believe a Christian marriage is, a covenant (cf. the essay, Conscious Marriage as Covenant by Helen LaKelly Hunt in which she draws on the wonderful story of the Prophet Hosea, and his unfaithful wife Gomer, against the backdrop of God’s loving relationship with unfaithful Israel). Interestingly too, today's local paper featured the story of a local couple who've been married 65-years. The affirm the importance of commitment, the kind of shared commitment that makes space for love to grow and deepen over time.
Anyway, back to Trainor's essay. He introduces his central interest in writing the paper with this statement:
“…there is a private ethical issue that I would like to discuss in this paper which is seldom discussed or analysed but which is of enormous importance (public as well as private), namely: What happens, or what should and shouldn’t happen, when love dies in a marriage?
Certainly, marriage establishes a system of moral responsibilities between two spouses (to care for each other in sickness and in health, to be faithful, etc.,) but when a marriage ‘dies’ [or when it allegedly dies for one partner, but not the other], in the sense that love drains out of it for whatever reason, the moral obligations surely dissolve as well. Are things really so simple?...”
“…I conclude, then, that a spouse is not ethically justified in quitting a marriage on the grounds that ‘my/our love has died’, that such a spouse is in reality not ‘for’ love but ‘against’ it (mistaking its true nature and setting up a false dichotomy between love and law/morality) and that to undermine or disregard the necessary forms which love must assume in order to be embodied or expressed at all in this world as we know it, is surely to attack love itself.”
You can read the full piece here (PDF).
In a very real sense, concluding that love ‘dies’, is to make clear that “love” is not really understood at all. It’s meaning, preciousness, and depth is disassociated from all but “feelings”. And, if the feelings disappear then those who don’t understand the riches and depths of love can only conclude that love itself has ‘died’. Supposed lack of ‘feelings’ then leads, for these people, to the conclusion that a marriage has therefore ‘died’ and thus one becomes ‘free’ to “end it” and promiscuously pursue other relationships, looking all the while for love, but remaining deeply mistaken in how they understand “love” and thus what they’re actually looking for. It’s a sad and tragic reality, something people like, for example, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt (and Imago Relationship Therapy more generally) conclude never need happen.
For more around this subject, some of you might be interested in an interview Dave Tomlinson conducted with Rowan Pelling back in 2004. You’ll find it here.
How would your define love?