The spring trees made a green arch over the path as we pedaled along, about five months into our dating relationship. We were so in love, so affectionate, that as we biked through the mountains we reached across the space between our bikes to hold hands.
We rode on like that for some time, contentedly connected by hand and soul, talking and riding at a leisurely pace, letting others pass us by.
Suddenly, we lost our balance and crashed. We laughed, recognizing then just how crazy we were about each other.
David proposed about five months later, and we were married half a year after that. We entered into marriage enthusiastically, but there was a bit of a question in the back of our minds: Would this affection continue?
We had vowed to love each other till death do us part, and we knew we were serious about that commitment. But would we always feel so attracted and affectionate?
There exists a narrative that says “marriage ruins relationships,” that affection typically wanes, seldom grows. It’s the idea that a relationship begun in a blaze of fireworks will likely fizzle out and fade.
In interviews we conducted for the “Love and Marriage in Middle America Project,” we found that many young adults described love as something that one doesn’t have much control over. “Falling out of love” is a common fear.
When we were engaged, we went to a weekend retreat as part of our marriage preparation. During one session, a married couple in their 50s assured us that attraction and affection did not have to fade in marriage. “We’re having the best sex of our lives,” we remember them telling us sincerely.
We were a little baffled and a little skeptical, but also curious.
Almost nine years into our own marriage, we now understand what they were talking about.
“Marriage (is) a challenge to be taken up and fought for, reborn, renewed and reinvented until death,” says Pope Francis in the apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (No. 124).
He urges us to abandon “celestial notions of earthly love” and instead strive for a creative and enduring love that recognizes that “the best is yet to come, that fine wine matures with age” (No. 135).
Marriage really can keep getting better. How?
Marriage disciplines and perfects our sexual desire, enabling us to experience the freedom that follows when our desires are concentrated on the infinite depth that is one’s spouse.
We see this on the physical level: Sex releases the hormone oxytocin, which then helps to strengthen a couple’s bond — and according to one study, even men’s perceived attraction of their committed partner! In other words, the more we give of ourselves to each other, the more we desire each other.
The nine years of our marriage have presented modest to ordinary challenges: from life-threatening complications for Amber during the birth of our first son, to the minor exasperation of children that refuse to go to bed on time.
We find ourselves having more arguments now than we did when we were dating, and even during the early years of marriage without children.
But inspired by the vows that we said to each other on our wedding day, we choose to come back to each other at the end of the day, begging forgiveness of each other and happy that we are building our little kingdom together.
Thus, marriage points us to the best kind of friendship: one that is based on shared sacrifice and helping each other become more holy and virtuous.
To choose marriage in this way is to reject the “throwaway culture” that uses and abuses, and to embrace what philosopher Gabriel Marcel described as “creative fidelity”: in choosing to be faithful, we choose to constantly rediscover each other.
Marriage does not have to ruin relationships. If we allow it, marriage can increase and enrich love.
Amber and David Lapp, co-investigators of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, are research fellows at the Institute for Family Studies. Their writing has appeared in outlets such as National Review, First Things, The Atlantic Online and The Wall Street Journal.
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