What is the most important component of a marriage?
Most of us say “love.”The American Heritage Dictionary, defines love as: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person; a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend; [physical] passion or desire.
We find this characterization lacking, because “affection,” “feelings,” “passion” and “desire” come and go, while love endures—or SHOULD endure—even after “the feeling” has passed.
Our flow of love towards another may become blocked, due to our ego or an out-of-touchness with the perfection of the human soul, but authentic love can never “go away.”
Our definition of love.“Love is allowing others to be exactly the way they are, and exactly the way they are not, with no conditions.” This is not to say that we give carte blanche to abusive behavior. Sometimes emotional impulses can lead to harsh words or irrational actions. We do not suggest that this is acceptable; rather, we mean allowing unconditionally for another’s unique “beingness.”
Recently we met a couple who had married later in life, after both had been widowed. She had lost her husband just two years earlier, and she was still in the process of coming to terms with his absence. As they’d had three children together and several grandchildren already, she now wanted to put together a memoir that chronicled her late husband’s outstanding character and his many achievements.There we sat, over coffee, as she chatted endlessly about how wise, wonderful and exceptional her late husband had been. All the while her second husband sat listening attentively. Whenever a tear would spring to her eyes, his eyes would redden and well up in silent sympathy. At one point, she made reference to an article about her late husband, and her second husband jumped to his feet to find it.We were thunderstruck! There she was, out flowing about her deep love toward her first husband, while her current husband sat, completely emphatic, unthreatened and utterly “at one” with her.
We couldn’t contain ourselves anymore. As the minutes passed, we were sure that her second husband’s patience was wearing thin. We interrupted her briefly to ask if it bothered him how she was going on and on about his predecessor.They looked at each other, bewildered. Neither one knew what we were talking about. He explained that he loved her so much; he shared both her pain and her joy absolutely. As he had been widowed much longer ago, he was intent on supporting her through the various stages of grief and loss, and what was most important to him was her well-being during and after that process. He added that, although he hadn’t known her late husband, he must have been a wonderful man if she’d loved him that much.At that point it became obvious to us that she could “do no wrong” in his eyes; whatever she said or felt was perfectly fine with him.That is love.
According to the ancient wisdom of the great sage, Hillel the Elder, “Love is best expressed by that which you do not do.” A heathen once came to Rabbi Hillel and challenged him to explain the entire Torah to him while he stood on one foot. Rabbi Hillel thoughtfully replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”
“What is it that you most dislike? You don’t appreciate it when someone pries into your faults, underlining each one with a red pen. So if you truly wish to express love to someone else, don’t even look at his faults. Find whatever is good about him, and talk about that.”–Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek
Another brilliant and compassionate sage once said:“I learned about love from two drunks in the gutter. One said, ‘You don’t love me!’ ‘Of course I love you,’ cried the other. Answered the first, ‘If you really loved me you’d know what hurts me!’”–Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
Yes, romance, commitment and communication all exist within the framework of a successful marriage, but they are not synonyms for love! Love exists beyond those more temporal elements. Love is the context in which all those other aspects exist. Simply put: if love is the bowl, romance, commitment and communication are the fruit. The fruit is consumed over time and is replaced with new fruit—it may even rot—but the bowl is constant and remains in place permanently.It’s no surprise that, because of the confusion most people have about love, Plato called it “a grave mental illness.”