Lasting love in a marriage changes over time, and it helps if spouses know and expect that.
In my counseling practice, I’ve heard testimonies from spouses for whom the spark of initial passion fails to reignite later on. It’s hard to find time for each other in the daily grind of financially supporting the family, the children’s education, illnesses, and other ups and downs of life.
The infatuation with which a couple started their relationship has not grown into a more mature love. Mistakenly thinking that emotional passion is all there is to love, some couples conclude that they no longer love each other, or that they love each other less. The truth is that they are on the verge of learning to love more.
How to learn to love
I invite couples to compare married love to an airplane built to fly with two engines. One engine is primary and one is secondary, but both are necessary to take off and to fly, especially in turbulence.
The auxiliary engine: Passion
Passion is the romantic, physical attraction of “I like you,” based on attributes such as youth, physical beauty, talents, character, and temperament. It can also be rooted in “I love you,” with a strong emotional, affectionate component that springs from the heart.
The nature of conjugal love is such that it brings together all the biochemical aspects of attraction such as testosterone, estrogen, serotonin, and other hormones that affect falling in love.
The airplane cannot fly on this engine alone. It would end up reducing love to its sensual and emotional aspects, leading to selfishness, which would not resist the ups and downs of turbulence.
It is a very necessary engine nonetheless, because in conjugal love, it’s necessary for the heart to feel to be moved. But it can break down, even if we don’t want it to. It can even shut off completely, affected by physical or emotional/psychological trials. But it can be restarted.
The main engine: The will
This engine does not turn off without our consent. On its own, it can keep the plane flying, even without the auxiliary engine. It’s the love of self-giving that consists in the reciprocal will to want what is good for the other.
With this love, we no longer love each other based as much on attractiveness, but on who we are in ourselves. We love our spouse, no longer for their physical aspects, but for the core of his or her incomparable and irreplaceable person.
A very clear example of this sublime love is when, after a serious accident, one of the spouses is left with a permanently disfigured face. Yet the spouse treats them no differently. The spiritual depth of their love is more powerful than a natural feeling of repugnance.
The fullness and integration of conjugal love
When we fly with both engines in our marriages, we can say it is a full and integrated love. All our biochemistry, passion and feelings, as well as understanding and will, work together for the good of our marital union.
At times, due to the demands of circumstances, the plane flies only with the engine of the will. This is an integrated and mature love.
But when it tries to fly only with the auxiliary engine, it’s an incomplete love. This puts the plane in danger, because it will fail in the face of difficulty.
“Wanting to keep on loving”
Integration is a dynamic characteristic of conjugal love. This capacity manifests itself in “wanting to continue loving.”
In this case, true love manifests itself as selfless, self-sacrificing, respectful and free. It establishes an order in aspects that have different degrees of priority and importance, according to the circumstances and cycles of life.
Developing the capacity to integrate love, based on the desire to keep love alive in young and mature marriages, is the best way to be happy. It rekindles the flame of romantic love, and the desire and capacity for physical intimacy.
If elderly spouses finish the flight of their life together only with the primary motor, they achieve it by the fullness of their love.
In both cases it’s the true form of conjugal love. Lasting love does not turn out to be integral and integrated only because it is rational and involves the will, but because it is true.