“To love and to cherish, till death do us part” is a traditional wedding vow that many couples utter. But what do we make of this promise after our marriage has progressed through the years?
Divorce, not death, often parts couples. According to Statistics Canada, about 38% of all marriages now end in divorce, slightly down from the peak of 41% in the mid ’80s. In the U.S., up to 45% of marriages result in divorce. We can assume these divorcing couples no longer love each other. The harsh reality is love alone does not keep people together. Although it often forms the foundation of a relationship, other feelings must buttress love for it to endure.
Social media has trivialized the word “like”, but I want to restore it to its former depth. Because liking our partner constitutes the essence of a successful relationship. We can love people yet not want to see much of them. However, especially in our later years, the amount of time spent with our partner increases. We best enjoy these additional hours, days, weeks, months. To do so we must like our partner’s very being, and he or she must feel the same.
When couples don’t seem to care for each other, their exchanges reveal impatience, annoyance. They quibble, publicly, over small issues: which route to drive, what anecdotes to tell — or not, what to order in a restaurant. Even though they may still feel love, they do not appear to like each other.
Instead of evaluating the degree of love in our relationship, we should declare a project to like our partner. Every day. To prioritize friendship. That means appreciating their company, showing them respect, having fun together, talking — and listening — with open minds and hearts, encouraging their aspirations, accepting their, and our own, limitations. When we disagree, let the disagreements occur in the privacy of our home. That’s a sign of respect — for ourselves and our audience.
Glen directed me to a passage near the end of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd that captures elegantly the gravity of liking our life partner. When Bathsheba and Gabriel finally reach an understanding to marry, the narrator says: “They spoke very little of their mutual feelings; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best until further on… This good fellowship — camaraderie — usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death…”
What’s music to my ears at this stage? “I like you.” •
P.S. Friends of ours will celebrate 50 years of marriage in June. I bet they like each other!
P.P.S. In all our important relationships — with spouses, family, friends — we should aim to love and to like.