Book Excerpt: from "Building a Marriage of True Love" :: Section 1 - The Eternal Castle of True Love
~ "Building a Marriage of True Love" is a work in progress. I am publishing it here in serial form, as it is completed. Note that this section "The Eternal Castle of True Love" is NOT the same as the column of the same name. ~
Jan 1, 2004
When I was a small child in Maine, I loved reading folk tales about a Prince and Princess falling in love, getting married and living happily ever after. I imagined them standing on the parapet of a castle amidst the clouds, gazing out over a valley lush with foliage and singing birds. I wanted to be the Prince, with my true love at my side.
As adults, we may not have thought about our childhood dreams for a very long time, and may have given up on them all together. Or, we may still believe in them, but wonder how to turn our dreams of true love into reality. This book is based upon the belief that the doorway into the world of true love is open to everyone. The loss of a road map doesn't mean that the road is gone. Perhaps the first question to ask ourselves is, "wouldn't it be wonderful if we could indeed create marriages of true love?" How would we have answered that question as children?
As very small children, we hadn't yet learned about the cynicism and harsh realities of the vale of tears and bitter sea of human life. Children don't care very much about the conflicts of adults, the differences of language and culture, or the divisions of politics and religion. A little boy or girl will look at his father and mother and family with a simple heart, and just want true love to continue forever and ever. They're not very intellectual about it, but they're right on target.
I believe that our perception of heart and love has a chance to grow and deepen when we are children, but that it sometimes becomes sullied by continued exposure to mistreatment and pain. By the time we're adults, our sensitivity to the delicate nature of our own and others' hearts has often retreated in front of concepts, ideology and customs.
Customs have done dreadful things to marriage and marital happiness. Society has made marriage complicated, with a huge panoply of expectations between husbands and wives. Even today, in some cultures, wives are sometimes regarded by husbands as little more than chattel, while some wives look at husbands as a meal ticket for life. It must have been difficult for true love to flourish between many husbands and wives in societies such as sixteenth century England, with attitudes toward marriage like those of King Charles II, who disparaged the need for a man's wife to know other languages by saying, "Yes, but can she make a pudding?"
Marriage has suffered from being a hostage to convention and the necessity of "being proper." When my wife, Kim, and I watch movies about marriage in nineteenth century England, such as "Pride and Prejudice", based on the novel by Jane Austen, we often comment about the extreme lack of communication between men and women. One just doesn't say certain things, you know. It's simply "not done." A sentence that was often used at that time was, "Promise me you'll never speak of it again." Thus, problems between couples were buried away in corners of their hearts where they simply ached without resolution.
"Heartistic" is a new word that I like a lot. It's similar in meaning to "heartfelt". Heartistic communication about one's innermost thoughts and dreams hasn't played a very big role in Western marriage -- or for that matter, in marriage anywhere. Yet, marriage between husband and wife is the main event in bringing new life into the world in the form of children. It makes sense that marriage should offer more than dry conventions and dull mediocrity.
Let's strip away the trappings of national customs and historical conventions, and approach marriage from the standpoint of "heart" and "common sense." I'm very fond of "heartistic logic". Logic is a powerful tool, but logic needs a "base" or foundation of conceptual reality. The logic of love is very simple, and is based on the concept that true, unselfish love is the most powerful and wonderful thing in the universe and is also the most basic and desirable element of everyone's daily existence (whether a person realizes it or not).
Note that I said "everyone." It's rather bold to say that, but why not? Everyone throughout the world eats, sleeps and goes to the bathroom. These activities have nothing to do with religion or politics. No matter what one says about "universal truth", when the arguments are over, the debaters will need to catch a few winks after the sun goes down on all of them. Gravity will hold all of them gently in their beds. It's really not too much to assert that there are common internal truths -- just as there are common external truths.
Children are very good at grasping certain internal truths. A nursery group of interracial children who come from every country in the world would have no trouble agreeing that Mommy is the most important thing in their lives, followed in short order by Daddy. Why? If they were articulate enough to explain why, they would say, "Because Mommy and Daddy love me, and I love them."
When our son, Tadin, was four, I taught him a phrase that he really liked. I asked him, "Tadin, do you like true love?"
He said, "Yes." (Of course.)
I asked him, "Why?"
I taught him to reply, "Because true love makes me happy!"
I then tickled him mercilessly and told him that it made me happy, too.
I think that this is why the Bible says that we have to become like little children to go to the Kingdom of Heaven. Our mean old adult selves are just too grumpy and stuffy to admit that we like true love, too -- more than anything. Perhaps we're afraid that someone will find out that we have a soft heart, and we'll be seen as weak. For men, especially, strength is a quality that tends to become one of the primary virtues of a successful man.
I believe that strength can be misinterpreted when it comes to emotion and heart. Being physically strong is very nice, I'm sure. That's why I bought some bar bells and put them next to my desk so that I can lift them as I talk on the phone. I want to be like "Ahnuld" (Shwarzenegger), too. (I have a very long way to go.)
Strength in a man is sometimes established by being mean. There's even a phrase "Be mean or be square." The corporate board room becomes a pond to be pillaged by the meanest, toughest of the S.O.B's. Snake Plisken and Dirty Harry become our heroes.
The challenge for a real man of the twenty-first century is to be a man of unselfishness and true love. That takes strength - far more than many weight lifters or corporate sharks could even begin to muster. It takes fighting spirit to digest emotional pain and continue to give love to others when we don't particularly feel like it. It's very easy, on the other hand, to be selfish and crude and cranky and emotionally bent out of shape.
Mother Teresa received worldwide acclaim at her death because she consistently gave unselfish love to others. The strength of her heart and character towered far above her very tiny body. As she so amply demonstrated, giving true love requires a subjective and aggressive character. Amazingly, Mother Teresa struggled throughout her life with the crippling feeling that she was abandoned by God -- but she still devoted herself to a life of giving love to others. She struck out on her own, to found an order of nuns, without support or finances. She was strong, courageous and audacious. Her work was a testimony to the incredible strength of true love as a palpable working force in the world. The wonderful thing about true love, in fact, is that even though it's powerful, it's not mean or cruel or threatening. By its definition, true love denotes caring for others and serving others. Mother Teresa stated it well, when she said,
Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor ... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.
It's time for men to revolutionize their concepts of what it is to be a man. One could easily say that marriages throughout history have suffered more because of men's inadequacies than women's. Although this might seem unfair to men, shouldn't we men honestly take stock of our track record?
How much have we honored, valued, respected and loved women (with true love) throughout the ages? How often in history did we look at them as our equal partners and friends? Our attitude toward them has been less than wonderful. We didn't even let them vote, or participate in business affairs, until very recently -- a situation still unrectified in some parts of the world.
Our inability to communicate about our internal hearts, combined with our unconsciousness of our wives' feelings and troubles and our predilection toward a variety of crude physical activities have all reinforced some women's perceptions that "men are pigs." Come on guys, do women really like it when we smash beer cans on our foreheads?
This is not to say that women are pristine and spotless. Don't get me wrong. It's hard to say all these things as a man. I believe, though, that sometimes we need to be brutally honest with ourselves in our search for truth. How can men stand up straight when our shortcomings are so obvious? It's better for us to properly diagnose our situation so that we can improve ourselves as fast as possible. The bottom line for men -- and business men like talking about bottom lines -- is very straightforward: are women happy with men, in marriage?
With fifty percent divorce rates in America, and a large percentage of women in Japan unhappy in marriage, as two examples, we have to assume that men are causing at least half the problems in marriages. The numbers don't lie. There's room for improvement.
Women also have to face their share of the responsibility, if for no other reason than to admit that women, as mothers, play a major role in raising boys into men. If men grow up into lumps, what does that say about the lump's father and mother? The ability to give true love to others is a learned process that is often not learned at all. Children, for all their cuteness, spend a great deal of time fighting over toys and grabbing things for me, me, me. This can be confirmed by riding in the front seat of any mini van that has children in the back. Aren't some wars caused by big boys who never learned that they can't have everything they want? Aren't criminals just selfish little boys who became large enough to pick up a gun but never learned how to love as adults?
If giving true love to others has to be learned, it also means that true love has to be taught. Therein lies the crux of the problem. We've been caught in the middle of a vicious cycle of children never learning to love others who then grew up and couldn't teach their own children to love others. It's rare indeed to find someone who can say that his parents loved him with unselfish true love -- and then taught him to love others in exactly the same way.
The more typical scenario is common to many of us: our parents tried their best, but had many faults, and were not entirely able to impart God's true love to us as much as they should have. We, therefore, grew up to become flawed people who are struggling to love others, struggling to love our spouses, and struggling to love our children.
As men and women, it's not easy to examine the quality of our capability to give true love to others. True love is both a hackneyed phrase and a topic that is really not talked about very much in day to day society. Talking about true love in today's world is like looking for health food in a 7-11 store. You're much more apt to find a rack full of pink snowballs or Hostess twinkies.
The culture that we live in is formed by our collective opinions, thoughts and subsequent activities. I believe that it's time for a new culture to be created by the cumulative efforts of each of us. Just as the historical practice of child labor is now condemned as inhumane, it is up to all of us to establish a new standard of behavior in society that is rooted in "heart."
One definition of heart is "the desire to gain joy by giving and receiving love." Heart is at the core of each person's being. Everyone likes true love. There is no real reason to separate heart from any segment of our daily life. Heart should permeate our homes and marriages, and heart should flow throughout our business and professional lives. By establishing heart as the central ethic of our daily lives, we'll begin to create a "culture of heart" -- a culture based on the standard and belief that unselfish love for others has the highest value in society.
If the only "normal" way for a mature human being to act is to serve others with kindness, compassion and God's quality of love, then it would make sense that a "heartistic" standard of behavior should become the norm in society. To some extent, that standard lies at the root of modern society (based on aphorisms such as the "Golden Rule"), but it doesn't receive enough press or support. Our criminal justice system does its best to restrict selfishness in society by jailing miscreants -- but our families and educational systems don't adequately teach children, couples and young parents how to create individuals, families and societies of true love. Living in the culture of heart would make people very happy indeed. It's an idea talked about more and more these days -- and it's an idea whose time has come.
Many religious, cultural and political leaders are currently looking at the family as the key factor that will swing the pendulum of history toward the culture of heart. The family is where children learn about love. For new generations of children to grow up and become mature, heartistic men and women of true love, families today must be revolutionized by a transformation of heart.
At the center of the family is the relationship of love between the husband and the wife. That relationship, tragically, has been very damaged today. Couples are all over the map when it comes to commitment and standards of marriage, but perhaps today's standard of marriage can best be summed up by the phrase "prenuptial agreements."
Prenuptial agreements assume that there's a very good chance that the marriage won't last, giving rise to the need to agree ahead of time about the division of money and children. What a horrific practice! The prenuptial agreement should be very simple: no divorce; no adultery; love each other and the children for ever and ever and ever. Of course I realize that very rich individuals have been taken for a ride by "gold-diggers". I understand their reasons for pre-nupts. However, should we allow marriage to be degraded to mere legalese?
What does it mean to be a true man or true woman? Although we haven't reached that standard yet, shouldn't we lock on to the target of becoming men and women of true character? Hasn't the consensus throughout much of recorded history been that a person of true character is one who lives for others and keeps his or her commitments? A gentlemen's agreement used to be, "my word is my bond." We admire that kind of honesty and valor. It takes guts to keep one's commitments, but it's worth it.
One problem with marriage is that our ability to love is so crippled that we've lost confidence in our ability to maintain and deepen a happy relationship with our spouse. Since nobody likes to be unhappy, it's natural to reach the conclusion that if one is unhappy, divorce is the only reasonable solution. Unfortunately, the damage caused by broken relationships, both to the couple and to any children involved, is so devastating that the short term solution of divorce is a cure often worse than the disease.
Talking about divorce is very difficult. I don't think anyone should ever judge anyone else because the other person went through a divorce. Who are we to judge anyone? Thus, in this book, any discussion of divorce is not meant to be judgmental. Instead, it's discussed from the viewpoint that divorce is a situation that most couples would like to avoid -- thus it's worth talking about, with a sympathetic attitude toward all parties concerned. Even if one is divorced, one doesn't want to get divorced the next time around.
Divorce is complicated; and anyone who has suffered through a difficult marriage and divorce will be quick to defend their decision to divorce their spouse. There are extreme cases where divorce protects the children or spouse from physical or emotional abuse. It's therefore very difficult to say, "never divorce under any circumstances." What if the husband was beating and abusing the wife or children? What if one partner was unfaithful and left?
It's the middle ground of originally happy marriages that have soured that really needs to be reexamined. These types of divorces often happen because the couple's love has dried up -- and that's a tragedy that should, if possible, be avoided. With so many marriages in trouble, isn't there a better medicine than divorce?
Marriages sometimes founder because the husband or the wife or both don't adequately give true love to each other. The operative phrase is "give true love." The sad reality is that many of us were never taught how to love others. Was there a class on "giving true love to others" in any of the schools that we attended? Did our parents teach us about that? Mine didn't. My father came from the old British school of stiff upper lips and zero communication about heartistic matters. He was a decent man, but was entirely incapable of talking about heart or love or his own internal feelings. My mother was an artist, teacher and writer, but was more intellectual than heartistic.
Couples meet, fall in love, and get married. How many couples (prenupts aside) go into marriage hoping that their love will decline and their marriages will end? Somewhere between zero and very few, I would think. Yet, their love declines, sometimes after thirty or forty years. What happened?
There are many elements of a successful marriage, but I would like to highlight two general points here. The first is our vision of what the marriage will be like. Traditional Christian marriage ceremonies contain the phrase, "until death do us part." A concept of marriage that I personally prefer is the one that makes a commitment to become an "eternal" husband and wife, based on a common belief in God.
Pledging one's love to each other for eternity, and pledging to become a couple of true love under God, has a profound practical impact on the daily life of a husband and wife. Eternity is a very, very long time. It's not pat or simplistic at all to say that the idiosyncrasies of our spouse become very tiny in front of the knowledge that our spouse will have thousands of years in the spiritual world to grow, and become more mature and loving.
Many husbands or wives could list certain defects of their spouses that they're dissatisfied with, and would like to see changed. That's very normal. Those defects become very big in the context of our short life on earth. Happiness "now" becomes very important. However, when we compare the "laundry list" of complaints that we might have about our spouse, against a more Godly standard of unselfish and eternal love, the laundry list becomes more manageable.
I'm not suggesting that digesting the pain that is caused by one's spouse is easy or pleasant. What I'm really suggesting is that we raise our standards for ourselves, and expect more from ourselves. Building an "eternal castle of true love" is something that each of us must build, brick by bloody brick, sometimes sweating and crying as we go, until we breathe a deep sigh of joy (and relief) as we stand on the parapet next to our beloved. Adopting the view that our marriage is for eternity, and that we are committing ourselves to love our spouse with a love that is as close to God's love as we can muster, provides us with heartistic strength when we need it most.
I love my wife deeply. In fact, to quote a line from the movie Bambi, I'm utterly "twitterpated" with my wife -- a word denoting the crazy, springtime love that animals have for each other. Does this mean that my wife and I never had any struggles? Sigh. Unfortunately, we did. Have struggles, that is. And we still do. My conclusion is that we sometimes still have conflict in our relationship, or experience hurt feelings, because both of us are still very far from being one hundred percent pure. A person who has no defect, or sin, or flaw, and is able to love others one hundred percent, with God's quality of love, might be compared to a person who is "pure gold." Unfortunately, of course, my wife and I are not at all pure gold, but are copiously streaked with big ugly spots of lead. When Kim and I try to heartistically meld ourselves into one, much like two nuggets of ore melting together, the chunks of lead sometimes get in the way, and we end up having conflict.
It is at these times that we need to gaze forward into eternity, at the beautiful vision of a marriage between a husband and wife who have no streaks of lead at all, and who love each other completely. To adopt a samurai way of thinking, we might say that we'll endure "beyond death." No matter how much pain we endure, no matter how many tears we cry, no matter how much we have to digest, we will continue to humble ourselves (realizing that our own love is still vastly deficient) and gather ourselves up once more to give love again. And again and again. Perhaps it's because I have some very good friends who are Japanese that I resonate with this way of thinking -- but it has stood me in good stead. From a western viewpoint, we might express it in the phrase, "the buck stops here."
The laundry list that we might be carefully compiling against our spouse pales if we really look at our own quality of love. In a very real sense, it doesn't matter how much love our spouse has -- it only matters how much love we express toward our spouse.
That's the rub, of course. Having a vision of eternal true love is all well and good, but do we really have to build the castle, one brick at a time? What if we don't know how to build a castle of true love?
That, of course, is the question. How to build a marriage of true love. How to build it from the very first day of marriage, and how to build it from the first moment that we meet the one that we end up marrying later.
The how business is "where the rubber hits the road", so to speak. Although there are many "methods" of building true love, perhaps the most critical prerequisite for success is the most difficult part of all -- becoming a person of true love as an individual. Before we can attempt to do that, we need to establish and clarify the definition, standard and goal of true love.
(to be continued)
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”
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