The story unfolds in the same manner as the plethora of celebrity couple breakups before them. The couple issues a joint statement explaining how they are getting a divorce due to “irreconcilable differences,” but that while the marriage is over, they still “love each other and always will.” And not for the first time, I’m left pondering to myself (and let’s be honest, anyone who will listen), “If you still love each other, why are you getting a divorce?”
Call me naive or an idealist, but it seems to me if you still love a person, you should still be willing to stay married to them. It shouldn’t matter that she’s gained a few extra pounds since the marriage first started, or that he never brings you flowers anymore. Or if you’re both just too darn tired after work and after raising kids every day to find a moment to be passionate. The love should still be there.
Shakespeare once said in my favorite sonnet of his, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove” (Sonnet 116). In other words, your love doesn’t change just because the object of your affection has. The person you started dating or married years ago is not going to stay the same. People mature as they grow older. They change mentally, emotionally, and physically. But to toss someone aside when this alteration occurs speaks of a total misunderstanding of what love really is.
True love is not a bubbly feeling in the pit of the stomach when you see the object of your affection. It’s not a pulsating desire to rip someone’s clothes off every time you see them enter the room. True love is a choice. It’s an every day decision to be totally unselfish and compassionate with another person regardless of what they do to you. It’s the nitty-gritty, “I’m still going to make you dinner even though you were a total jackass to me ten minutes before.” It’s coming to rescue your girlfriend/wife in freezing cold weather after she gets a flat tire and can’t remember how to change it. It’s compromise; it’s apologizing; it’s putting the needs of another human being above your own.
Sometimes you might go days not actively liking the person, but you still choose to love them. And sometimes it seems you get nothing in return for your love. But as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Love is never wasted, for it’s value does not rest in reciprocity.” Yes, sometimes you might be giving it all, and your partner is not keeping up their end of the bargain. In my opinion, those are the times your spouse/partner needs your love even more. That’s not the time to throw up your hands in defeat and demand you break up.
I realize there are legitimate reasons to break up: abuse, neglect, addiction, adultery, etc. But what I’m talking about is the blanket “irreconcilable differences” that so many couples cite on their divorce papers. What can be so irreconcilable that you’re willing to divorce over it, but is not so irreconcilable that you don’t stop loving your ex? What are we really talking about?
I think it comes down to people believing that marriage is built only on eros, the Greek term for sexual love. While this is an important component, there is the love of friendship (philos), the familial bond of storge, and the self-sacrificing love of agape that all marriages should build upon as well. Why? Because, at the end of the day, there may be times you don’t feel romantically attracted to your mate, but that doesn’t mean you still don’t love them. It means you might have to work harder on reigniting the spark that once came so easily in the early stages of the relationship. I think as the spark dwindles, all the little foibles and flaws you once thought you could handle because you loved your spouse sooooo much becomes magnified. Suddenly, the grass is greener somewhere else.
“I bet if I was married to her, she wouldn’t let herself go.”
“I bet if I was dating him, I’d still be treated like a princess.”
Tolstoy once wrote, “When you love someone, you love the person as they are, and not as you’d like them to be.” There should be no trait or quirk in a person so annoying that it’s past forgiveness. Nothing should be irreconcilable. True love doesn’t change.