By Dr. Harold Sala
Husbands, love your wives… Ephesians 5:25
Believe it or not, there are corners of the world–some pretty large ones at that–where marriages are still arranged by parents. Young couples have little if anything to say about their future mates, and both are reluctant candidates, vaguely acquainted with each other, their marriages being arranged on the basis of social standings or, more likely, financial compatibility.
In Papua, New Guinea when a young male wants to marry, his family will arrange a marriage with a young woman who has promise of making an adequate wife. Generally three qualifications are necessary: She needs to be healthy to bear children, strong to tend the garden, and capable in doing the cooking and cleaning. Pooling the family resources, the family of the groom pays 15 to 20 pigs for the bride. Forget love and romance. This is a working arrangement. Often after the marriage is consummated, the young husband will beat his wife, establishing his dominance and headship–a great way to foster intimacy!
In China, where I’ve been working with pastors in rural churches, the practice of arranging marriage is still, on occasion, observed. No, it’s not as commercial as in Papua, New Guinea. The families of the two young people meet, discuss personalities and how a marriage would be beneficial to all concerned, and give their approval while the bride and groom stand shivering with apprehension, uncertain as to how they will relate to each other.
“How can people learn to love?” I am often asked. First, while romance is important, it’s of short duration compared to the impact of love which is a commitment, not simply an emotional high or feeling. Love and romance are often considered to be two sides of the same coin. They are different. Psychologists say that the heady elixir of romance usually subsides significantly in the 24 months following a honeymoon.
But if a marriage is to survive as a vibrant, meaningful, long-term relationship, a love between two people has to develop, whether it begins in courtship or after the marriage. Research involving 166 different cultures shows that love was the binding force in 147 of the 166 studied, and researchers who did the work say that the absence of love in the other 19 probably reflects “a deficiency of their study methods, not of local ardor.” (David Gelman with Paul Kandell, Isn’t It Romantic?” Newsweek, January 18, 1993, p. 60).
Approaching the bottom line, we have to ask, “What is love?” In tennis love means “nothing”; in marriage, it means everything. Paul answers that question in 1 Corinthians 13, which we’ll address on a future edition of Guidelines; however, I have just enough time for a closing thought.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London: Fontana, 1952, p. 13). So the way to fall in love is… to love, to treat the other as you want to be treated, to realize with God’s command to love comes the enabling of the Holy Spirit, who brings us into a relationship with God’s Son who is love–the purest, most divine love the world has ever seen.
I stand behind the statement that love is a decision, a commitment to care, and the heart can love regardless of the emotional temperature which rises and falls with the emotional bumps and grinds of life.
It is still what keeps marriages together day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
Resource reading: Genesis 24.