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Unselfish Love: The Engine that Drives Successful Marriages and Families

Jul 1, 1999
If one counted all the marriages in history, on all the continents of the world, how many, and what percent would qualify as happy marriages? How many would be classified as marriages of endurance, suffering, or simply dull mediocrity? Nowadays, it's easier to quantify the success rate in marriage, because couples no longer endure difficulties in their relationships as much as in the past. Now, they get married on one side of the street in Las Vegas, and divorced on the other side.

With a fifty percent divorce rate in America, more and more couples are seriously investigating new methods of creating successful marriages. That's good news, because it reveals that our world really is changing. Rather than stagnating in the prison of social conventions and historical customs, husbands and wives are asking hard questions about the internal content of marriage.

My personal feeling is that the creation of a successful marriage and family requires a great deal of thought and reflection. It can't happen by chance, because if it could, the historical record would be a lot better than it is. Rather than chance, a victorious marriage should be based upon determination, and clarity of thought and heart.

If we were animals, our unions would be purely instinctual. If we were only business machines, our marriages would be reduced to contracts and the bottom line. I think that most people, no matter how vaguely, believe that human marriage is, and should be, based upon relationships of love. The problem, of course, is that love itself hasn't been generally clarified and codified into a commonly taught system of "heartistic" laws and principles. Everyone has their own opinion about love, and their opinion is apt to change based upon their own personal circumstances.

Isn't it true that countless husbands and wives have suffered emotionally because they haven't "been on the same page" when it came to attitudes about love, values, ethics, and the relationship between love and their daily lives? Isn't it also true that many of these problems were not caused by malevolence but by lack of thought, lack of clarity, lack of communication, and even a general disinterest in the discussion of love and heart?

Fortunately, people seem to share a basic and innate desire to be good -- or at least to be known as good. Society is changing, and humankind is becoming more enlightened. Education about values, ethics, and "heart" is becoming more and more interesting to people. People want to know how to make their marriages work. At the same time, it's the responsibility of all of us to ensure that children, now and in the future, learn basic principles of success in marriage before they're married.

What then, is the basic ingredient, or core principle and ethic, of a successful marriage and family? Can't that question be answered by reflecting about the primary ingredient of love itself? Love is generally attractive to people because love should produce joy -- the joy that comes when one cares for others, and is cared for in return. Isn't the joyful aspect of love based upon a desire and commitment to be unselfish? If two people were completely selfish, their relationship would not commonly be regarded as an example of true love.

Unselfish love for others, and the desire to bring others joy and happiness by expressing love to them, is an attitude and commitment that few would find distasteful. Who doesn't like to receive unselfish love? Who finds that giving love to others produces a feeling of revulsion? I can't think of anyone. One could go on and on, but the real evidence lies deep inside each person's heart. Philosophers can debate about love in wildly abstract language, and seem very profound indeed, but finally, a child will kiss the philosophers' cheeks and vanquish them entirely.

Many people today will agree that the ethic of unselfish love for others is the highest value that mankind can strive to attain. Many will also agree that unselfish love couldn't possibly have evolved from rocks and dust, but must indeed have been created, along with the rest of our universe, by a higher being, or God. It might be more technically correct to say that unselfish love was not only created by God, but that God is the actual power source of a universal atmosphere of love, very much like air, that mankind can either help maintain and expand -- or pollute with selfishness.

Even with a wide consensus that unselfish love is of the highest value, marriages still fail, and families are often quite miserable. There are large gaps between generally agreed upon precepts, such as the Golden Rule, and the daily and habitual practice of unselfish love. Husband and wives don't set out to be cruel or insensitive, but, to everyone's regret, it happens far too often.

The first gap is the most difficult to cross. Through a process of discussion, study, prayer, and truly honest communication, the husband and wife need to reach the point where they can look each other in the eyes and agree that giving unselfish love to each other, their children, and other people is indeed a central desire of their lives. Both as individuals and as a couple, they need to make the commitment that giving unselfish love to others will become a habit, a way of life, and the root of all their decision making.

This may sound intimidating -- but it's really not. If we adopt unselfish love as the primary ethic that drives all of our decisions, won't our relationships improve and grow to a much more joyful level? If selfishness was our primary methodology, one can imagine how cold and miserable our relationships would become. It's the unhappy reality of many marriages and families that the husband and wife are simply not thinking about these topics very much at all, but are simply dragging themselves through the daily grind of this "vale of tears."

In order for this commitment to make a difference, unselfish love needs to become a constant and frequent topic of conversation, both between the husband and wife, and the parents and children. Children are very, very responsive to this topic. If the parents teach their children, verbally and by example, that unselfish love is the most wonderful thing in the universe, the children will surprise their parents with the depth of their hearts. My wife and I teach our children in simple language. For example, they all know that "the rule of heart" is to "never make anyone sad, and always make other people happy." It's simple, but it's a principle that's strong -- a spine of heartistic truth that will guide them in the future.

When a husband and wife adopt unselfish love as their primary and daily methodology, their love for each other will grow more beautiful as the years go by. They will begin to treat each other with increasing care and consideration. To do otherwise would go against their value system. When a husband and wife stop to reflect that perhaps that day they didn't give enough, serve enough, or love enough, they will repent, and try again. This value system engenders humility, because one can't be proud of oneself if it's so very clear that true unselfish love is still a goal to be reached.

The common desire and commitment to give unselfish love to others will become the "engine" that drives the relationships between the husband, wife and children over inevitable rough spots and misunderstandings. Unselfish love will become the engine that creates a successful marriage and family that not only will never run out of fuel, but will expand and grow eternally as a family of true love.

(Comments are moderated and must be approved.)
Peter Falkenberg Brown
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