Volume 5 Number 2, 2005
When Married People Fall Out of Love: A unique opportunity for personal growth.
By Dimitrios Oreopoulos*
Professor of Medicine
University of Toronto
Delivered at the Clergy laity Conference, of the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada
Belville, Ontario May 24th 2005
Those of you who know me you know that my only credentials for participating in this panel are that I have been married to the same woman for 34 years and that I have 4 children and one grandson
I will address this topic under the following areas:
1) Why do we get married?
2) Marriage as a learning experience.
3) Facing difficulties in marriage.
4) Raising children and marriage.
Why do we get married? – “Falling in Love”
Of course procreation is one of the main goals. However this is beyond our control and, in this regard, we act (as any other animal) under the control of our genes and hormones, which guide a man to find a woman to ensure the continuation of his genes, and a woman to select
the right man, who will take care of herself and her children
I believe this stage that we call “falling in love” is the easiest and perhaps best part of the marriage. Unfortunately, once this event has been fulfilled, in most if not all cases, the couple usually “falls out of love”. Then the couple must begin the hard work to remain together and in love.
Fortunately we have three more reasons for getting married, which help us to remain together. 1) Persistence of sexual satisfaction, even though there is no further need for procreation 2) Taking care of and keeping company with each other and 3) A most important reason for the couple to stay together and in harmony is to create the healthy environment that is necessary for the raising of healthy children and to become happy and productive adults.
Falling out of Love
Recently StatsCanada reported that, overall, 38% of marriages are expected to end in divorce before their 30th anniversary. Stats Canada found that the third year of marriage is when most of the divorces occur. This, known to people for many years, is also expressed in the popular quote:
“First year, wife listens to husband
Second year, husband listens to wife
Third year, neighbors listen to both of them”.
Marriage as a Learning Experience
The two different people united in marriage are called upon to blend their many differences; differences in age, education, biological and spiritual makeup, family and social customs, spiritual culture, and sociological and metaphysical positions regarding basic aspects of life and its purpose. Above all, people, who were in love before, fall out of love when their egos collide in any of these areas
Here I would like to discuss how, after falling out of love, a couple can create a different kind of love, one that does not depend on our genes, but is more real and rewarding. As another popular quote says: “After a man and a woman get married, their romance ceases and their history commences”.
Scott Peck , the author of the book “The Road Less Traveled”. 15 years ago came to Toronto to give a lecture and more than 1500 people bought tickets to listen to this master, myself among them. I do not remember much about the topic and what he said, but I remember vividly that at one point he asked the audience: “Do you know why we have come here on earth?”. He then paused and there was a great silence in the audience. We were all waiting to hear from the master the secret as to why we came here on this earth. After a long pause he said: “We came here to learn”. Interestingly he did not specify what we should learn. I suppose this is up to each individual to find and define.
In my own case, I decided that I have come here to learn how to find God and to learn how to listen and hear what God wants me to do and be able to do it.
I believe strongly that I will find God only in my relationships with others. Mahatma Gandhi said: “If you don’t find God in the very next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for Him further”. Recently I was reading a book by Barbara Brown-Taylor entitled “Speaking of Sin”. There the author describes sin as “the choice to remain in a wrecked relationship with God and other human beings”. The essence of sin, according to the author, with which I agree, is not the violation of laws but the violation of relationships
I believe that among human relationships, that of husband and wife and that of parent and child are the most difficult but also the most educational and rewarding ones. One can describe two people in a marriage as those who are going through a private school, one of the best schools life can provide.
Jealousy, possessiveness, resentment, depression, abuse, etc. never work in this school. Neither does dropping out marriage and remarrying helps because, in the process, you take yourself with you.
The only way to “graduate from the school” is by changing yourself.
I believe that each one of us can change the world around him or her, and consequently his marriage, by changing him or herself. Most of us we expect our spouses to change hoping in this way that things will improve – this never works; you cannot force someone else to change.
Growing up and Loving Again
The only effective response to a breakdown in the relationship between a husband and a wife is for one of the partners to try to bring about a change within himself or herself irrespective of what the other wants to do; this is the beginning of growth that, in itself, results in a successful and peaceful life with or without your spouse.
To begin this change you first have to accept that some of the difficulties in the relationship lie within yourself, at least 50% of them. As they say “It takes two to tango”. You have to find out the defect that is within you and start working on it. This is the essential prerequisite to renewal. To succeed in this, you need help - you cannot do it by yourself. You can get help from a caring priest, who has experience in counseling, or a caring professional counselor/psychotherapist, or a close and wise friend. Above all you need a great deal of humility to accept that you cannot change with your own powers, and that you need to ask God’s help. Often the decision to ask for professional help is difficult, especially for us Greeks, but this is one of the most courageous and important steps in the growth process.
In this process one gradually can learn to avoid criticizing the other and cease complaining when things do not happen the way he or she expects. These are prerequisites if one is to reach the stage of forgiveness of the other and, equally important, to achieve forgiveness of one’s self. Forgiveness of the other and of one’s self are intricately interwoven. You cannot expect to be forgiven unless you forgive.
I must emphasize two points here: 1) when you forgive another, if it is done as a gesture of superiority or magnamity, it is a sign of arrogance. Only if you realize that the other is part of you and that you forgive yourself by forgiving the other, can it work and bring a relief and a sense of humility. 2) One has to overcome the feeling of guilt, which I believe is the main tool that the Devil uses to block our growth process and maturation.
Many people will say that only through love can you solve the problems in a relationship. I agree withy this but I believe that to reach this stage of love one has to go through these other stages of freedom from criticism, avoidance of grievances and total and absolute and unconditional forgiveness.
This change of mind – metanoia – is hard and difficult and I do not believe it can come through our own efforts alone. It needs God’s grace. It is reassuring in this respect to know that, even if we do not know and do not recognize it, God works continuously in us. Even if we fail again and again, as long as we get up and go on – not relying on our own efforts and power, but allowing Him to take over, there is hope for change
Once we improve in our relationship with our spouse, we may be strong enough to improve in our relationship with our children. As I said in the beginning, this is the other most important and at the same time most difficult relationship in our lives.
As in the relationship with our spouses, so in our relationships with our children
there is no room for a clash of egos. I believe we must accept them as they are, and must never forget that they are not our property but are God’s children.
In the end after they grow up and leave home, we must accept their choices of friends, occupations and spouses. Here, we, of the Greek Orthodox faith, living in Canada face a huge dilemma. What if the partner they choose is a person of another religion?
Having faced this situation with my own children, I am absolutely certain
that my love for my children is above anything else. If I love my adult children to the point where I accept their choices, whatever these are, then I have a chance to let God’s love do His work and bring the changes that He thinks are important for them.
I have been saddened on a few occasions when I have met parents who stopped
talking to their children, because they decided to marry a person of another faith or religion.
I hope that someday our church will overcome centuries of prejudice and show leadership, kindness and understanding by blessing such marriages.
Is the marriage either a harbor of happiness or a shipwreck? It all depends on your attitude. I believe it starts as a harbor of happiness but often goes through a storm that sometimes leads to a calm sea or to a ship wreck depending on whether or not the participants see it as an opportunity, to grow, and eventually find God and be able to do His will and work for His glory.
Most of the concepts presented here I have read in various books or heard in various audiotapes. I will be happy to discuss these sources with anybody interested.
D. G. Oreopoulos