I don’t know much about Leonard Cohen, but I do know he was on to something when he wrote the song “Hallelujah”. My favorite verse, “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken hallelujah,” echoes as a very genuine and realistic depiction of love for me.
When I was working on my master’s degree in counseling, I’d envisioned myself helping families. However, I never felt particularly drawn to couple’s counseling in the same way as some of my colleagues. In a comical twist of life, a majority of my caseload now consists of married couples. And when you think on it, which I clearly hadn’t, it makes complete sense. If a couple doesn’t have it together, how could you expect their nuclear family to?
Through experience and reasoning, it’s safe to say that if a couple does not have it together, their family will likely suffer as a result. All that to be said, one of the dysfunctional aspects I often come across in marriage counseling is the definition of love, i.e. “what does it mean to love someone?” I bring it back to the words of Leonard Cohen. Because most of us enter into love thinking it will always be this grandiose and constantly fulfilling relationship. However, as the years progress past the honeymoon phase, we find we’ve been sold a bill of goods. A good marriage takes sacrifice, and it takes brokenness and humility. I don’t know about you, but for me personally these words don’t necessarily strike the joyous tone. I’d rather hear words like passion, romance, excitement, and spontaneity.
Don’t get me wrong, a good marriage consists of these things, but you can’t put the cart before the horse. Whose needs are you attempting to meet when you consider romance and excitement? Some of the most passionate and spontaneous people have some of the worst marriages. For instance, what I think of as passionate is not often the same thing my wife considers to be passionate. Like most couples, anything related to sex is passionate for me, and this is not so for my wife. In fact, any number of different things on any given day might be passionate for her, and not necessarily sexual either. From unloading the dishwasher or chasing the kids in the back yard, to rubbing her feet with nothing expected in return. Each of these actions will net much more mutual love than the words, “Let’s have sex baby.”
So when I talk about not putting the cart before the horse, it’s really a simple concept, and one that requires you to get out of your own way. It’s not easy being selfless, but the opposite is narcissism combined with strained relationships. I like to see couple’s have a healthy dose of self-esteem balanced with a service like attitude toward their significant other. Being humble and sacrificial takes work, sometimes over the course of an entire life span. But in the end, true sacrifice begets true love every time.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
I’d like to hear from the husbands out there who’ve really worked at putting your spouse and children’s needs above your own. What does it look like and what have you done to change the paradigm in your family?