Sunday, December 18, 2011

What My Mother-in-Law Taught Me about Love

Years ago, my mother-in-law asked me a question about love which I have never forgotten. She asked this:
If a man and woman were placed on a desert island, though they were different ages, looked different, came from different cultures, spoke different languages, and had different interests and personalities, what would eventually happen to them?
 After some thought I said, "They would find a way to fall in love." Yes, that was her point.

What do you think?

I have thought about that question for many years, and I have come to the conclusion that love is possible in any situation where a couple offers respectful attention to each other.

Have you ever said to yourself, "Wow, how did those two get together?" Or, "What do those two see in each other?" I think it's because the "desert island" principle can apply to any relationship.

To me, respect is the doorway to love, and respect opens the way to trust which is the foundation of love.

On a desert island, you would be forced to focus and give your attention to just that one person. (Well, you could choose to ignore that person, but you likely would not.) And as you gave attention, if you wanted a desirable response, you would have to offer your positive, respectful attention, and then the thousands of daily, even hourly negotiations you must make with another person in order for your relationship to work.

My point is—and I think my mother-in-law's point was—in marriage, we are essentially on a desert island together, and if we choose to give this respectful attention to each other, the kind that builds trust, love will grow, no matter how different we are, no matter how different we see the world.

Some of you may feel shipwrecked, marooned on that desert island, and that there is no escape from your bad relationship. But I look at it differently, the result from what I have seen in hundreds of marriages over many years.

First, love is a choice, not an accident.

We talk of "falling of love" and I do believe in that magical part of love that we all experience and that comes from romance. But more than that, I believe that love is the result of how we choose to treat another person. If we treat them with kindness and true respect, if we serve them from our hearts, and give them our earnest attention, we will love them and that love will grow stronger and stronger and stronger.  Even if we are vastly different from that person. Even is we have in the past been disappointed by that person, or even heart broken by their choices, we can love them again.

Second, if love is a choice, we can choose to love the same person again and again.

Even if we have fallen into stinky little patterns of disrespect and distraction in our relationships, even if we have allowed our hearts to grow cold, we can choose again. And again and again. And if we choose to show respect and offer service, love will grow again.

I am not saying you can always trust again. There are some situations where trust is absolutely broken and is impossible to rebuild in this life. But I tend to be optimistic and to believe that trust can be rebuilt in most situations, even where transgression is involved. But again, that is a choice.

If your love has waxed cold, you can love your spouse again, if you choose to, even if that spouse has made mistakes, perhaps big ones. It is your choice, and no one else can choose for you. But I will say that, over the years, the couples I have seen who choose to hold things together, to work things out, to choose love again, tend to be much happier in later years.

There are some situations, I am sad to say, where one or both parties have gone so far off the deep end, that it is impossible to trust the other and to live with them.  As a friend and colleague recently taught me, "Divorce is never the right thing, but sometimes it is the best thing."

No one can choose that for you. No one can be your conscience for you. Not your bishop or your priest or your minister. But I do know this. We must not judge. We must not burden others with our judgement, for God will render the same judgment on us that we render to others (see Matthew 7:1,2).

More often than not, I believe that love, and the relationships that nurture and protect love and the family, can be rebuilt if they rebuild on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You might have to carve your way through a jungle on your desert island to "find" that person again, but I know this for sure, you can love them again, if you choose to.

1 comment:

  1. I gave the same hypothetical to my wife a month or two ago. I said "Take a man and a woman, put them together on a deserted island, and even if they were married to other people, I wouldn't give them six months to a year but they would be living together as man and wife on that island. They would literally have to live separate and apart in order to keep from falling in love with one another." My wife made a token argument that wouldn't necessarily happen, but I think it would Now, I wouldn't say that is the case in absolute terms. It is possible to cohabitate with members of the opposite sex and it not turn into something more than good friendship. However, I believe that for most of us, most of the time, the need to have our emotional needs met outweigh most other obstacles. Society at large keeps a check and balance on how we meet those emotional needs, usually through marriage. However, if you take away the external influences, I think most of us would find ourselves looking to a member of the opposite sex to fulfill our needs. Elder Robbins has a good talk on love and agency in the Ensign. Love is a function of our agency, and we must exercise it. Just like a muscle, it becomes stronger the more we use it!

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