Love requires sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. You will have a good marriage and love life if you learn to sacrifice for your spouse. Learning to love is learning to sacrifice. Love requires sacrifice.
I could not count the number of times I have seen one of these sentences or some variant in the online world of Catholic blogs. I’ve read it so many times that I now find it disconcerting. I believe wholeheartedly in what our Church teaches about love. So why then does it unsettle me when all of the articles and blogs I read mention one of those “love requires sacrifice” bits? Simply because I think we’re missing the mark; there is something critical that isn’t mentioned enough or even at all in many cases.
We talk incessantly about how love requires sacrifice and how sacrifice in the name of love is life-giving. Jesus himself came to earth and sacrificed himself to assure us the promise of hope in our earthly life and of life after death, so I can see where this notion stems from. Even with that taken into consideration, I find it problematic that when it comes to the love for significant others and spouses the conversation fixates only on the sacrificial element, and little discussion goes into why you would sacrifice for that person in the first place.
I think there are two sides to romantic love: affection, which is the feeling part of love that comes from the heart; and commitment, which is the willful part of love that commits to do what needs to be done. When one both feels affection towards a romantic partner and is committed to loving them, sacrifice becomes something one wants to do, instead of something one has to do. I need to add, though, that I’m not referring to duty in matrimonial love, nor am I suggesting that a lack of affection merits the breaking of marital vows. I’m not at all an expert with the authority to determine the rectitude of such a delicate topic. I write as someone who is still in the stage of deciding with whom I would make that commitment and of understanding the reasons why I would do it.
A few years ago, I took a look at what commitment without affection could look like when a longtime acquaintance of mine demonstrated interest in me. He was a longtime acquaintance and someone I knew to be a great guy. He was studious, devout, respectful, and principled. That being said, I didn’t feel comfortable with him. He demonstrated interest in me, and I didn’t respond well to his advances because he didn’t inspire any interest or romantic affection in me. Moreover, the most salient features of his personality did not mesh with mine at all. This is no one’s fault; it’s just the way it was. I’m certain that had we continued spending time with each other he would have realized that I didn’t inspire authentic affection in him either.
Now, let’s say that in some alternate universe I was forced into an arranged marriage with this guy or any other man who didn’t inspire authentic affection in me. Simply because he would have the title of “husband” and because we are expected to sacrifice for our spouses, I would be expected to sacrifice for him. But would I want to sacrifice for him? Would I want to wake up at two in the morning to talk to him on the phone if that were the only time we both could talk? Would I want to make spending time with his family a priority? Would I want to learn to better the worst parts of my behavior so that I could treat him as he deserves to be treated? Would I want to go pick him up at midnight when his car got a flat tire? Would I want to do my best to respect his interests even if I don’t share them in the slightest? Would I want to do mundane things if that meant simply getting to spend more time with him? Would I want to spend my time and energy trying to find him the perfect birthday gift? Would I want to set aside something I want to do to let him choose? Would I want to do any of that?
No, because I don’t love him.
If we focus only on the binding requisite of sacrifice in love, we risk ignoring the feelings in our hearts that guide and inspire us as we make important choices. I knew in my heart I never felt authentic affection for the guy I described above, and I was not about to waste the love I had to give on someone who didn’t inspire authentic affection in me. On the contrary, let’s say I was talking about someone who I could say this about: I love the way he hugs me tightly, I love the smile that breaks across his face when he sees something funny, I love the patience he has for me, I love his unwavering sense of integrity, I love the care he shows for his loved ones, I love how he notices the nuances in my expressions, I love the look on his face when he’s trying to figure something out, I love his cool and thorough use of intellect, I love that he listens to everything I want and need to say, I love that he notices what most others don’t, I love that he is guided by his heart in more ways than he realizes, I love the way he loves me. For this man, I would gladly sacrifice for and love. Why?
Because I love him.
When we find a person who inspires authentic affection in us, we love them and so choose to commit ourselves to them in a relationship. In a love-centered relationship, that commitment entails sacrifice; it entails putting that person’s needs and wants above our own many, many times. When it finally comes down to marriage, it is because we have found the one person who inspires authentic affection in us the way no other man or woman can or has, and that makes us want to commit to that person -for life. Loving someone by way of that commitment requires choice, but what gets us to the point where we want to make that commitment is authentic affection. This affection -this love- is important because we feel it in our hearts, and it inspires us to make a commitment to the other person, to make decisions that put the good of that person first. If you don’t develop that sense of affection for the person you are with, a desire to make that commitment and those decisions will not be born within you. We are talking about the Catholic Church, though. If you are called to marriage, this church expects you to get married for one reason and one reason only: love. You must feel authentic affection -love- for the other person, and this will guide your actions when the other person is being difficult to love or when the circumstances in and of themselves get difficult. After all, Jesus did not sacrifice himself for us simply because he “had to” or was “expected to.” He desired to do so because he felt great love for us and chose to show it. It came from the heart, not from a rigid sense of duty. So when we look for a significant other and ultimately a spouse, we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice for just anyone; let us look for the one person who makes us want to show our love for them, sacrifices and all.