With Valentine’s Day just passing, a comment came back to me out of my lifetime of conversations. Thirty years ago, I was visiting a nursing home resident’s wife as we prepared for his funeral. The old lady summed up their 60-plus-year marriage with the words, “I don’t think I ever loved him.”
How sad is that?
As a nursing home chaplain, I did not get to know patients and their spouses in their best days. They came to us a shell of their former selves.
He seemed to be a quiet introvert. He spent most of each day in his wheelchair, listening to recorded history books. She was friendly and faithful with her daily visits. She seemed happy.
A steady job and homemaking skills
They lived in Chicago, during The Depression. They attended the same church, a good place to meet like-minded people. He was 28 and she was 18 on their wedding day. He had a good job as a schoolteacher. She lived at home with her parents.
This was a different time when women mostly thought about finding a man to provide for them. Men were looking for a woman to bear their children and make the home. Evidently, at least for this couple, love was farther down the list of desired qualities in a long-lasting marriage. And yet they stayed together for 60 years.
Leaving a loveless marriage
Nowadays people handle loveless marriages differently. My friend’s husband left her for another woman after 30 years of marriage. A couple of months after he moved out, he told my friend, “I feel for her what I always wanted to feel for you.” She thinks he never loved her.
After a several years of being single, my friend married again. This time it was to a man who truly loved her. She had made a list of qualities she wanted to look for in a husband. She told me, “I made this list, and, for some reason, I did not have on the list ‘someone who loves me.’ Turns out, that was the most important quality. You would think I would have thought about love first.”
Perhaps a third way — falling in love with your spouse
Which is the better way? Staying in a loveless marriage or leaving it to find your true love? Or is there a third way? Falling in love with your spouse. It would have taken work and probably therapy. There must have been some small spark of love at the start. Perhaps that was an ember that could have been rekindled.
The old lady was of a different generation, so she had little awareness that she could have asked for more out of her marriage. My friend’s ex was of the mindset to take care of himself first, even if that meant finding love outside of the marriage.
Perhaps they both missed what could have been.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.