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Long-Term Love: When Desire Meets Devotion

Picture: Lemuel Cantos

A little while back, Fairfax newspapers’ Good Weekend magazine asked this question: ‘Could infidelity save your marriage?’ The shock headline pointed to an excerpt from a new book by a controversial marriage therapist who suggests that a third person—either real or imagined—could re-boost flagging desire in a relationship.

Stories were included of couples who had decided to embrace, rather than fight, the temptation of an affair—either by talking about their feelings for other people, or by inviting the third person into the relationship. What I found interesting was that all the ‘open’ couples described in the article—those who allowed for sexual experimentation outside their marriage—admitted feeling intense pain and jealousy over their partner’s affairs. Might not this suggest that, deep down, the human being longs for a relationship of greater devotion and stability; a love that includes desire, but also devotion when desire naturally fluctuates?

During my final years living in Perth I got into a routine of doing laps at the local public pool three or four mornings a week. At 7am on a weekday the majority of clients at the Terry Tyzack Aquatic Centre in Inglewood are elderly. I’ll never forget the nice old dear who’d flash her big white dentures at me every morning before diving in to do four laps without taking a rest. Or the two Italian ladies who persisted in walking their laps in the fast lane while they loudly traded family stories.

I often got to witness the morning ritual of one particular couple, probably in their 80s. The lady would always be in the pool by the time I arrived—in the slow lane, paddling carefully with a kickboard. After the kickboard she’d slowly and methodically walk some laps. While this exercise routine was in progress, the woman’s husband would sit in a plastic chair by the side of the pool. He didn’t read the paper, or listen to a radio. He’d just watch her.

Finally, as wife completed her last lap, husband would get up from his chair and hobble to the side of the pool holding her towel and walking stick. The electric chairlift would bring her out of the water and he’d steady her as she swung out of the seat. Then they’d hobble along to the change rooms, she leaning on his arm while he walked bow-legged beside her.

For this couple all beauty and stamina had gone. All they had now was cellulite, fading eyesight, and back problems.

And each other.

We’re rapidly becoming a generation addicted to Eros. Research suggests that our teenagers have all seen pornography by the time they’re 15, and controversial marriage therapists advocate extra-marital affairs to maintain sexual thrill.

But that elderly man reflected Divine love to his wife—a love that acts in devotion when desire is gone. It’s my conviction that our relationships will flourish best when we do likewise; when the excitement of hot desire stays wedded to the long-term commitment of warm devotion.

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