One of the things my wife and I really enjoy doing as marriage and family therapists is offering classes to people of all ages, both single and coupled about the keys to building and sustaining healthy relationships. We especially love to offer them to teens and young adults so that they can recognize and use effective relationship skills as they begin to experiment with their first romantic relationships. When the movie Titanic was first released in 1997, my wife and I began incorporating the movie into our relationship skills classes. The movie was described then, and continues to be described today, as “one of the greatest love stories ever told.” Now that the movie has been re-released we are grateful that we can once again incorporate the movie into our discussions.
What may surprise you is the way in which we use the movie Titanic in our relationship classes. Rather than seeing it is a great love story, we argue instead that it represents everything that is wrong with the messages that popular culture presents about love. Referring to the relationship between the fictional couple Jack and Rose, the young couple in the movie, as “love,” is misleading and dangerous. These two people met on the ship and knew each other for three or four days. Granted, those few days were full of incredible passion and excitement, but a relationship that lasts a few days can hardly meet the standard of authentic, mature love. Jack and Rose really barely knew each other, and if Jack had lived they would have eventually faced many challenges that would have had to be addressed for the relationship to continue and flourish. Now if this or any movie actually told the story of a couple who spent several years addressing their differences and in the process build a strong foundation for their future, that would indeed demonstrate a great love story. Just as three great at bats don't define a Hall of Fame career for a baseball player, three days of passion don't define a great love story.
The confusing message that popular culture gives about love is that love is primarily a feeling, and that it is especially associated with the intoxicating feeling that accompanies the very first stages of falling in love. In our relationship classes we teach that real, mature love is just as much a decision as it is a feeling and it takes time. Love is an act of the will, an expression of our deepest core values and beliefs, as well as being a feeling. We teach that feelings ebb and flow in any love relationship, and that what sustains love through hard times is not feelings, but core values and commitment.
Perhaps the greatest words ever written about love appear in the Bible.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13).
Note that this description is not a a list of feelings, but rather a list of decisions that a person who loves makes day in and day out. The feelings of love will then flow from the commitment to live out these values and traits over time in a relationship.
So if you go and see Titanic I hope you thoroughly enjoy it. My wife and I certainly did when we saw the original fifteen years ago. It makes for a great movie and at the same time provides some great teachable moments about what authentic love is and what it is not.