Sunday, July 1, 2012

Passionate love and marriage

Myriam Tinti, an Italian acquaintance and a jurist, has communicated this interesting idea to me:

It is well recognized in the world literature of love, from Plato onwards, that there is such a thing as the “madness of love”. Neurobiological studies show that, when we look at the picture of someone with whom we are passionately in love, there is activation in certain specific parts of the brain but there is, as well, a de-activation of significant parts of the cerebral cortex. Among the areas which are de-activated are ones which have been associated with judgment.

If we accept that those who are passionately in love tend to be far less judgmental about their lovers – and there is little reason to doubt this – and if we accept further that this lapse in judgment is not general but specifically concerns the lover, then we have to accept that it is in general useless to argue with one who is passionately in love that “they have taken leave of their senses” even though they may seem otherwise quite sane and normal; it is useless to ask them to re-consider their relationship or renounce it. It is useless to try to reason with them that the union they propose is with the “wrong person” or that it runs counter to their culture, or economic or social status. Such arguments will make little difference to them.

This creates a problem. A cortical de-activation leading to a lapse of judgment may lead one to do things that they might later much regret, and if the lapse of judgment is specific to their romantic and passionate liaison, it might lead them to propose a permanent union in the form of marriage, even when (to others), such a course of action appears to be fraught with potential difficulties and possibly doomed. [In film, the transition – quite sudden – from passionate love to hate is well captured in Ingmar Bergman’s film, Summer with Monika]. What Miriam Tinti was suggesting is that one should consider the possibility of discouraging formally people who are passionately in love from getting married. Marriage is a big step and, at least in theory, a life-long commitment. It is a decision that must be reached with a good judgment, when one is in full possession of all one’s faculties. But if the judgmental system is de-activated, then a good judgment is not possible. Nor is it possible to convince people who are passionately in love that what they are embarking upon is a folly. Hence a “cooling off” period may be highly desirable.

The French use the term mariage de raison to characterize a marriage that has been agreed upon in full possession of one’s judgment; implied in this is the supposition that the decision to marry has not been reached during a lapse of judgment, and has not been reached when in a state of passionate love, which would constitute a mariage d’amour.

As I understand it from Myriam, the Catholic Church, which does not accept divorce, will nevertheless consider the lack of a discretion of judgment as a reason for annulling a marriage, if it can be proven that the marriage was entered into when one or the other had lost their judgment.

The relevant passage from the Codex Juris Canonici [Code of Canon Law] (Can. 1095, n. 2) reads as follows:

 The following are incapable of contracting marriage:
1° …
those who suffer from a grave lack of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted

Given that something like 50% of marriages in the Western world end in divorce and that many of the remaining marriages are sustained only for economic or social reasons, the issue of whether people who have lost their judgment because they are passionately in love should be formally asked to defer their marriage is worth considering. And passionate love is one of the conditions in which people appear to lose their judgment with respect to their lovers.

There are of course major problems as to practicalities, especially regarding how proof can be obtained. Tests would constitute a serious invasion of privacy (though it is interesting to note that a form of invasion of privacy was practiced in some countries, and still is in some states of the United States – the requirement for a blood test before a marriage license was issued, to ensure that neither party was suffering from a disease that could be passed on to the children – principally syphilis). Much less intrusive would be a good form of education – starting with sexual lessons at schools – that during passionate love, judgment is at serious risk of being suspended and that to enter into a marriage contract in that state carries with it serious potential problems.

At any rate, this is an interesting idea, which merits consideration.