One day, my wife and I were listening to a playlist of Disney songs with our two little girls when the sentimental love song "I See the Light" from “Tangled” came on.
I walked over to my wife, who was in the kitchen, took her in my arms and started dancing with her slowly.
I could tell it caught her off-guard and embarrassed her a little -- it came out of nowhere. Thank goodness she stayed in my arms and danced with me anyway.
As the song approached the final chorus, I looked in my peripheral vision and suddenly realized we weren't alone. Our daughters were standing there watching us in silence.
The song approached the end and as the strings played the last notes, I decided to give the girls a Hollywood ending. I took my wife's face in my hands and kissed her.
After I pulled away, I looked over and saw my oldest daughter's face lit up with adoration, and her eyes filled with tears. Then she came over, buried her face in my wife's legs, and cried.
"Why are you crying?" my wife asked.
My daughter was at a loss for words, so I tried a different angle.
"Can you at least give me one word to describe how you're feeling?" I asked.
My daughter paused, looked up at us and said, "Loved."
It reminded me of seeing my dad kiss my mom, leaving me feeling pleasantly embarrassed as a child. I wanted to watch their smooch and hide my face at the same time. And while there were no words to describe how I felt at the time, looking back, I know what it was: I felt loved.
My Prince Charming and Cinderella had built a castle of affection that surrounded me, making me feel safe and protected -- at least I felt that way when the walls were strong.
Over time, life did irreparable damage to my parents’ marriage. The death of two children, serious health issues, financial troubles and conflict -- they all took their toll.
After 17 years together, Prince Charming and Cinderella finally turned and walked away from each other. Their love story was over.
It’s hard to describe the feelings that swirled around my young mind in the wake of my parents’ death -- and that’s not a typo. Their divorce felt like they had died in a way, and from my limited perspective, it was a death they chose.
I was an orphan of sorts -- a little less loved.
In the years after my parents’ divorce, my mom eventually began doing something that meant a great deal to me: She would voluntarily speak kindly of my dad, affirming his good qualities and she would even share memories of their happier days.
It never ceased to leave me feeling a little lighter, a little more hopeful. Perhaps it made me feel a little more loved.
Never underestimate the power of your love for your spouse. Your kids are watching as you smile and give each other a peck on the lips when you say goodbye to each other in the morning.
They’re listening when you compliment one another. And even if your marriage has fallen apart, your kind words about each other are communicating a powerful message: Love doesn’t have to die, even if a marriage doesn’t make it.
Demonstrating marital love to our children is a privilege, a unique chance to be both a good parent and a good spouse.
To love each other well is to love our children well.
This essay is adapted from the author's forthcoming book "Confessions of a Happily Married Man: Finding God in the Messiness of Marriage."