“What if I don't feel love for my spouse?"
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Steve Cornell is the founding and senior pastor of Millersville Bible Church, Millersville, PA (28 years). Steve’s ministry includes daily and weekend radio (Focus on the Churchand Take 5 with Pastor Steve). He is a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. and writes for The Morning Call of Allentown, PA. Steve is an honored recipient of seven writing awards from The Amy Foundation. Steve received his education from Philadelphia College of the Bible, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Former eastern division in Lancaster, PA), and Biblical Theological Seminary. He and his wife Becky have four adult children and two grandchildren.
A wife once told me that she planned to leave her husband because (in her words) she “just didn’t love him anymore.”
When I asked her to change the way she worded her decision by saying, “I am choosing to no longer value my husband and to break my commitment to remain faithful to him,” she insisted on framing it in a way that made her a victim of feelings she could not change. Ironically, she also thought she was being virtuous because of her honesty and lack of hypocrisy.
I’ve had people tell me they want to be married because of love and others (like this woman) tell me they want out of their marriages because they no longer feel love for their mate. This has led me to ask some serious questions about the nature of love.
What is love? Is it something we can fall into and fall out of? Is it chemistry? Infatuation? Is it an emotional response or a choice? In my evaluation, I’ve concluded that we need to distinguish two dimensions of love.
1. Being in love
This dimension is the emotional attraction of love. It’s what people mean when they speak of “falling in love.” It’s usually based on more superficial reactions to appearance and first impressions. Clearly, it’s a natural part of human attraction and although not necessarily wrong, it’s not enough to sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship. It’s far too superficial. Deeply satisfying relationships are built on the second dimension of love:
2. Behaving in love
This dimension does not depend on feelings and chemistry. It’s the love of volition.
It’s the choice to respond to my mate in a loving manner — regardless of feelings. This dimension of love is a choice to value my mate and seek his or her best. While I can’t always make myself feel a certain way, I can always choose to act in a loving way.
In marriage, the distinction between these two dimensions is very important. Most relationships start with a high dose of being in love and, in most relationships, these feelings diminish with time. When this happens, the key to keeping the flame of love burning is not pursuit of feelings — but a decision to value your mate and be devoted to his or her best — no matter what one feels.
Behaving in love is a choice to act in love even when we don’t feel love. Many people will think I am advocating some form of dishonesty. Yet, surprisingly, when we choose to love, the feelings often follow the actions.
It has become a contemporary mark of good character to be true to your feelings. A failure to act consistently with your feelings, we’re told, would be hypocritical.
This cultural ethic is often used to give people a false sense of virtue when breaking deep commitments. On the basis of “avoiding hypocrisy” and “being honest enough to admit a loss of feelings,” married people feel justified (even virtuous) in breaking wedding vows.
There is a deep and self-destructive deception in this line of reasoning. It implies that we are victims of our feelings instead of being capable of mastering them. A big problem with this is that feelings come and go with changes in the weather.
Do you go to work only when you feel like going? Do athletes or great musicians only practice when they feel like it? We simply cannot live healthy and productive lives if we let feelings master us. This is especially true in relationships.
If we hope to experience deep and lasting relationships as intended by God, love must be understood as a value word and an action more than a feeling.
Remember that God demonstrated His love for us not because we were a warm and lovable group of people whom he couldn’t resist. Instead, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Printed in The Morning Call, March 24, 2012 (Allentown, PA)
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