Love. How can you have a discussion about marriage and not talk about love? It’s impossible. There is also that issue of what definition of love… What type/s of love is/are needed to make a marriage beautiful and successful?
We have talked much about love, so far. We have discussed various attributes of love, shown in selflessness, service, honesty and affection. So far, I have presented a definition of love based on Christianity, which sees love as an act of the will, more than a feeling. The greatest example we have for love is God Himself, and Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross represents this great love God has for Mankind. We have seen that this is the type of love that ensures for a blessed, beautiful and successful marriage.
But is the emotional component of love irrelevant? Most of the time, when people talk of love and think about love, they are talking about an emotional state of being. Loving music, for example, is not an act of the will. Loving ice-cream has nothing to do with choosing to be loving towards ice-cream! We just go “oooh, ahhh” whenever we see ice cream, and we never have to try to enjoy it. It just sort of comes naturally. It is the way it makes us feel, like Ronan Keating sings.
For most people…this is love, and this is the love that matters to them! This is the love that moves them to ACT in Christian love. Because they have these wonderful feelings towards somebody else, they instinctively desire their happiness, they want to serve them, and act kindly towards them, and consider their lover’s needs above their own. And when the feelings subside, and they no longer instinctively want to please the other person…they say they no longer love them, and they start looking for someone else who they can live for and delight in.
This is the romantic love that is all too important at the start of a relationship. It is a kick starter, a launcher, allowing you to do the impossible, without considering the cost to self or pride. It is passionate and fierce. It is sexually charged. It is also unfortunately, innately, selfish. It revolves around how the person FEELS, and so is quite volatile. It is very emotional, taking the bearer of this love from one extreme of adoration and appreciation of life to another extreme of depression and hatred of life (if the feelings are not mutual).
Can you really build a marriage on something so fickle? Evidence shows that you cannot. Many marriages entered into with only romantic love as their bind, soon collapse under the weight of reality. But the presence of this type of love makes it easier to act out the God-kind of love. Some see this as an essential ingredient in marriage, like the oil of an engine. It just makes everything work easier and better together, without friction. The secret is how to keep this passionate love alive and mutual, through the long-haul of marriage.
Least of all, there ought to be Brotherly love between spouses, which is genuine affection and respect for the other person, and what we owe to all our fellow humans. Having brotherly love shows that we are not selfish, we are considerate, we are kind, we are friendly. Brotherly love may not have the enduring power of Christ’s love, nor the passion of romantic love, but most marriages can survive with just this love present.
The marriage may survive, but it may not be happy. Without any major crisis, without temptations or strife, you can pretty much live in peace with someone else, who you respect and have genuine affection for, even if you do not have strong romantic feelings for them. But when strife comes, and trouble brews, and temptations come, you need Christ’s sacrificial and enduring love to weather the storms, and to keep doing right by your spouse, even if it hurts.
The Greeks had other names for these types of love, and defined seven types of love. An article by Ranai Naim gives a good guide. They are:
- Eros – Love of the Body (Sexual Attraction)
- Philia – Love of the Mind (Friendship)
- Ludus – Playful love (Infatuation)
- Pragma – Longstanding love (Commitment)
- Agape – Love of the Soul (Charity)
- Philautia – Love of the Self (Self-love)
- Storge – Love of the Child (Instinctive and Protective, Sacrificial)
I am not big on the Greek definitions, but I am able to see that the God-kind of love or Christ-like love consists of Agape, Pragma, Philia and Storge. Brotherly love consists of Philia and Agape. And romantic love consists of Eros, Philia, Ludus, and Philautia. A marriage needs every one of these types of love to be healthy and happy – yes, including and especially self-love. If you are unable to love yourself, how can you begin to love another?
We can see that Brotherly love is fully contained in Christ-like love. Brotherly love answers to the commandments, “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12). It is a love we can give to anyone, and that we are commanded to give to even our enemies (Matt 5:44)!!!
Christ-like love include the added elements of commitment and sacrifice, and it is a love we are expected to show to those in the Family of God, including our spouses. It answers to the new command which Christ gave to His disciples; “as I have loved you, love one another” (John 13:34). We can and should love all of God’s people with this enduring, unconditional love.
It would suffice to love our spouses with the Christ-like love, which has Brotherly love and then some. But we shouldn’t downplay the importance and benefits of romantic love, even in Christian marriages. We don’t have romantic love with our children, nor with our Christian brothers and sisters…but it is needful to have this emotional component in a marriage relationship, if our marriages are to be blissful, and not a burdensome cross we bear.
I even suppose that there is an emotional element to the love Christ has for us, even if it isn’t exactly romantic in the sexual sense! I don’t think He came to die for us simply out of duty. I believe there was passion for us, emotion that compelled Him to orchestrate the romantic deliverance that was the Cross! It was not merely an act of the will, nor would I suppose that His love for us arose from His will or mind…but from His heart…and it became His will until on the Cross, His nature was revealed.
Too many people deny the power of the heart, of the passion, or the emotional component in love, forgetting that this motivates and drives man, even above his will. We must not undermine the role of emotions in the full expression of love. We shouldn’t give it centre stage, but it must have its place! Our emotional needs must be met, by not only showing brotherly love, but romantic love to our spouse. Emotional affairs, which often led to sexual infidelity, arise when this emotional component is missed or neglected in one or both spouses.
You can think of it this way. Romantic love is the love that says “I want you!” Isn’t it great to be wanted? Even God wants to be wanted, not simply needed! How would you like it if someone keeps telling you “I need you, I need you”, but they never say nor show that they want you… They always choose other things when it is convenient for them. They want others things, but they need you, so they are stuck with you, and are cheating on you with the things they want… Or maybe they don’t even need you, but are simply enduring you…putting up with you or loving from pity or duty.
We would even prefer to hear “I want you, even though I don’t need you!” With God, we should both want and need Him. However, we will always need Him, regardless of whether we want Him or not. But we can want our spouse, even if we don’t need them. In fact, it is better that way at the beginning. And as we grow in love and understanding and compatibility and commitment, we will grow in mutual dependency, and we will both need and want them…even though our need for them will never be greater than our need for God, and we should never want them more than we want God.
I hope you are following me here. I have harped on about Christ-like love from the beginning of this series, and I feel a need to harp on a little about romantic love, lest people think that such is only for fools or for the world. Romantic love has an important role in our marriages, but the cornerstone and the foundation of Christ must be laid first, and romance can be the gems stones that adorns our marriage, and makes the experience of being married delightful.
If romantic love was not important at all, then I suppose Christians should have arranged marriages with other Christians, who have been shown to be compatible with them in personality and purpose. They will be able to love each other as Christ loves the Church…as is their duty to love all of the people of God. Maybe many Christians already approach their marriages as a God set-up that has nothing to do with their emotions. But I don’t think this is Biblical. Songs of Solomon is one book that celebrates the beauty of romance.
What we don’t want to do is to be led by our emotions when deciding who to marry! It should be one of the things we consider, but of a much bigger consideration is if the person belongs to the Family of God, and is submitted to God, and if you have genuine affection and respect for each other. If you have this foundation, then enjoy romance, and let it remain grounded on the foundation of Christ…and it will adorn your marriage, and will be preserved in your marriage by the staying power of Christ’s enduring love.
It has been said that “a successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person” – Mignon McLaughlin. I agree with this. I think this requires being honest with ourselves, and what we want out of life and marriage. If you are content not to have passion in your marriage, and only desire a companion, then do enjoy your simplicity. However, consider your spouse, and if they have such a desire for passionate romantic love. If you are already married, and want to rekindle the romantic feelings in your marriage, these five steps should help.
- Sleep together. Don’t simply have sex and get on with it. Intentionally fall asleep together in each other’s arms. Make your bedtime special, for not only sexual intimacy, but also emotional intimacy. Settle in for the night together, and spend time together alone in your room.
- Date often. Make time regularly for each other to do things together out of the house, and occasionally, spend a romantic evening in together. Be intentional about it. But also allow room for some spontaneous outings. Invite each other to work events as well, so that even if you have to be away from your home, you can still be together.
- Be affectionate. Increase your physical intimacy by touching and kissing often, cuddling, holding hands and playing with each other. Engage in activities that require physical closeness, like going to the movies together, or going for walks, and even swimming! As your physical intimacy grows, your sexual desire for each other will also increase, and your intimacy in the bedroom will deepen.
- Hang out with each other’s friends. Social hang-outs allow you to see each other in a different way, and it also widens your discussion topics. If you are always talking about the kids, hanging out with your friends together should bring you out of that shell. As you get to know and bond with your spouse’s friends, you also learn more about their character and their likes and dislikes. Your shared interests and activities will also expand, as you go out for fun group outings.
- Allow some personal space. It’s great and important to do things together, but you should also allow time for yourself, and give your spouse that time to do something they like, that you may not be so interested in. Women may love a day at the spa. Men may love to play football with their friends. Time apart also allows you to miss one another, and have more things to talk about when you come back together. But watch this. Your interests shouldn’t be addictive and eat into quality time you could be spending together.
With these five tips, I hope you will be able to rekindle the spark in your marriage. Even without the spark, as long as you have and show the love of Christ to your spouse, you have real love in your marriage…of a different but enduring type. Abide in the love of Christ, and you will be or become attractive to your spouse, and they will soon be catching feelings for you again.