The excitement of love is like nothing else in human experience. A couple enters into a kind of ecstasy that is almost indescribable. "This is it!" They've found the perfect human being. They want to be together twenty-four hours a day—to take walks in the rain and sit by the fire and kiss and cuddle. Hooray for love!
Thus, if you identify genuine love with that feeling, you're going to be very confused when it passes. This is the tender trap that leads many young people to make a disastrous mistake.
The romantic excitement between them feels like something they can live on forever. Then...it goes away, sometimes on the honeymoon or maybe later.The romantic feeling they shared is not love. It sometimes precedes the real thing. Genuine love is much deeper and more stable. It is based on a commitment of the will, a determination to make it work.
I met Shirley when we were in college and gradually came to love her. Notice I didn't say that I "fell in love" with her. That phrase is misleading, making young people believe that falling in love is like tumbling into a ditch. That is not the way it happens. I didn't fall in love with Shirley...I grew into a close relationship with her. After the first surge of emotion was over, I began to develop a deep appreciation for this young lady. I enjoyed her sense of humor and her pleasant personality. I saw how she loved God and the better things of life. And little by little, I developed a desire to make her happy, meet her needs, provide a home for her, and live my life in her company.
But you should know that I don't always feel intensely romantic and loving toward Shirley. There are times when we are close and times when we are distant. We sometimes get tired and harassed by the cares of life, and that affects our emotions. However, even when the feeling of closeness disappears, the love remains! Why? Because our relationship is not dependent on a temporary feeling; it's based on an unshakable commitment of the will.
In other words, I have made up my mind to devote myself to Shirley's best interests, even when I feel nothing. I know the emotion of closeness will return when we have time to be together...when we're on vacation...when exciting events happen...when we're doing romantic things together. Sooner or later the feeling will return, and it will last for days. But when I get busy...when my mind is on other things...when there has been sickness or hardship in the family...it is likely that my emotions will become cool again.
Your emotions will fluctuate too. That's why you must understand that love is more than feeling. You need an iron-fisted determination to make your marriage succeed, which will act like the engine of a train. It will keep you moving down the right track. On the other hand, the feeling of love is like a caboose, being pulled by the powerful engine at the other end.
My love for Shirley is not blown back and forth by the winds of change...by circumstances and environmental influences. Even though my fickle emotions jump from one extreme to another, my commitment remains solidly anchored in place. I have chosen to love my wife, and that choice is sustained by an uncompromising will. "In sickness and in health; for richer or poorer for better or worse from this day forward..."
This essential commitment of the will is sorely missing in so many modern marriages. I love you, they seem to say, as long as I feel attracted to you... or as long as someone else doesn't look better... or as long as it is to my advantage to continue the relationship. Sooner or later, this uncommitted love will certainly vaporize.
How can real love be distinguished from temporary infatuation? If the feeling is unreliable, how can one assess the commitment of his will? There is only one answer to that question: It takes time. The best advice I can give a couple contemplating marriage (or any other important decision) is this: make no important, life-shaping decisions quickly or impulsively, and when in doubt, stall for time. That's not a bad suggestion for all of us to apply.
Real love is caring for another person as much as you do for yourself. That is exactly how the Bible describes marital love—it is becoming "one flesh" with another individual. The two of you actually become one person. It's much more than marrying an individual who will do something good for me. Rather, it is learning to love someone as much as I do my own flesh, and by marrying, we become united. That is the real meaning of love. If you have that kind of appreciation for another person, you are on your way to a happy home.
Marriages that were once exciting and loving can also get caught in the romantic doldrums, causing a slow and painful death to the relationship. Author Doug Fields, in his book Creative Romance writes, "Dating and romancing your spouse can change those patterns, and it can be a lot of fun. There's no quick fix to a stagnant marriage, of course, but you can lay aside the excuses and begin to date your sweetheart." In fact, you might want to try thinking like a teenager again. Let me explain.
Recall for a moment the craziness of your dating days—the coy attitudes, the flirting, the fantasies, the chasing after the prize. As we moved from courtship into marriage, most of us felt we should grow up and leave the game playing behind. But we may not have matured as much as we'd like to think.In some ways, our romantic relationships will always bear some characteristics of adolescent sexuality. Adults still love the thrill of the chase, the lure of the unattainable, excitement of the new and boredom with the old. Immature impulses are controlled and minimized in a committed relationship, of course, but they never fully disappear.
This could help you keep vitality in your marriage. When things have grown stale between you and your spouse, maybe you should remember some old tricks. How about breakfast in bed? A kiss in the rain? Or rereading those old love letters together? A night in a nearby hotel? Roasting marshmallows by an open fire? A phone call in the middle of the day? A long-stem red rose and a love note? There are dozens of ways to fill the sails with wind once more.
If it all sounds a little immature to act like a teenager again, just keep this in mind: In the best marriages, the chase is never really over.
One of the evidences of emotional and spiritual maturity is the ability (and the willingness) to overrule ephemeral feelings and govern our behavior with reason. This might lead you to tough it out when you feel like escaping; and guard your tongue when you feel like shouting; and to save your money when you feel like spending it; and to remain faithful when you feel like flirting; and to put the welfare of your mate above your own. These are mature acts that can't occur when biased, whimsical, and unreliable feelings are in charge. Emotions are important in a relationship, to be sure, but they must be supported by the will and a lifetime commitment.