Marriage 101: Is Love a Feeling?

July 26, 2015

Whether or not a person believes in God, we can probably recognize that in every human being we find a desire to love and to be loved. Think of everything people often chase after: popularity, fame, money, pleasure, and much more. Peeking under the surface, aren’t we usually chasing these things because we think that they will bring us love?

We all have a desire to love and to be loved. This is not a surprise to us as Christians, because we know that we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is infinite love. God created us out of love, and he created us for love. So this desire for love is built into us by God.

At this point, however, we have to make a careful distinction. In various ways, we are taught by our culture to understand love as a feeling. Love is a warm, mushy feeling that comes over us like a tidal wave, something that is magical, something which we can’t explain or control.

The Christian understanding of love, however, is much more beautiful and profound. Feelings come and go; we don’t have much ability to control them. Love is not primarily a feeling, but rather an act of the will. Love is not primarily an emotion, but rather a choice to do what is best for the other person. We can choose to love, even when warm feelings aren’t there.

Consider the greatest example of human love our world has ever seen — Jesus giving himself on the cross. Did Jesus have warm, fuzzy feelings in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he  prepared himself to be arrested and put to death? Was he   having great feelings as he bled to death on the cross? Of course not. The cross is the greatest example of human love because Jesus freely chose to give himself for us so that we may have eternal life.

In our daily friendships and interactions, love will similarly be a choice to do what is good for the other person. We love our co-worker not by feeling kindly thoughts of him, but by choosing to help him even though he has been rude lately.  A mother loves her baby daughter at 3 a.m. not by having feelings of tenderness, but by choosing to get out of bed and feed her in the middle of the night. A husband loves his wife by turning off the TV and helping with the dishes, even though the show is really good!

Some thoughts for prayer and discussion:

  • What worldly goals or desires are really important to me right now? In what ways might they be related to a desire to love and to be loved?
  • What are some examples in my life where I have chosen to do what is loving, even without the feelings being there?
  • In my friendships or my marriage, am I seeking after a feeling of love, or am I seeking to choose what is good for the other person?