Last week, on our anniversary, I revealed that my husband and I were planning a series about the things that keep our marriage going.
We figured the easiest place to start is the one that jumps to most people’s minds when thinking of what holds a marriage together, and that is love.
Unfortunately, in the English language, love is a seriously abused word. We use it for everything from our clothes to our dog to our spouse, and we frequently associate it solely with emotions.
I could go into great detail about the different Ancient Greek words for love that differentiate between types of love, but rather than bore you all with a lecture, I shall simply refer to C S Lewis’ beautiful translation of these in his (must-read!) book, The Four Loves: Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity.
The problem we have is that because we often move from one to the other of these ‘types’ of love, we have a tendency to confuse them. Thus, the primarily emotion-based and situation-based Affection gets intermingled with the married love Eros, and we believe it to be an intense and passionate version of Affection.
It is no great surprise, then, that all too often we hear a reason for divorce being: “I just don’t love them anymore”, or “they’re not the same person I married”.
Love is greater than feelings.
True love is completely selfless. It is sacrificial, and puts the other’s needs before our own. It does not demand that a person remains exactly the same in body, mind and spirit throughout their life, but accepts them always and deepens as that person changes.
I wish I could say that my husband and I do this.
But we understand it and strive for it, and that keeps us going.
Because neither of us is the same person we were when we got married. But we choose to fully accept and love each other where we are, despite (or perhaps because of) all we’ve been through.
There is a reason the greatest ‘type’ of love is referred to as Charity (or Agape): because it requires us to give. Constantly. Love, in the end, is not about what I can get out of a relationship. It is about what I can give.
So how does this look in a marriage?
Well, it can be everything from classically romantic gestures to taking out the rubbish.
Many years ago, counsellor Dr Gary Chapman discovered the “5 Love Languages” that are ‘spoken’ by all. These are, in no particular order: Physical Touch, Quality Time, Giving (and Receiving) Gifts, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation.
Perhaps you already recognize yourself in one of these more than any others. But sometimes there are several that we feel we ‘speak’ simultaneously, or perhaps ones that we have learned/picked up from others along the way.
Discovering early on in our engagement that my husband ‘speaks’ primarily the love language of Physical Touch and my primary love language is Quality Time has made a huge difference in our marriage.
Having recognized this, we are able to make an effort to really learn each others’ love languages and prioritize it. For example, while some spouses may feel in a consumer world that “gifts” are very important (and for some they really are, which is not selfish!), the truth is, I personally much prefer the gift of time spent one-on-one together, and appreciate focused attention. I find that this is what makes me ‘feel’ most loved, and that my feelings for my husband return most strongly when he makes the effort to do this for me.
Similarly, when I make the effort to hug and kiss my husband, to sit next to him or hold his hand, his feelings tend to be at their strongest, and I am happy knowing that he feels loved.
If you have not taken the quiz to find out what your love languages are before, I highly recommend you do so! It doesn’t matter if you are single or married, a parent or a bachelor. Knowing yours and others’ love languages helps all relationships, whether between parents and children, siblings, friends, or spouses.
Love is not static. It is not a perfect feeling that happens once and then stays the same forever, keeping both people locked perpetually as the people they were when they “fell in love”. No, love is constantly evolving. And if evolution means survival of the fittest, then to remain in a committed relationship, we must learn to love no matter the circumstance, no matter the problems, no matter the people we have become.
As we change, grow, mature, so does love.
And you know what? It may not be as shiny, new and exciting as it first was, but in understanding each others’ love languages, and with a little work and a lot of prayer, we can grow to love each other in a deeper, more selfless way.