A young couple recently asked me what it might mean if their dating relationship lacked the feeling of being in love. Was it a sure sign that they were not meant to be together? What should they do?
I will speak, as I always do, from my own personal experience. I have been married for just over four years. Not so much in my time of dating Madeleine, but certainly at times during our engagement and marriage, have we experienced times where the feelings were lacking. Either one or both of us were not experiencing the warm, fuzzy feelings of being in love with the other. We knew we loved each other, but we weren’t sure why it didn’t feel like it used to? What were we doing wrong? No doubt, the first time you slip into one of these phases it can be scary and make you question your relationship. Thankfully I had some good counsel and support to help me make sense of it all.
Love is both a feeling and a decision. There are certainly warm, fuzzy feelings that accompany a newly dating couple. Sparks are flying, and emotions are high. Loving them does not ever feel like a sacrifice. You are eagerly looking for ways to serve! The other person looks stunningly beautiful or dashingly handsome – always! It seems like they have no flaws or weaknesses, and are obvious candidates for canonisation. You know you have hit the jackpot with this person. Sound familiar?
God blesses us with these beautiful emotions to attract us to a person, However, love is not just a feeling. Love is a feeling, but it is so much more than a feeling. Love must mature into something deeper. More important than the feelings you get from being in love, is the decision to love even when the feelings are absent.
Feelings in a relationship are seasonal. The decision to love is a constant. Every couple will experience winters where there are little to no feelings. Or perhaps there are even periods of dryness or bitterness toward the other. They will also go through spring times where emotions are high and loving the other seems effortless. But that couple cannot base the intensity of their love for one another purely on feelings. To love someone is ultimately a decision. A decision to serve, honour and give your life for this person no matter what season of feelings they may be experiencing.
Our love is tested most when we show affection and love when those actions are not accompanied by feelings. Take a look at your spiritual life as an example. If you only ever prayed when you felt over the moon about praying; how often would you pray? My guess is not too often. Certainly not every day. How can our relationship with God be real and continue to grow if we demanded profound spiritual experiences every time we prayed? God occasionally blesses us with consoling prayer times and ecstatic moments of intimacy with him, but they are often short-lived.
Why is this? It is because Jesus wants to know if you will love Him even when the feelings are gone. It is the same for human relationships. If we only expressed love for the person when those actions were accompanied by intense emotions, we would not love them every day. They need to know that you are willing to love, serve and lay down your life for them no matter how you feel. Love in action, apart from feelings, is the evidence and basis for real love.
So what should you do when the feelings disappear? Make the decision every day to love them as best as you possibly can, regardless of how it may feel. This builds spiritual muscle in this area. A couple that can express love for each other as intentionally without feelings as they can with feelings, is a couple that truly loves each other.