Q. My wife of ten years says she loves me but she’s not “in love” with me. She thinks she has to have a romantic feeling for me all the time to be in love. We’ve disagreed about what married love should be. Can you tell us?
A. Most people think that “being in love” is what makes a good marriage. Yet what do we mean by this? What are the ingredients of love? Married love is wonderfully complex. We can experience love and anger, excitement and boredom, security and hurt, contentment and disappointment all within marriage. We may even experience all of these in a single day.
Robert Sternberg, a
psychologist, identified a three sided picture of love made up of passion,
intimacy and commitment. Passion involves sexual and sensual arousal. It
involves an intense desire for physical affection with the beloved. Passion
alone can blind us to each other’s faults. It can lead to extreme
possessiveness and to an unhealthy dependence on each other. It can be
self-centered and demanding. Yale University
The second side of the triangle is intimacy. Passion alone is not enough. We must truly know the other person. Intimacy involves knowing each other better than we know anyone else. Trust is high and we share our deepest, truest self with the other person. We are accepted in spite of our flaws and failures. Intimacy provides closeness and acceptance. We are best friends, soul mates.
The third side of the triangle is commitment. To be committed involves a decision, a choice, and an act of our will. We commit our life to the other person - no matter what the future holds. When we disagree, our commitment to each other holds us through the struggle. When we face illness or misfortune, our commitment allows us to hang in there. When committed it doesn’t matter what the other person does or how I feel, we love no matter what. The length and health of a marriage depends on the strength of commitment.
Sternberg’s triangle changes shape depending on the varying levels of passion, intimacy and commitment. A triangle with three equal sides is well balanced, ideal. But love is unbalanced when one side is longer than the others.
“Romantic love” is unbalanced with a great deal of passion and some intimacy. “Foolish love” involves passion and commitment but no intimacy. It is foolish because the commitment is made solely on the basis of passion without an intimate knowledge of the other person. “Companionable love” includes intimacy and commitment with passion absent or minimal. This type of marriage is a long term committed friendship.
A marriage with all three components equal is the ideal. Most marriages achieve this some of the time. Expecting to have this all the time is unrealistic. At times couples will be out of step with each other. One may want more passion, the other more intimacy. Or passion may fade during misfortune, illness or aging. Married love requires effort, struggle and work. It doesn’t just happen.
Christian marriage goes beyond the above description and is based on unconditional love and mutual submission to each other. Christians are to love each other as Christ loved the church – with sacrificial love in action. This kind of love is not a feeling – it’s a total commitment of mind, body and soul.
Marriage Encounter, Weekend to Remember and the Third Option are three programs that can help your marriage. Two excellent marriage books that can help are The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller and Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I suggest you and your wife go to one of the above programs and also read one of these books together. Don’t ignore the problems you’re having. Seek help in one of the groups mentioned or in counseling with a pastor or Christian counselor.
“Each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians NLT