“I love my spouse; I’m just not ‘in-love’ with him/her anymore.”
This is a statement I have heard pronounced in the counseling room many times by couples. Both women and men have said it. It is usually said in the context of a marriage counseling session scheduled because the couple has reached a crisis state, and in many cases, the one saying it is also declaring their desire to leave the relationship.
To Love and To Be in Love
What does it mean to love or be in love and is there a difference? If you spend any time wading through the murky bog of the world’s messages as portrayed in movies, TV shows, and music you might come up with a definition like this.
Love is good-looking, emotionally exciting, and never boring. Love is always interested and supportive of my hobbies, and is never tired or discouraged. Love makes me feel good about myself. Love is sexually in sync; love is totally into me.
So, when a relationship, and for our particular focus—a marriage—becomes dull there can be a temptation to believe that you are not in love. How can you be in love if there is no passion left? How can this really be love if desire for the relationship has fizzled? Is there hope for a relationship when it has reached this state?
To recover passion you must focus on the right things. As a famous preacher once said, “You have to focus yourself away from yourself.” Building a marriage around your felt needs is a recipe for disappointment and is contrary to Scripture. Focusing on you is counterproductive. It may seem like it would help if your marriage met your needs, but the unintended consequences are that you become the center of attention and the center of focus. This is a big problem. The relationship is no longer the point, but you and your needs are. The natural consequence of this is when you feel like your spouse is not meeting your needs, you no longer want the relationship. You may not initially leave, but you begin to check out.
The Scriptural Purpose of Marriage
Scripture speaks of a very different purpose for marriage. You get married to forget about yourself, to set yourself aside, to lay your life down. To die.
I will often bring up this point when doing premarital counseling with a couple. It is sometimes a bit humorous to see the look on the face of the dreamy-eyed couple as I tell them that marriage is death.
Marriage, in essence, is an “other-centered” relationship. When you begin to focus on yourself and your needs you begin the deconstruction of the relationship.
For anyone playing the devil’s advocate, I am certainly not talking about essential needs for life and survival. Any time a person is in a marriage that is threatening their safety or well-being it is absolutely appropriate to get away from that relationship and seek help.
Loving Your Spouse
The death that we are called to in marriage is the laying down of your life described in Scripture as the mystery of marriage which points to Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32).
How do you know you love your spouse?
- Are you living in your marriage in a way that reflects the relationship that Christ has with his Bride?
- Are you willing to become obedient to the point of death; the death of your own interests and preferences?
- Are you willing to humble yourself and think of your spouse’s interests more than your own?
- Are you willing to count your spouse as more significant than yourself? This is death (see Philippians 2:3-11).
The reality is this; in marriage you die daily. Every day is an opportunity to die and in dying you love.
So, what can you make of the original question of what it means to love or be in love? If you have lost that loving feeling, you need to build a new foundation of what love is and what it means. It means you get yourself out of the way. This can only be done as you focus on your Lord. To love your spouse means that you look to Jesus and learn from Him what love is. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” (Ephesians 5:2) To love and be in love requires you give yourself up, to die.
Join the Conversation
What does it mean to love or be in love and is there a difference?
What difference does it make in marriage to see marriage as a call to die to self and to live for Christ as you love your spouse?