At a wedding I was involved in many years ago, the couple wanted to change their vows from “as long as we both shall live” to “when our love runs out”. I have met many couples who have told each other “I no longer love you”. Often this is the lead up to “I’m leaving you” or “I want a divorce”. These devastating words are the result of a misunderstanding or wrong expectation as to what love is.
One very wise writer on marriage, Walter Trobisch, said that “love is a feeling to be learned”. But love is often portrayed today as a matter of my feelings. That our feelings will be involved in our love for others is not in question, but love for others must be more than feelings if it is to survive, grow and deliver to us the deep joy that God created for us. By reducing love to feelings, we are robbing ourselves of the most important building block of marriage.
Love as defined and demonstrated by Jesus, is one of practical action and committment. When a man is exhorted to love his wife, it is not love her “when you feel like it” but “just as Christ loved the Church and gave up his life for her”.
Love flows from the will. Jesus actually commands us to love one another. When love is seen like this we are challenged but we are also delivered from the fickleness of our own feelings, so often driven by our self-interest.
When a spouse says “I no longer love you”, though it may sound reasonable, it is in fact an expression of unwillingness to work at the relationship. When this happens, everyone loses. All the past effort and shared life is lost. Children consistently affirm that they wish their parents would remain married and work at their partnership. Many couples report a few years after divorce that they wish they had worked harder at their problems.
Clearly, when there is physical or emotional abuse and lives are at risk, there is good reason to separate but in the normal course of marriage, the couple who work hard at their relationship reap great reward.
My own experience convinces me that it is always right to do what I should do, that is to do what I know God wants me to do in marriage, rather than what I feel like doing or not doing. A wonderful principle is always true – if I do what I should do and run against what my feelings are telling me to do – my feelings of love quickly return.
Somehow, if we want our families and communities to be strong, we must persuade each other that neither “romantic feeling” based love or “lust attraction” based love can deliver the lasting and caring relationships we both crave and were built for.
Love based on the love Christ has shown towards us with its initiative taking, action based and sacrificial other person centred focus would, I believe, help us cope much more realistically and responsibly with the inevitable demands of marriage. As a by-product, both romance and sexual satisfaction will inevitably follow.