He sat in my office and said, "I just don't love my wife anymore. I wish I did, but I don't. I've even asked God to give me love for her. But I just don't have any feelings for her anymore."
This husband was absolutely sincere, but he was misguided in his understanding of love. He pictured love as warm, emotional, romantic feelings for his wife.
Since these did not exist, he could not manufacture them, and even God was not providing them, he concluded that his marriage was over. Thousands of men and women in our society have come to the same conclusion.
True love, the kind of love that keeps a couple together for a lifetime, is not a feeling but an attitude. It says, With the help of God, I'm going to do everything I can to enhance the life of my spouse.
This attitude leads to words and actions that are beneficial to your spouse and often stimulate warm emotions inside the spouse's heart. If this person reciprocates with words and behavior that express his or her love for you, warm emotions may also return to you.
One of the great tragedies of Western culture is that we have equated love with warm emotional feelings. In fact, these warm romantic feelings are the result of love, not the essence of love. This is why love can be commanded, as in Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives"; and love can be taught and learned, as noted in Titus 2:4, where the older women are instructed to teach the younger women to love their husbands. God doesn't command emotions, but He often commands attitudes and behavior.
The good news is that whatever God commands, He enables us to do.
Love Is an Attitude
In the early days of my marriage, my wife and I were fairly miserable. We both wondered if we had married the wrong person.
In my desperation, I said to God, "I don't know what else to do, and I am asking for Your help." As soon as I prayed that prayer, there came to my mind a visual image of Jesus on His knees, washing the feet of His followers.
I sensed God say to me, "That's the problem in your marriage. You don't have the attitude of Christ toward your wife."
I knew what He said was true. At that time, my attitude toward my wife was, Look, I know how to have a good marriage. If you will listen to me, we'll have one. She wouldn't listen, so I blamed her for our poor marriage.
God gave me a new perspective. The problem was not her but my attitude.
I said, "Lord, forgive me. With all of my study in Greek, Hebrew and theology, I missed the whole point of love. Please give me the attitude of Christ toward my wife. Let me see her as one whom You love, and let me be Your agent for loving her."
In retrospect, it was the greatest prayer I have ever prayed regarding my marriage because God changed my attitude. I was no longer waiting for warm feelings; I was choosing to love her as Christ loved His disciples. I asked my wife three questions:
- What can I do to help you?
- How can I make your life easier?
- How can I be a better husband to you?
Her answers led my behavior. When I started serving her as Christ served His disciples, her attitude toward me changed. It did not happen overnight, but within three months, she started asking me those same questions. My behavior had touched her heart, and her attitude and behavior had changed.
First John 4:19 says that we love because God loved us first. Love stimulates love.
Love as a Way of Life
Some say love is an act of benevolence. That is not totally true. People can do a beneficial action with an unloving attitude.
The husband who says with a harsh voice, "OK, I'll take the garbage out if you will get off my back" has not performed an act of love.
The husband who mows the grass simply because his wife has been nagging him for weeks is doing a kind act, but it may be done to silence her critical words.
The wife who agrees to be sexually intimate with her husband simply out of a sense of duty or guilt is not performing an act of love, either.
Love is the choice to cooperate with God in serving your spouse. The individuals who truly love see themselves as God's agents for enriching the lives of their marriage partner. For them, love is a way of life. They are constantly looking for ways to help, encourage and support the partner.
Such love often stimulates warm, romantic feelings in the heart of the spouse. Emotions are the icing on the cake. But without a loving attitude and appropriate behavior, the icing will melt.
A man I spoke of in the first part of this series, the one who sat in my office complaining that he did not love his wife, eventually discovered the biblical concept of love. And with the help of God, he committed himself to loving his wife. His wife reciprocated his love, and their marriage was reborn.
I have seen this happen hundreds of times over the past 35 years as I have counseled couples. It can also happen in your marriage.
The Scriptures say the Holy Spirit pours the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:5).
God wants to use you in your marriage. Ask Him to give you a loving attitude toward your spouse and to pour out His love through you. It is a prayer God will answer.Dr. Gary Chapman is a pastor, speaker and author of The Five Love Languages.