You remember the sleepless nights and the lightheadedness you experienced after seeing her big, beautiful smile light up a room. You recall when just the thought of him holding your hand caused shortness of breath and a queasy stomach.
In some countries, they call that malaria.
In our culture, we call it romance.
In fact, years ago two doctors actually presented at the Congress of Internal Medicine in Wiesbaden, Germany, the idea that Liebeskummer – love sickness – is a definite medical ailment replete with physical symptoms.
At this point in your marriage, are you wondering where the "symptoms" went?
Sustaining the emotional excitement of romance, or "being in love," can be difficult at best – and physically draining at worst. The shimmer of courtship is often replaced with the realities of budget crunches and dirty diapers.
Dorothy Tennov, a clinical psychologist who worked with thousands of couples, said that romantic love, on average, lasts only three years.Dorothy Tennov, Love and Limerence (Lanham, Maryland: Scarborough House, 1999). Does that sound depressing? If there's any truth to what she said, and if marriage is a lifetime commitment, we need to adjust the way we approach romance.
Romance is only one of the types of love important in marriage. If you think of marriage as a house, four kinds of love are like the components that make the house complete.
- The foundation of the house represents unconditional love. When a realtor writes a house listing, he rarely comments on the quality of its foundation. But that's the first place the home inspector looks when assessing the longevity of the dwelling. This "love in spite of " is encouraged in Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church." This provides the stability for a lasting covenant.
- The frame of the house signifies companionship love. Open communication, shared activities, laughter, and even tears provide the living space for a couple's love to grow. In fact, being best friends is how happily married couples most often describe their relationship. In Song of Solomon 5:16 the man is described as "my lover ... my friend."
- Once the foundation and frame of the house are in place, the roof – or romantic love – has something to rest upon. The roof represents romantic love because the latter is a "peak" experience. It's a love generated by the qualities of the loved one, and filled with excitement as Song of Solomon 2:5 attests: "I am faint with love." But basing marriage on romance alone would be like unloading a pile of shingles on an empty lot and thinking you have a house. And when a roof leaks you don't junk the house; you make the necessary repairs.
- Finally, the furniture brought into the completed house symbolizes sexual love after the marriage has occurred. Proverbs 5:19 praises this love: "May her breasts satisfy you always."
All four loves reflect God's design for your marriage. But in Western culture, romantic love has been exalted above the others.
Throughout history, songs, drama, and poems have lauded romance. Today movies and advertising do the same thing. Romance was designed by God, but it pales in comparison to the sacrificial nature of unconditional love. Romantic love looks for what it can get; unconditional love looks for what it can give.
If romance has waned in your marriage, put it in perspective. Work at renewing it. Set aside a regular date night, even if it means paying a babysitter.
Write a love letter to your husband. Buy your wife a rose. Be creative in the ways you show affection to each other.
Compile a list of qualities that originally drew you to your spouse. They probably have a little tarnish on them, but you'll likely find them with some polishing. If conflict between the two of you has squeezed out romance, get help to resolve it.
A few years into their marriage, Donna and Pete realized that their romance had taken a leave of absence. Work demands, frequent arguments, and the impact of time had dulled the luster that first characterized their relationship.
Instead of bailing out, they took a more realistic look at romance. Then they took steps to "repair the roof." They committed to dating each other twice a month, made time daily for communication, and worked out the in-law problem that had frustrated them for years.
No, the romantic "symptoms" weren't as powerful as they once were. But their love grew deeper as they worked on their marriage.
If you think you've fallen out of love, it may be because marriage requires hard work. Remember: The harder the climb, the better the view!