What to Look For in a Relationship

By Glenn Lutjens
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Focus on the Family

Sometimes when it comes to addressing red flags, it can be equally as important to know what you are looking for; to identify the green lights. Government officials responsible for uncovering counterfeit money spend a lot more time looking at the real stuff than the fake.

Several behaviors will be important in a healthy marriage. A person needs to be balanced. It’s often easy to get imbalanced in one direction or the other; to be too carefree or too serious, too flexible or too structured, too strict or too lenient. It will be important to find someone who is forgiving, responsible, encouraging, honest, admits mistakes, sets boundaries, and can confront you constructively.

These behaviors will likely reflect hearts that feel loved and safe. They will come from people who understand their imperfections, have experienced true forgiveness, and are committed to growth in their own lives. From people who have a deep sense of connection, who understand why God placed them here on planet earth, and want to carry that out. Remember, no one’s perfect, but looking for character and godliness may end up being more important allies to you than the goose bumps from romance felt right now.

The Types of Love

Think of marital love as a house. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Homes are made up of different parts in much the same way that marriage is made up of different loves. The Greeks used different words to describe love.

  • Agape Love. This unconditional commitment to a spouse’s well-being can be compared to the foundation of a home. It’s not the prettiest part of the structure, but when you talk about longevity of the house, no other part is more important. One’s ability to be committed in a sacrificial manner comes ultimately from God, but it develops years before marriage in a person’s ability to form loving and meaningful relationships.
  • Phileo Love. One’s opportunity to love as companions or friends might represent the frame of a house. It’s the word found in Philadelphia — the city of brotherly love.  It’s sharing your thoughts, dreams, and activities together. It’s the living space of the home and relationship. Research has shown that people who say they are happily married identify their spouse as their best friends.
  • Eros Love. Often confused with sexual love, eros love is the excitement about the beloved. It’s that romantic tingle. We can compare it to the roof of the house because it’s a peak experience. All too often people define love by the excitement of their emotional barometer. Deciding to marry based upon your romantic feelings alone is like a contractor deciding to build based upon the presence of shingles and rafters. In other words, being in love is not a good enough reason to get married. You need more to make a house complete.
  • Venus Love. Sexual oneness finishes the home. Think of it as the furniture. After the home is complete, furniture can be brought in and used appropriately.  Once marriage has been entered into, along with friendship and romance, sex takes its place as God’s wedding gift to you and your spouse.

All four loves are needed in marriage. Eliminate any and the relationship will suffer. But without the foundation (agape love), the rest of the house will crumble. If you have a leak in the roof (eros love), its not pleasant, but you don’t need to junk the house. Make sure that you have the foundation, frame, and roof complete before marriage, so that you can move the furniture in after the closing.

© 2011 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Glenn Lutjens

Glenn is a licensed family therapist who’s been on the Focus counseling team for 23 years. Prior to joining Focus, he spent time in church counseling and pastoral ministry. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three young adult children. Glenn loves Jesus, has an affinity for lasagna and cheers for the Oakland Raiders.

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