The Problem with Love

I was talking to a man the other day who was complaining that he wasn’t “in love” with his wife anymore.  “I don’t feel anything for her, I don’t feel any connection or passion.  I’m just going through the motions out of duty.”

When we had explored things a bit more, it became clear, as is often the case, that over the years his emotions and feelings had been tapped out as a result of both little and big hurts plus a decrease in his spouse’s skill in meeting “felt emotional needs.”  As a result, his feelings of “love”— of someone who gave him positive emotion to be around, was gone.  This is an all too common scenario in many marriages, “Christian” and not.

So, what was my counsel?  I could have told the couple to study each other’s “love languages” ala Gary Chapman, or fill up their “love banks” ala Willard Harley, or pointed them to Gray or Covey or a dozen different authors to help their skills of knowing how to meet the other’s emotional needs.

What I ended up telling him, however, was very, very different: “Your problem is that you don’t love your wife.”

He thought I was restating the obvious.  “I know that, I already told you that.”

“No, you think your problem is that you’re not in love with your wife.  Your problem is that you don’t love your wife.”

I proceeded to tell him that what he missed, what he wanted, was to be “in love” with his wife, and since this feeling is largely triggered by emotional needs being met, he was merely saying to himself, “WAAAHHHH! I want someone to meet my emotional needs.”  You can try and fix this problem by helping the spouses meet each other’s emotional needs, but you end up with just two self-centered people living in their old flesh happily together. 

What’s wrong with that?  Plenty.  Practically, that means that whenever one of them finds someone better at meeting their emotional needs, the party’s over.  It also doesn’t give God any glory and doesn’t make their marriage a reflection of Christ’s love for the church.  

Using any type of psychology or counseling or insight, “Christian” or not, in this situation is like giving tylenol for pneumonia—-  it brings down the fever and makes the patient feel better, but doesn’t cure the deadly disease inside.  You might “save” the marriage, but you haven’t dealt with the root problem that God is interested in— a life dominated by self-centered flesh.

What I explained to the gentleman was that he didn’t love his wife, not “love” as he defined it, but “love” as Christ defined it: selfless passionate devotion to the welfare of another for the glory of God.  He had little of the kind of love that Paul described in Ephesians 5, Christ-like and self-sacrificing.  And any strategy that simply “rekindled” his fleshly romantic love through any type of need-meeting would do little to increase that kind of Christ-like love.

Talk about hard medicine to swallow.  But it is medicine that everyone who is married needs to take a long hard look at.  There is nothing wrong in meeting your spouse’s emotional needs or getting your emotional needs met— that is part of the mutual care that is proper in a marriage.  But if that becomes the foundation or the strength of our “love”— that it isn’t agape love at all.  But if we are willing to look at ourselves clearly in the mirror of the Word, then we can pray for God to fill us with His love for our spouse, which will care for and meet needs and sacrifice for and be powered by God’s inexhaustible grace instead of our fickle selfish desires.

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