In our modern culture most people would not get married without “feeling it” with your spouse. The emotional sense of connection, the physical attraction, the fireworks in your brain – it’s intoxicating.
And it’s also temporary.
Such wonderful feelings are God’s gift. It’s great to enjoy them. But basing a future life together on feelings is a recipe for disappointment. Feelings are so impacted by circumstances that your control over them is in many ways limited. Feelings are fickle; they change. And hitching your feelings to another sinful human being is to guarantee problems. Life happens even when, and perhaps especially when, you’re married.
We as human beings have the ability to self-regulate. That doesn’t mean we can prevent all negative feelings. But you can befriend your feelings. It’s a matter of maturity to come to the place where you can recognize the feelings you have and intentionally choose how to respond instead of allowing yourself to be governed by emotions, positive or negative.
So how do you do that in marriage? How do you move forward when you feel disappointed, angry, or lonely? What do you do when the fireworks go away and there are no feelings at all? Have you “fallen out of love?” Is there something wrong?
Love is Not a Feeling
What many people mean (perhaps unconsciously) when they say “I love you” is really “I love how I feel when I’m with you.”
That’s not love.
For any of you who are parents, do you feel the same about your child every day? What about when your newborn keeps you up night after night? Or your toddler gets sick and throws up in the middle of the night – repeatedly? Or your teenager keeps defying you to your face? If you’re a decent parent, you know reacting with your feelings to such things is not love. And however imperfectly, you don’t wait until loving feelings return before doing for your child what love requires.
That’s a limited analogy, but it’s a human example demonstrating that love is much more a verb than a noun. Love is primarily an action, not a feeling.
Marriage is a laboratory God has provided humans in which we can learn to love well. That does not mean being “nice!” It does mean you learn to love well because you decide to do so, not because you feel like it.
When the Feelings Go
So, the warm fuzzy feelings are gone. There’s no excitement, no sense of connection. You’re struggling instead with contempt, anger, disappointment, fear, or loneliness. Or you’re not really feeling anything at all. What do you do about it?
That question – what do you do about it – is a good one. Some recommendations:
- Get curious. Feelings provide clues; check them out. Are you tired, stressed, sick? Has your marriage become toxic? Have you neglected the regular investments needed to maintain and grow a strong relationship? This is not about blaming your spouse! Step outside your feelings and ask questions, being a consultant to yourself.
- Check your perspective. You may well only be seeing part of the truth. You may need perspective from a godly seasoned friend, a counselor, a support group. This does not include airing your frustrations on social media, or bad-mouthing your spouse to your coworkers or an opposite-sex friend!
- Get God’s perspective. How much you need this! It’s fine to ask Him to change your spouse. But much more important, ask Him “Who do You need me to be to my spouse in this season?” Take time to hear His answer.
- Focus on action. Don’t follow your feelings as a guide. Investigate them. But then make intentional decisions about the actions you will take next. Remember, love is verb, not a feeling. What does loving your spouse well look like today? Do that!
Focusing on action is where “the rubber meets the road.” It’s often hard. It might mean something like having hard conversations, forgiving, giving your spouse grace, learning healthier ways of communication or intimacy, setting difficult boundaries, or taking your hands off so God can do His work.
Getting Feelings Back
The good news is that good feelings can often return.
Feelings turning from positive to negative can come through neglect of investing in the relationship, through the stuff that just happens in life, through your own old baggage interfering, or a bunch of other possibilities. But none of that means you’ve fallen out of love. Or that the relationship is over. Or that the good feelings can’t come back.
Brain science proves that intentional positive action can change emotions. In marriage, that means that looking for things to be grateful for about your spouse will change how you feel. Learning healthy ways of communication makes it more likely your spouse will communicate better as well. A posture of inviting your spouse to greater intimacy is likely to lead to greater feelings of connection for both of you.
Whatever loving well looks like right now, prayerfully figure that out and do that. It’s worth the effort.
And you’ll be a lot less likely to have to deal with feeling deep regret in the future.
Who knows; loving well is also likely to bring some very good feelings along the way.
Your Turn: What are your feelings about your marriage? Have you allowed your feelings to be your guide? What can you do next to love well? Leave a comment below.
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- The early feelings make marriage wonderful! But what do you do later, when you’re not “feeling it” with your spouse? Loving well means you see love as a verb, and act accordingly. Tweet that.
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