I would venture to guess that one of the most commonly used reasons for ending marriages in our culture is “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you anymore.” It’s the ready-made answer for ending the marriage that no longer meets our needs and desires. I confess that I am 100% guilty of saying this in the past.
On the surface it seems like a logical reason. Why would you continue to pursue a relationship when you’re no longer in love with your spouse? I’ve had a number of friends tell me that they are no longer “in love” with their wives. I was able to talk with most of them and I’m glad to say a few of them dug in, did the work and are still together.
Before I move on, let me clarify two things. First, there is nothing wrong with being “in love.” It’s a wonderful affair. It’s an amazing convergence of feeling like you might die and like you could live forever. I loved falling in love with my wife. Where the “in love” feeling becomes a negative thing is when we use it as an excuse to dismantle a union which we have promised to honor. Second, I’m in no way saying that if you are in an abusive or dangerous relationship, or one where your spouse is actively sinning against you, that you have to stay. If that’s the case, God loves you too much to watch you be continually hurt. You need to make decisions that are focused on your (and any children involved) safety and well-being. If that’s your current situation, find a Christian community that will help and support you, speak with a counselor, or law enforcement.
It is out of these conversations with my friends, and my own experience and study, I have discovered two profound truths about the statement: “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you anymore.” Without mincing words:
The person may not feel the same “in love” feeling anymore, but they also do not love their spouse.
Being “in love” is a feeling, although it’s probably more of a collection of feelings, but nonetheless still a feeling. The feeling of “in love” is meant to draw and connect us to another person with the purpose of making a commitment to love only them. Because “in love” is a feeling, it can shift and is no more sustainable than the feeling of excitement. “In love” is akin to striking a match; it flickers with the breeze and is easily blown out. Its sole purpose is to light the flame of mature love that isn’t as easily influenced by the whims of other elements. Mature love has weathered trials and is hardened like steel by the flames of difficulty and success. Mature love exists regardless of, and in the face of, waxing and waning feelings. Mature love is a love that decides to stay because it’s rooted in something deeper than feelings. Being “in love” with someone and loving someone are completely different.
Because being “in love” is a feeling, when you say that you love your spouse, but you’re not “in love” anymore, you’re telling a half truth. The true part is that you no longer feel “in love” because that feeling is simply unsustainable. What isn’t true is that you love your spouse. If you loved them, how you feel would be less important than doing the work to mature the relationship. I don’t mean to make it sound easy; it surely isn’t. Marriage is probably (for most people anyway) the one thing you will have to work at harder than anything else. Ever.
If you love someone, then you keep the promise and put in the work. If your marriage is based on feeling “in love,” then you misunderstand what love is and how it works.
This statement is solely based on, and grounded in, selfishness.
When you make love all about your feelings and you’re willing to end your marriage when it doesn’t feel the way you want, then you’ve eliminated the other person from the equation. That’s selfishness. You’re selfish. Genuine love is always about the other person. John 3:16 shows us that God’s love for us moved Him to give to us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son…” so the WE could be saved. He, God, GAVE for US. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Love gives – it does not give up.
I’m not saying that you can’t want to feel “in love.” We are made to give and receive love. We are creatures of love. I hope and pray that we all get to feel loved, but feelings aren’t useful for determining how we love others. Genuine love is always about the other person, regardless of feeling. That’s mature love.
I’ll close with this quote from C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity…
“Ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
What does love mean to you?
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