If it feels good and you’re not hurting anybody, do it! This conventional wisdom is based on emotion, not logic. Conventional wisdom is something that human beings commonly accept—often without thinking about it.
What about the common experience that people call “love”? Is love a combination of what looks good to the eye and makes the heart race? Doesn’t everyone experience the same euphoric feelings when they fall in love?
If these physical reactions accurately define true love, why are there so many divorces? And why wouldn’t “love at first sight” seal a marriage “ ‘til death do us part”? The Western world’s sky-high divorce rates strongly indicate there must be more to true love than natural, short-lived emotional reactions.
Movies and marriage
Consider the movies. A few years ago, the movie The Bridges of Madison County was touted as “the love story of the century.” This remarkably short-sighted advertisement illustrates how many people equate a brief clandestine encounter with true love.
The movie appeared to respond to a public that the entertainment moguls felt were more interested in falling in love than staying in love. This also faults a gullible society that encourages such movies. Today it’s almost rare to see a movie in which a couple doesn’t meet, fall in love, jump into bed together and live happily ever after—
a scenario that almost never works out well in real life.
Clearly, people contemplating marriage and married couples need help in defining and understanding true love. Do you know what defines true love, the kind of love that establishes and promotes a fulfilling, lifelong marriage?
Test your true love quotient
To help determine your “true love quotient,” take this true-false test from the book The Truth About Love by Dr. Pat Love (2001, pp. 18-19). Ready? Here goes:
Happy, stable couples …
• Never argue.
• Are not dependent on each other.
• Both want sex equally.
• Never get angry.
• Get all their needs met.
• Share responsibilities equally.
• Never feel lonely.
• Always agree.
• Think alike.
• Never get bored.
• Always know what the other wants.
• Resolve all of their problems.
So how do you think you did? The correct answer to all these questions is false. Surprised? Let’s read on for a more realistic view of true love and marriage than that held by many people.
Basic ingredients of true love
Among the many helpful books about love and marriage, one that seems well grounded and well researched is the one from which this test is taken . In it, Dr. Love goes beyond the more common informal marital observations and prescriptions, including both physiological and psychological guides to a lasting love.
Here are some basic ingredients of true love: “We know that true love requires basically three elements: chemistry, compatibility and commitment” (p. 20).
Most “lovers” have the chemistry thing down but they seldom remain together long enough to see whether they are compatible and committed. Based on Dr. Love’s research, a couple should experience several progressive stages to sustain and perpetuate true love. Let’s see what they are and how you can put this insightful knowledge to good use in your marriage.
Common marital misconceptions
Any marriage will inevitably face challenges. Most of them are normal—predictable and common to all marriages, provided you allow for differences between genders, cultures, ethnicities and genetics. To assume that some marriages are free from challenges is to misunderstand basic human differences, not only because men and women differ dramatically but also because there are varying physiological and psychological factors within each gender.
Many couples assume that once they fall in love they will remain enthralled forever, with no work involved. True marital love is not a once-done, permanent thing. It is a growing, living and unfolding journey throughout one’s natural life.
No marriage can be truly happy without attentive sacrifice and service by both the husband and wife. Some people give up on an otherwise potentially good relationship only to discover that the very same weaknesses that contributed to the first breakup show up in later marriages.
The moment one person positively changes his or her part of the relationship, the entire relationship changes. Still, both mates must make positive changes to grow a happy marriage.
Your marriage is not much different from others. All marriages have good and bad times. There is no perfect marriage, but every marriage can be “perfected” a little each day—and it will, if both mates sensitively contribute to the marriage relationship.
Love’s chemistry: Falling in love or infatuation
The initial ingredient of love is the chemistry associated with love. This draws a man and woman together but isn’t the end-all to a good marriage. “When you look at societies with the least stable marriages and highest divorce rates, they are the ones that use infatuation as the sole or major criterion for marriage” (Love, p. 37).
What is infatuation? Webster’s Dictionary defines infatuation as lacking sound judgment, foolish, completely carried away by foolish or shallow love or affection, or extrapolating from insufficient information.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing magic about “falling in love.” If you can breathe, you can “fall” in love. Infatuation is universal; no one has a corner on it. Relatively recent research has uncovered a wealth of information that demystifies the love potion and helps to educate us to the truth about love.
Dr. Love explains the neurobiological and psychological processes that make up love’s chemistry and separates infatuation from sexual gratification: “From the outset it is important to distinguish infatuation from sex drive, which is simply the craving for sexual gratification,” she writes. “Humans can feel the urge for sex with someone without having romantic inclinations.”
Infatuation is different. Dr. Love’s research shows that “you can be attracted to a number of people but infatuated with only one at a time. Infatuation is characterized by focused attention on a specific partner. When you are infatuated with someone, only this person can give you those euphoric ‘in love’ feelings” (p. 27).
Infatuation is not initially about sex. All people are equipped with a powerful “love potion.” Infatuation triggers euphoria, an altered state of consciousness induced by the action of what neurobiologists call PEA, an acronym for the chemical compound phenylethylamine. PEA, known as the “love molecule,” works with the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine and triggers powerful side effects.
“Symptoms include a delightfully positive attitude, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, and loss of appetite” (p. 29). People who experience the state of being “in love” can be considered under the
Interestingly, the “love molecule” must be powerful in order to overcome the amygdale, a part of the brain linked with fear and emotions. Our neurobiological system includes the amygdale to caution us against doing something stupid.
“Full-blown infatuation knows no fear,” writes Dr. Love. “Researchers propose that in the presence of a sufficiently intense attraction, virtually everyone’s neural lattices become marinated in natural amphetamines. The frenzied action of lovers’ neurons renders them fearless and unrealistically optimistic.
“It is no wonder that they tend to discount alarming qualities in their sweethearts. You may gently remind a love-struck friend: ‘Have you really considered the fact that he/she is a practicing alcoholic, has lost three jobs in a row, and has been divorced only two months?’ Your friend sweetly responds: ‘We can work it out.’ … Adversity just intensifies the influence of the love drugs because PEA is activated, as well as enhanced, by danger, fear, and risk” (pp. 29-30).
Sex enters the picture with the admixture of PEA, dopamine and norepinephrine. “This delightful influence of infatuation makes us dangerously inclined to make decisions we may later regret,” Dr. Love explains. “It is important, though, to realize that infatuation is merely the earliest stage of love. Do not mistake this temporary power surge for a permanent condition, or confuse it with true love” (p. 31).
Love’s chemistry starts us on the road to true love by attracting us to another person. But it is love’s compatibility that leads us to a more permanent condition.
Love’s compatibility: Sustaining a relationship
The chemistry of love is “the force that gets you together with a genetic match and provides sexual excitement and romance,” notes Dr. Love. “Compatibility sustains the relationship over the years and sweetens your daily life through cooperative companionship” (p. 110). In stepwise progression, a couple adds a working partnership to a romantic relationship by applying the value of compatibility.
A high-compatibility couple consists of a man and woman who get along well. Kindness and respect are hallmarks of such a couple, as they are always ready to override negative interactions with positive ones.
Their compatibility and friendship dominate their relationship. They often begin their relationship as friends and progress into loving each other.
The two confide in and consult with each other regularly. They also talk with one another and laugh together often, every day, even when at work. They are good friends, enriching their friendship with love’s chemistry—romance.
“Without a doubt compatibility is the lifeblood of true love. Research and common sense alike tell us that being kind, caring, friendly, positive, good-natured, apologetic, and well mannered in your relationship is the best investment in home improvement” (p. 125). A compatible couple’s next move, or step up, is commitment.
Love’s commitment: Enjoying a permanent relationship
High-commitment couples value their partnership and enjoy the lifestyle that comes with a permanent relationship. They also relate well to their extended families and their community (p. 125). The partners want to be known as a committed couple and like to be seen together. High-commitment couples often have children and view child care as part of their relationship.
As might be expected, when a couple high in chemistry and compatibility but not in commitment has children, the relationship naturally reduces in intensity. Conversely, marital satisfaction goes up with high-commitment couples because of the addition of children to the family. High-commitment partners are family-oriented and they are always ready to include other people into their relationship.
Naturally, there are different types of commitment. There is commitment that says, “ ‘til death do us part.” There is also commitment that commits to the maintenance and betterment of the relationship.
Obviously, marital commitment succeeds based on committing ourselves to our husband or wife. “None of us is perfect enough to merit undying devotion on a daily basis,” Dr. Love explains. “There has to be a commitment to something bigger. Commitment to the marriage takes over where commitment to the person ends. Commitment to the relationship transcends the highs and lows of love” (p. 128).
Dr. Love gives four guidelines that help define our expectations of love:
Be clear. Communication plays a vital part in a good, healthy marital relationship. Communicate clearly, avoiding assumptions and abstractions. If you want your spouse to know precisely what you’re thinking, you must be deliberately specific. Try to be clear when defining your expectations.
Be realistic. When a spouse expects his or her counterpart to feel, think and talk as he or she does, that is unrealistic. Opposites attract, but why push a good thing by acting unrealistically? Spouses who are realistic with each other will promote a healthier relationship and marital environment. Unrealistic expectations lead
to marital disappointment.
Be flexible. Flexibility is a vital key to a permanent marital relationship. A couple must understand that nothing is more permanent in any marriage than change. However, one who is flexible in marriage will be willing to change how he or she relates to his or her spouse. A flexible husband and wife honor and respect each other’s needs.
Be equitable. Marital partners who are equitable are fair about their expectations of each other. Sacrifice and service are important fairness ingredients. Seeking immediate self-gratification is an enemy of long-term marital happiness. Build trust and love in the relationship; be equitable.
The ultimate true love
The Greek language in which the New Testament was written uses several different words to express different types of love. Eros, philia and agape are three of them.
Eros refers to sexual love. (From it derives the English word “erotic.”) This word isn’t found in the New Testament.
Philia means brotherly love or genuine affection, as in Philadelphia , connoting “city of brotherly love.” In the New Testament, Jesus displayed brotherly affection for John and Lazarus, for example.
The noblest form of love, however, is agape. Agape has to do with the mind. It rises above emotion to encompass the principles by which we deliberately live. Agape could be defined as caring love, the kind Jesus said we must have for all men—even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48 Matthew 5:43-48 43 You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if you salute your brothers only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
American King James Version×). This kind of selfless, outgoing love comes as a gift from God.
God is the author of this kind of true love. When the Bible speaks of God’s love, this is the word used.
Paul’s classic description of agape in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 4 Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;
6 Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Charity never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
American King James Version×defines what true love is all about: “Love [ agape ] is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (New Revised Standard Version).
God gives His divine true love to human beings who truly want it and who present themselves appropriately before Him to receive it. A person can receive God’s gift of true godly love only through His Holy Spirit. “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:12-13 1 John 4:12-13 12 No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
American King James Version×).
God gives His Holy Spirit only to those who are willing to obey Him. “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit [which] God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version×). These are the basic expectations of and qualifications for human beings to receive God’s gift of divine love.
Putting the pieces together
We began with the “love molecule” or love’s chemistry, moved forward to love’s compatibility and then to love’s commitment in marriage. These are the physiological and psychological contributions to what the world calls “true love.” But there’s more. The final and perfect contributor to a happy marriage is agape, God’s divine love given to humankind through His Spirit to those who believe and obey Him.
Just what is true love and who has it? God is the author of true love, and any marriage that possesses godly love has the greatest opportunity to have a lifelong marriage with each partner luxuriating in outgoing concern for the other person.
You can find more of the divine ingredients of godly love in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 5:22-33 Ephesians 5:22-33 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
American King James Version×). Read and apply these divine instructions and your marriage can be a growing labor of love “ ‘til death do us part.” GN