by HARVEY YODER
As a marriage counselor I often hear people lament while they still care for their marriage partner, they’ve somehow lost the “madly-in love” feeling that once drew them together. They often conclude this is not only true beyond any doubt, but there is nothing that can be done to change the fact, which means their relationship is no longer a real marriage. It’s over.
But is that really the case, or might the marriage be entering another phase that could lead to an even better “happily ever after?”
A lot depends on how we use and define terms like “love” and “in love.”
In our English language we use the same word (love) to describe our fondness for chocolate as we do for our devotion to God or to a valued family member. But in the Greek language used in New Testament times, there were at least three distinct words for love, each of which contributes to a good marriage, as in the diagram above:
“Agape” is the divinely inspired ability to care for other people as we care for ourselves, the ability to unselfishly and unconditionally forgive and serve others. It forms the foundation for any enduring relationship, but especially one in which partners pledge to remain together in “sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or for worse, until death do us part.”
“Philia” is the kind of warm kinship we naturally feel with close friends and family members, associated with the fun and enjoyment of everyday living and working together. Successful couples find it just as important to do things that enhance their genuinely liking each other as they do things that add to “in love” feelings.
“Eros” is the romantic desire we feel for another, the less rational and yet very powerful and natural attraction we experience when we say we are “in love.” Eros, which means “desire,” is also the name of the mischievous Greek god of romance, known as Cupid in Roman mythology. It is often the easiest kind of love to come by as well as being the easiest to go.
So if one concludes, “I still have a strong God-given kind of unconditional and filial love for my spouse, but I no longer feel the same cupid-inspired desire for pleasurable intimacy with him or her,” then he or she should ask, “OK, how can we get back more of what we once enjoyed?” And, “What’s gotten in the way of that once very normal and natural enjoyment?”
Maybe love isn’t really something we “fall out of” like Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall. Even the loss of Eros is likely happening because we haven’t nurtured it the way we did when we were dating, and/or because too many other desires have gotten in the way.
Far better to restore whatever love has been lost than to leave a relationship in disrepair and try to find love and happiness elsewhere. Because a lasting love isn’t so much something to be found as to be created and nurtured.
Harvey Yoder is a family counselor and teaches parenting and marriage classes at the Family Life Resource Center. Questions relating to family concerns can be addressed to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22801 or to g. His blog can be followed at harvyoder.blogspot.com.