As a pastor, I have had the great privilege of counseling married couples over the years. In some cases, marriages have seemingly been hanging by a thread. Others have experienced great betrayal and pain. Some just need encouragement to press on. Yet, there are some that eventually unravel regardless of counsel and prayer, by the willful decisions made by the offender or the offended.
While there are many reasons (and sometimes just excuses offered) as to why a marriage is over offered by a couple, a very common phrase that I have heard is "I just don't love him/her anymore." And to that, I often respond with "Okay, so now tell me why you think you have a right to end your marriage." And the confused look on the face of the one seeking to leave the marriage reveals that he/she thought the "I don't love my spouse anymore" was a valid reason.
Years ago, I heard Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott share about the three types of love that are needed for sustaining marriage. They refer to the findings of Dr. Robert J. Sternberg, a psychologist previously at Yale University and now Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. His "Triangular Theory of Love" postulates that love can be understood in terms of three components that together may be viewed as a triangle.
These three components are passion, intimacy, and commitment.
The Parrotts explain this well this way...
- Passion – the biological part of love: This it the spine-tingling sensation that moves us toward romance. It starts with our hormones. It’s sensual and sexual, characterized by physiological arousal and an intense desire for affection. The Song of Songs, for example, celebrates the physical love between a man and a woman in passion-filled poetry: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine” (Song of Songs 1:2).
- Intimacy – the emotional part of love: Love without intimacy is only a hormonal illusion. You can’t desire another person over the long haul without really knowing that person. Intimacy has a “best friend” or “soul mate” quality about it. We all want someone who knows us better than anyone else — and still accepts us. And we want someone who holds nothing back from us, someone who trusts us with personal secrets. Intimacy fills our heart’s deepest longings for closeness and acceptance.
- Commitment – the willful part of love: Commitment looks toward a future that cannot be seen and promises to be there — until death. “Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises,” writes philosopher Hannah Arendt, “we would be condemned to wander helplessly in the darkness of each person’s lonely heart.” Commitment creates a small island of certainty in the swirling waters of uncertainty. As the mooring of marriage, commitment secures love for our partner when passion burns low and intimacy wanes. Commitment says, “I love you because you are you, not because of what you do or how I feel.” (full article here)
As I talked to a young couple this week in premarital counseling, I shared this information. I shared that the if you grade these on a scale of 1 - 10, that there are times you will be a 10 out of 10 on the passion scale, but not always. There will be days you are a 10 out of 10 on the intimacy scale, but again, not always. Then, there's the commitment, or willful, scale. There are days you can be 10 out of 10 on this one. The difference is that on this scale, it's your choice. This is the willful determination to love. This is the realization that love is a choice.
So, when a person says "I just don't love him/her anymore" it is a statement of will. It is a choice. It is not a feeling. And, understanding this reality, no man or woman is given biblical grounds for disavowing the "commitment" scale (or to put it another way, to disavow the vow) regarding marital love.
Oh, and by the way, if the husband and wife wake up one day and discover that they're a 10 out of 10 on the commitment scale (which should be every day), a 10 out of 10 on the intimacy scale, and a 10 out of 10 on the passion scale...that's a good day to call in to work and take a personal day. That day is going to be a good, romantic day!