Stephen Covey was speaking at a conference on being proactive in your marriage. When he finished he was approached by a man who said to him:
“Stephen, I like what you’re saying. But every situation is so different. Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb. Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
Modern people seem to be driven by their feelings and no doubt Hollywood has had something to do with that, particularly when it comes to our feelings and romantic love. It is as if we can abdicate our responsibilities in marriage if we lose our feelings toward our spouse.
Love is something you do, particularly the sacrifices you are willing to make for the one you love. I remember many years ago hearing an obstetrician speak and he said that mothers are so devoted and have such a deep love for their children because of the incredible sacrifices they have made in bringing their children into the world and then nurturing them through childhood. The point he was making is the more you sacrifice for someone, the greater the love you will have for them.
Dr. Tim Keller says:
Nearly everyone thinks that the Bible’s directive to “love your neighbor” is wise, right and good. But, notice that it is a command, and emotions cannot be commanded. The Bible does not call us to like our neighbor, to have affection and warm feelings toward him or her. No, the call is to love your neighbor, and that must primarily mean displaying a set of behaviors.
We know feelings are real, but they are not reliable. Feelings are not consistent and are tied to a number of complex factors, waxing and waning. Dr. Keller makes a solid point in that our emotions are not always under our control, but our actions are.
I know of a counselor who strongly believes that feelings of love will follow acts of love. When he counsels those who are struggling in their marriage, he lays out a challenge for them, asking for a four-week commitment. Every day for the next four weeks, they are to do five things each day that someone in love would do. The first thing each morning, they are to make a list of five specific things to do for the other person to express love.
The results? Invariably, over that four-week period, couples begin to see real progress. Unfortunately, most spouses refuse to accept this challenge because they do not think that they are responsible for their marital problems. In reality, they are too lazy to put forth the effort to love their spouse, seeing divorce as an easier alternative.
Christian author C.S. Lewis strongly believed that, even if you have feelings of indifference toward the one you love, you can change your heart over the long haul through your actions. Due to the pandemic, a lot of us are spending an unusual amount of time with our spouses. Now is the perfect time to ask yourself-Am I truly loving my spouse through my actions?
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.