My wife and I recently celebrated 18 years of marriage, and it’s for one reason only… choosing to love.
If someone were to graph our marriage, we would see mostly good moments, quite a few high points, and a few low spots. Truth be told, Shelly (my wife) is easy to be married to. I, on the other hand, am not.
During one of our more trying seasons, I remember Shelly saying to me, “I love you, but I don’t like you.” It took me a minute, but I understood exactly what she was trying to say.
When the New Testament was written, there were four major Greek words for what we now singularly call ”love.”
Eros love is a romantic love. It exists between people who are physically attracted to one another. As you might imagine, eros is lost when romance or physical attraction is lost.
Storge, is a love that exists because of familiarity. We would associate it with fondness or affection. It naturally exists in relationships between parents and children or maybe between close friends. It’s strength is also it’s weakness, because when familiarity or fondness goes, storge goes with it.
Phileo love is when someone has a strong emotional connection to someone or something. We might characterize it primarily as a feeling. As we’ve seen with the previous loves, when feelings fade, phileo fades.
Agape, the fourth and final love, is altogether different and is essential to the health and long-term success of any marriage. It’s the love my wife gives to me and is the reason I’m still married.
Agape love is not emotional, it’s volitional. It’s a deliberate choice- an act of the will. Agape says “I’ve made a decision to love you.” It has nothing to do with whether someone deserves our love. It’s a unique love because of what it does, not because of how it feels.
“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling… no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all…” C.S. Lewis
Jesus teaches us that there is a superior kind of love that is greater and stronger than all other loves. The “I’m choosing” love that is agape. This is why He can paradoxically tell us to love (agape) our enemies. He doesn’t command us to be fond of our enemies or to have good feelings for our enemies, He commands us to choose to act in a loving way towards them.
So, do we resign ourselves to being stuck in a marriage where there is no eros (romance), storge (fondness) or phileo (feeling) love? Not necessarily.
Tim Keller says it well, “Love is an action first and a feeling second. If you love people, eventually you’ll come to like them.” When we choose to love (agape), many times feelings will follow. This is what gets us through the low spots.
Any other lesser-love will fail both you and your marriage. They always will. But there is a greater love that is available should we embrace it. A love that makes marriages last… it’s called agape.
What kind of results have you seen from these different kinds of love in your own marriage?