There are typically three things that most people in the western world would believe are required for marriage:
- Physical attraction
- Love(feelings of love)
- A willingness to make a serious commitment
From a Christian perspective (as well as many other non-western and non-Christian perspectives) only a commitment to the institution of marriage is required.
For thousands of years, and even today there are many outside of western nations that have marriages arranged by their parents. Often times they meet their spouse only a week or two ahead of when they are married. In western culture many despise these types of marriages as dull or unemotional. But if you talk to these couples, they often have much stronger marriages than we do in the west, and they have a tiny fraction of our divorce rates here in the United States.
I am not saying that looking to be attracted to a person is wrong. I wanted to be attracted to my wife before I married her and I definitely was. I also had feelings of love and attachment to her before I proposed. But in God’s eyes, the only thing that was required of her and I was a commitment before God to the covenant of marriage, anything more than that was simply icing on the marriage cake.
The reason I say this is, for many marriages the attraction, as well as the feelings of love may fade over time. God never expects us to keep our physical attraction to our spouse, or to keep our feelings of love to our spouse.
But someone might say – “Wait a minute! The Bible commands in many places that husbands and wives are to love one another”. That is absolutely a true statement. But the love the Bible is describing is love that is made up of actions, not feelings.
I am not commanded to feel an emotional attachment to my wife, I am commanded to take actions of love toward my wife. I wrote about the 12 attributes of Biblical marital love and you can read them here.
I am not commanded to feel attracted to my wife either, only to love her with the actions of love God has defined for a husband and wife.
Let me explain more of what I am saying by defining the sources of love.
The three sources of Love
Family, or instinctual love(Storge) – Most human beings have an instinctual love toward their parents and their children. There are some exceptions as in the case where a parent abuses a child and that child may have no love left for their parent, but in most cases love happens instinctually between parents and children.
Emotional, or Friendship love(Philia) – This is love based on either romantic feelings between a man and woman, feelings of infatuation, or love that is based on common interests. This kind of love is almost 100% based on how much each person puts into the relationship, whether it is a same sex friendship, a dating relationship, or a marriage.
Unconditional love(Agape) – This is a love that is based on a choice, a commitment to love someone no matter what they do. This is the kind of love we are told that God has toward his children (those who trust in his Son). This is highest form of love, because it not based on feelings, or anything that the recipient of this love has done.
God commands husbands and wives to have an unconditional love(Agape) toward one another in the covenant of marriage.
What this means on a practical level is, I am supposed to be patient and kind to my wife no matter what she does. My wife is supposed to protect my reputation and honor me, and I her, regardless of whether we feel an emotional attachment to one another, or attraction to one another.
Marital love is not earned, but emotional love(philia) and attraction are earned
I say everything I have said up to this point to present this extremely important principle for those who are engaged, newlyweds or couples that have been married for a long time.
Many people, both men and women, think that part of unconditional love is the fact that their mate is required to unconditionally feel an emotional attachment to them and also be attracted to them no matter what they do.
You cannot control your emotional attachments, or you whom you are attracted to, you can only control what you do with those feelings and attractions.
But I want my spouse to feel an emotional attachment to me and be attracted to me!
You want your spouse to be attracted to you? You want your spouse to miss you when you are gone and truly want to be around you, not just out of a sense of duty, but also because of how they feel about you?
Make yourself attractive, give them a reason to feel love for you, not just show love out of duty. Make them miss you because of how wonderful you are to be around.
Things that erode attraction and emotional attachment between a husband and wife
Criticism is perhaps the greatest killer of attraction. Every critical word that comes out of your mouth toward your spouse erodes at their attraction to you. Any time your correct your spouse, or tell them they are wrong, or doing something wrong you erode the attraction they have to you.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times we need to speak the truth in love to our spouses about wrong things they have done. But we should be extremely choosy about when we do this.
Moodiness is another killer of attraction and emotional love as well. Maybe you don’t criticize your spouse much, but you have a frown on your face half of the time. Happiness and contentment are attractive, moodiness and negativity are very unattractive.
Complaining never builds attraction. Yes we all complain at times, but if we have a constantly complaining spirit, this is not an attractive quality. You may not be criticizing or complaining about your spouse, but simply the act of complaining all the time is very unattractive.
Physical appearance – yes physical appearance still matters after you get married, not just before you get married.
Guys – are you shaving and showering on a regular basis? Did you forget where your deodorant or cologne are? If you are not caring for your physical appearance, this can erode attraction and emotional attachment.
Ladies – do you spend most of your time in sweats and tea shirts? Do you ever wear sexy clothes and care about your appearance the way you did when you were dating? Did you forget where your perfume was? If you are not caring for your physical appearance, this can erode attraction and emotional attachment.
But I have tried all these things, but still my spouse is unresponsive!
This is a topic that requires its own post which hopefully I will have something on shortly. For now I will just say it is possible to be married to a spouse that is emotionally stinted (and yes this applies to both men and women). It is also possible to be married to a person that is so self-absorbed, or so overwhelmed by their own emotional issues(such as anger, depression, moodiness, health issues, job issues) that no matter what you do to cultivate attraction and emotional love they will never or rarely respond in a meaningful way. I will address this situation in a separate post.
Each man and woman are different in what they consider to be attractive and what builds emotional attachment for them. You don’t have to earn your spouse’s love in the unconditional, commitment sense of the word. God expects that no matter what, and that keeps marriages together.
But the conditional love, the emotional love,the attraction love, the love that is based on actions and appearance makes marriage much more than a duty, it makes marriage fun and enjoyable.
So you if you want your spouse to love you in the emotional sense, to be attracted to you and to miss you when you are not together – it is all up to you! Ask yourself what you have done and what you are doing to build that attraction and emotional connection. It won’t just happen, it requires intentional action.