IS LOVE REALLY A CHOICE?
Aaron & April Jacob
Once upon a time Dr. Stephen R. Covey told a story about a man he met at a seminar. It’s a fascinating story and suggests something bold and beautiful about marriage that we think you’re going to like.
“At one seminar, after I’d spoken on the importance of demonstrating character within the family, a man came up and said, ‘I like what you’re saying, but my wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other that we used to. I guess we don’t love each other anymore. What can I do?
“‘Love her,’ I replied.
“He looked puzzled. ‘How do you love when you don’t feel love?’
“‘My friend,’ I responded, ‘love is a verb. The feeling of love is the fruit of love. So love your wife. You did it once, you can do it again. Listen. Empathize. Appreciate. It’s your choice. Are you willing to do that?’
“Of course, I was asking the man if he was willing to search within himself for the character required to make his marriage work. All our relationships follow the contours of life; they have ups and downs. This is why our families provide a critical measure of our character – and the opportunity, again and again to nurture it.” (Story found in the book “Love is a Choice,” by Lynn G. Robbins, originally from “Why Character Counts,” Reader’s Digest, Jan. 1999, 135.)
Isn’t that an amazing concept?
You can choose to love your spouse. And, if you are married, you should choose to love your spouse – today and everyday.
It’s up to you. What will you choose?
Here are three ways Dr. Covey suggests you can choose to nurture love in your marriage this week.
Listen to your spouse, with the intensity that you listen to the evening news or ESPN or your co-worker who has an accent that is hard to understand.
Listening isn’t an easy skill to learn, or develop, but the good news is that it can be learned and developed! With practice, you can become a GREAT listener, which will nurture your marriage, help you have realistic expectations, and know how to truly meet the needs of your spouse.
A wise leader once taught the importance of communication in marriage by saying,
“Taking time to talk is essential to keep lines of communication intact. If marriage is a prime relationship in life, it deserves prime time! Yet less important appointments are often given priority, leaving only leftover moments for listening to precious partners.” (Russell M. Nelson)
Listening is important for not only the big conversations, when your spouse wants to talk about a problem or important decision, but also for the everyday, ordinary conversations (the ones that are all too easy to zone out for!) about what she bought at the grocery store, who he ran into at lunch, and why the neighbor’s dog died (sad).
So, listen to your spouse this week and see if in listening you don’t start to know, understand, and love your spouse a little bit deeper than you have before.
As you listen, love will grow.
Okay, that’s a big word. What does that mean and what does it look like in marriage?
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines “empathy” as,
“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner…” (here)
So, what does that mean for your marriage? And how will that help you love your spouse more?
It means that you need to choose to understand and connect with your spouse on a deeper level. To put yourself in his or her shoes and to be extremely sensitive to what he or she may be feeling or experiencing at any given time of day.
Choosing to show empathy for your spouse, even when you may not feel love for them, will naturally nurture love. It will do this because you will start to focus more on the needs of your spouse and on how you can serve him or her and less on the needs of yourself.
For example, say your husband just received a phone call that his mother passed away. He needs your empathy. He needs you to be there by his side, not just in this moment, but in the coming days and weeks – in the middle of the night when he bawls like a baby who misses his mother. He needs you to be sensitive enough to know when to talk and when not to talk, when to hug him and when to give him a little space, when to bring up a happy memory, and when to offer to distract him by going out to lunch.
As you learn to show empathy for your spouse, the two of you will connect in a beautiful and awfully romantic way. You’ll realize that you are best friends, that you are committed to being there for each other through thick and thin, and that the best of life and the worst of life is yours to be shared together.
As you empathize, love will grow.
Did you know that it has been scientifically proven that expressing gratitude will make you happier? …It’s true.
Expressing gratitude to your spouse will not only make their day, but it will make you happier (all while nurturing your marriage in the process). Check out this video clip to learn more about the science of happiness.
Marriage really is a two-way street of sacrifice; and daily appreciation for those sacrifices will keep both you and your spouse motivated and energized.
Believe it or not, your spouse craves appreciation from you more than from anyone else. Yes, this is even true for men. They want to feel like you need them, you care about them, and you are grateful for them. And not just grateful for what they do for you, but that you are grateful for who they are and how they lift and bless you and everyone around them.
So say thank you. And mean it.
Even if you don’t feel that there is much about your spouse to be grateful for, find something. Be grateful for clean socks, for empty garbages, for food in the fridge, for working hard, for gas in the car, for laughing at you (or with you), for putting up with you during PMS, and for not getting mad when you bought that man toy you had been wanting, just because.
Just be more grateful.
If you need more practical ideas, here are 5 simple ways you can express appreciation for your spouse this week.
One of the magical things about gratitude and appreciation is that it promotes and invites service – from both husband and wife. That service leads to even greater love, affection, commitment, and joy. It’s a continuous cycle that feeds on itself – to the nurturing of your marriage.
This quote summarizes the need for expressions of appreciation in the nurturing of marriage.
“Love is like a flower, and, like the body, it needs constant feeding. The mortal body would soon be emaciated and die if there were not frequent feedings. The tender flower would wither and die without food and water. And so love, also, cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness.” (Spencer W. Kimball)
As you appreciate, love will grow.
These three things – listening, empathizing, and appreciating – are all things you can choose to do.
Yes, as you choose to listen, empathize, and appreciate your spouse, your character will grow. And you will also be choosing love. Eventually, that choice to love will produce the feeling of love, and the effort you have put into your most important relationship will begin to pay off.
This choice to love will help you realize that you and your spouse share a deeper friendship, devotion, and connection than ever before. This realization will also help you understand one very important fact – that happily ever after isn’t some far-off dream, but an actual and practical reality that can be yours today and always.
So go choose to love. Happy loving.