“Love is a feeling you feel when you feel you’re feeling a feeling you never felt before.”
Sounds profound, doesn’t it? I quoted it for years until I thought about the first time I received an electric shock.
That was a feeling I’d never felt before, but I’ll guarantee you it wasn’t love!
The problem with the word love is that we use it to apply to so many emotions or situations that we sometimes don’t know what it means. So what is it? What is this thing called love?
Dr. Robert Sternberg at Yale University probably defines it best. He says that love consists of three components: 1) decision/commitment; 2) intimacy; and 3) passion. When all three strongly exist in our feelings for another person, he says that we feel consummate love for that person. What do these components mean?
- Decision/Commitment has both a short-term and long-term dimension. The short-term dimension occurs when we consciously decide that we love someone. The long-term dimension occurs when we commit to maintain that love. Interestingly, some evolve into commitment without ever consciously deciding to do so.
- Intimacy means closeness, connectedness, warmth, and bondedness. It has to do with understanding each other, accepting each other, and having open and intimate communication with each other.
- Passion is physical attraction, sexual desire, and other strong emotional attraction to another person.
These three components of love were recognized in the time of Jesus. Commitment corresponds to agape found in passages like Matthew 5:44. Intimacy corresponds to philia found in passages like Titus 2:4. And Passion corresponds to eros. Dr. Sternberg didn’t find anything new in his research; he simply quantified how these components measure love.
So what does this mean to you?
I constantly hear people say things like, “I’m not sure if I love my husband,” or “I don’t know if my husband loves me.” Well, you can know. Instead of trying to measure an undefined, intangible feeling, try to understand how each of the three components exists in your marriage. The best way to do that is to have a revealing conversation with your spouse. The following exercise isn’t foolproof, but it may give each of you insight into the love in your relationship. You must do the exercise together and you must be completely honest.
1. Each spouse describes/defines what commitment means to him or her.
2. Using the spouse’s definition, each person rates his or her commitment to the other on a scale of one to ten. Be sure to explain the rating chosen.
3. Each person then answers this question: How satisfied am I with the levels of commitment we each have?
4. Each spouse describes/defines what intimacy means to him or her.
5. Using the spouse’s definition, each person rates his or her feelings of intimacy for the other on a scale of one to ten. Be sure to explain the rating chosen.
6. Each person then answers this question: How satisfied am I with the levels of intimacy we each feel?
7. Each spouse describes/defines what passion means to him or her.
8. Using the spouse’s definition, each person rates his or her feelings of passion for the other on a scale of one to ten. Be sure to explain the rating chosen.
9. Each person then answers this question: How satisfied am I with the levels of passion we each feel?
10. Now, together evaluate the love you feel and decide what each of you can do to develop more commitment, intimacy, and passion.
It may take you an evening or two to complete the exercise, but if you do, you’ll likely have a clearer picture of your love for each other.