Question: My spouse and I have only been married a couple of years, and already I sense that something has begun to change in our relationship. The original "shimmer" of our romance seems to have faded. To be honest, our life together is becoming rather routine and dull. Is something wrong with us? Are we "falling out of love"?

Answer:

You’re not alone. Maintaining the emotional excitement of romance or "being in love" can be difficult at best – and physically draining at worst – once the day to day realities of married life begin to assert themselves. This is especially true when children come along and the wonders of courtship are eclipsed by sleepless nights and piles of dirty diapers.

Different kinds of love

Here’s a piece of news for you: Dorothy Tennov, a clinical psychologist who worked with thousands of couples, said that "romantic" love, on average, lasts only three years. If we think this sounds depressing, it’s because we don’t yet understand the multi-faceted, many-dimensional, ever-resilient marvel that is genuine marital love. If marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment – and here at Focus on the Family we believe that it is – then it stands to reason that marriage has to be sustained by something bigger and deeper than mere romance.

The fact of the matter is that romance is just one of the types of love that hold a marriage together and keep it going. If you think of marriage as a house, there are four kinds of love that can be thought of as representing the basic components of the structure. If one of these components is missing, the house is incomplete.

Unconditional love

First, there’s unconditional love. This is the foundation of the house. It’s the kind of love that gives without expecting anything in return. It’s the agape love of the New Testament writers (see 1 Corinthians 13), the self-sacrificial love that Christ demonstrated on the cross. When a realtor writes a house listing, he rarely comments on the quality of the foundation. But that’s the first place a home inspector looks when assessing the longevity of the dwelling. This "in spite of" love is urged upon us in Ephesians 5:25, where the apostle Paul writes, "Husbands, love (Greek agapate) your wives, just as Christ loved the church." This provides the stability needed for a lasting covenant.

Companionship love

The frame of the house can be compared to companionship love. Open communication, shared activities, laughter, and even tears provide the structured living space within which a couple’s love can be nurtured and grow. It’s significant that the most happily married couples usually describe themselves as "best friends." In the same way, the passionate bride in Song of Solomon refers to her husband not only as "my lover" but as "my friend" (Song of Solomon 5:16).

Romantic love

Once the foundation and frame of the house are in place, the roof has something to rest upon. The roof represents romantic love because this kind of love is a "peak" experience. It’s supported by the first two loves; without them it has no way to sustain itself. Romantic love is a direct response to and celebration of the qualities of the loved one – beauty, charm, strength, tenderness. It’s characterized by the emotional excitement expressed by the bride in Song of Solomon 2:5 – "I am faint with love." It gleams in the sunlight at the top of the house. But it can’t stand alone. On the contrary, basing a marriage on romantic love by itself would be like unloading a pile of shingles on an empty lot and calling it a house. And to junk the house simply because the roof leaks would be foolish. The proper thing to do in that situation is to make the necessary repairs.

Sexual love

When the roof is on and the house is finished, the furniture can be brought in to decorate the house and make it luxurious. The furniture symbolizes sexual love – the physical union between husband and wife that is consummated only after the marriage has been sealed. This love is praised and exalted in Proverbs 5:19, where the writer urges a young man to "rejoice in the wife of his youth": "As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love."

If romance has waned in your marriage, put it in perspective. By all means, work at renewing it. Set aside a regular date night so that you can spend more time together, even if it means paying a babysitter. Write a love letter to your husband. Buy your wife a rose. Be creative in the ways you show affection to each other. But remember that God’s design for your marriage includes all four loves, each in its proper place. Don’t damage your house by expecting the roof to support more weight than it’s designed to bear.

If you feel a need to discuss these thoughts on love at greater length, we’d like to invite you to speak with a member of our counselling department. Our counsellors are available Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They can also provide you with a list of licensed Christian marriage and family therapists practicing in your area. Don’t hesitate to call if you think this might be beneficial. We’d be pleased to assist you in any way we can.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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