Loving vs. Being in Love

Loving vs. Being in Love

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At one point in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the devil Screwtape gloats over how humans are gripped by "the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call 'being in love' is the only thing which makes marriage either happy or holy." This comes in handy for tempters like himself because, among other things,

"humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves 'in love,' and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion."

Sounds pretty silly when you put it that way, doesn't it? Yet it's how we think a lot of the time. We live in a culture that exalts our feelings as all-important and imagines love as the ultimate feeling — the highest, the most intense. We think of love not as something we do, but something that sweeps over us, beyond our control ("falling in love"). If we don't feel it, we shouldn't get married — and if we don't feel it after we get married, we shouldn't stay married. Christians, too, have absorbed these attitudes, which goes a long way toward explaining their divorce rate. God wants me to be happy, right?

Reading Lewis is a good antidote to this mindset. In Mere Christianity, he talks about how people in love naturally incline to bind themselves together with promises of lasting devotion. ("The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion's own nature: It is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.") But remaining in love cannot be the basis for keeping that promise. "A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions," he writes. "No one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry."

Lewis doesn't diminish the value of being in love: "It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust." But he puts it in perspective:

"Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called 'being in love' usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending 'They lived happily ever after' is taken to mean 'They felt for the next 50 years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,' then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?"

Then he gets to the most important point:

"But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from 'being in love' — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be 'in love' with someone else. 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

That's the attitude to cultivate in yourself and to seek in a spouse. How many marriages break up not because one or both spouses is behaving intolerably (adultery, abuse, abandonment), but simply because they're bored or feel "unfulfilled" or "want different things" or "grow apart?" This is a big part of how you combat that — not by seeking the emotional thrills you may once have felt (or never did, but wish you had) with a new partner or new life path, but by letting go of the quest for thrills in favor of mature appreciation.

And when you do, Lewis notes, a surprising thing has a way of happening: You discover a new kind of thrills and a new kind of love — deeper, richer and more lasting than what you knew before.

"The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

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  • I think if you're making that concious choice to love, being "in love" will follow.

  • Hmm...While I agree with the overall point that marriages can't be built on that emotional high, the fist C.S. Lewis quote makes it sound like one should just marry any warm body next to them because marriage in and of itself is better than being single. I would think if you are not "in love" with someone at least some of the time, your marriage isn't going to provide that desired preservation of chastity -- both physical and emotional.

    I'm of the opinion that it is totally valid not to be married because you haven't been "in love" with anyone yet...which I guess is what the last half of the article kind of says.

  • I understand what Corwin said, but I only half agree. I mean, I don't want to marry someone I'm not "in love" with but I do want a lasting connection, not a little "fling-mariage." So, I have deducted that I want to marry someone that has similar values, is a Christian, and wants a lasting commitment. I like this article though!!!

  • It's not just marriages that suffer when people reduce love to a feeling.  Many people don't believe that God loves them because they just don't "feel" Him.  They become alientated at church because they wonder why everyone else seems to sense God's love but they can't.  

    1st John 3:16  says "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters."  Marriages will thrive as Christians adopt a more Biblical view of love.

  • I think its a cycle.

    I agree with Corwin. I think to get married, most of us (in modern dating cultures, not arranged marriages) would like to have felt "in love"  You should atleast start out with strong emotions for eachother.

    And then life will happen and reality will be hard and a lot of days, as Mrs Ashley TOF says, love will be a choice not a feeling (love v. feeling in love) But, I, like her, believe that obediantly and self sacrificially loving your spouse usually produces feelings of love...

    And that feeling of being in love will be great, intil he/she gets annoying, sins against you, you sin against them,-- aka LIFE GETS REAL AND HARD.  And then you love as a choice...and pray that the feelings follow again.

    I can see this happening multiple times in the course of the relationship.. And while feelings don't define commitment and faithfulness, I think the knowledge of what once was and what can hopefully occur again motivates us to decidedly love our spouse even when we don't feel it. Thus the normal ups and downs of love.

    True, we can spend our whole lives choosing to love, and there is always the possibility that will happen - that one spouse will pull away or love will fade.  If my fiance quits loving me, I can still choose to love him.  If my feelings fade, I can still choose to love him-- and vice versa.  But just because you can choose to love doesn't mean thats what we want.  And I don't think that makes me a worse Christian or wife because I admit that I want to feel love for my husband and feel love from him as well. I long for that, I want that, those feelings don't define my role and my calling as a wife, but they are real.  I hope that most of our marriage is spent in love. But, where I proove my love will be the times that I don't feel it.

    And, I do believe that few of us would end up in the position of having to "choose to love" if we had not already been "in love"  

  • To Clair....

    So many things seen differently.....

    How about an arranged-marriage - by God? He is the Lord of the Universe and of His born-again redeemed children: He decides when His creatures are born or die, He provides for all of them, He chooses when it rains, when not, He named all stars....yet in His children's lives, He being Lord means well....He does not have a word to say in deciding on life-matters or on choosing a marriage partner.....

    How about if He is Lord in your life, let Him be the arranger of your marriage - like Him deciding to call you to marriage to a specific person?

    You don't need to feel in love. You just need to understand your calling from God to marry a certain Christian person - the one that He sees is best in His plan for both of your lives. After obeying God in His choice for your marriage partner, you CHOOSE TO LOVE that person - not primarily because of beauty, character, maturity and other check-lists that you have, but because you trust your heavenly father, and loving is a command of His! After forming the habit to choose to love, you discover feelings accompanying your actions of love, and your obedience to God. And you discover day by day what a wonderful wise outrageous magnificent choice of a partner God gave you - one you could have never find on your own......

    I am in the postion of choosing love not because I first felt in love but because I obeyed God and His calling to love and commit in marriage to a specific person. And I couldn't be happier with my choice and God's and with the outcome.

    Just think differently - what would this scenario bring if you could put feelings in the proper order of priorities and importance in your marriage? First comes obedience and commitment, then the choice of unconditional love, then the natural development of relationship plus fluctuating feelings....

  • Clair, I'm with you. Well put.


    I think you are misreading what I am saying. I 100 percent believe in obeying God and if he called me to marry someone I did not love, I would like to think that I would.  I just don't think its wrong to want to be in love, to want to have those feelings.  Many many godly men and women have been in love

    Love is shown though when you obediantly follow Christ and choose to put someone else first and love them despite feelings.  And like you said, and like Mrs Ashley said, that often times leads to something very deep.

    It's possible that one starts off not feeling love, but in our modern culture, many of us aren't in arranged marriages - by God or anyone else. And although I beleive God is the ultimate author of all marriages, I do think that some of who we meet and care for and marry is very feelings based.  I didn't chose to marry the man I was in love with verses the man God called me to whom I didn't love. I feel called to marry this man, whom I also happen to feel love for....and whom I will also probably not always feel in love with....and will spend many many days choosing to obey and love...which like I said is a cycle, because in many cases, it causes feelings to grow (as you yourself admitted)

    I feel like I am repeating my first post.

    Please don't misread my post. I believe obeying God is the ultimate goal and that the priority is choosing love not feeling love.  Not once in my post did I state that I expected to always be in love or that I would leave if those feelings faded.  I just think that often, through God's good graces, we can choose love and feel love, even if its in cycle.  NEVER ONCE DID I SAY FEELING IN LOVE WAS MY PRIORITY, just that in modern dating, usually thats how it happens and usually couples work to feel that companionship, connection and attraction.  I fully understand that marriage is a risk of marrying someone who I may one day not "feel love for" and if that happens, I will obey, even if the feelings don't return.

    Just because I am in love does not mean I don't love or have sinful priorities

    I am sorry that you did not first feel love, but I am happy that you obeyed and have loved despite that and I am thrilled the Lord has blessed you with growing feelings.  

  • and when I say not in an arranged marriage "by God" -- I mean He most likely isn't placing me with someone I do not know.  ALthough, by all means it is possible!

  • While I do admire C.S. Lewis, his word is not God's Word. I feel that Matt agrees with Lewis, but he does not discuss what the Bible says on the issue. What about the Song of Songs/Song of Solomon, which celebrates "being in love" and enjoying the physical expression of that love within marriage? I agree with the other commentators that marriage is at its foundation a commitment made before and to God as well as an active, ongoing choice to love your spouse. However, it seems that the Bible also praises "being/feeling in love" as being a very important component of married life.

    I also think whether one chooses to love before feeling in love (or vice versa) would be highly individual and dependent on that specific relationship. It seems to be a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" scenario. Finally, I would add that we're lucky to have the option to fall in love with our spouses at all; I don't think many truly relish returning to an era when our parents would pick our mate for us, perhaps with little or no regard to our preferences.

  • Clair,

    I am not misreading your post and you don’t need to repost it. You simply are not consistent with your own things. You try to reconcile what I say with what you say, but…..

    My point is…..we don’t want arranged marriages by God – we strongly believe in our hedonistic “”Christian”””lifestyle where the big “I” rules: “I” want to have those feelings, “I” want pleasure, “I” want this checklist and that, I want that, I don’t want that. Everything in your supposed marriages revolves around You, what YOU want and of course, revolves around FEELINGS, which are the most unworthy to be trusted or followed in anything in this life. Forget about higher goals and higher principles of living – like agape love, sacrifice, or anything that puts someone else in the center – God or another human. We live for now and for ourselves – we can’t imagine a different kind of life….That is partly why it is unconceivable to have an arranged marriage – even by God – even if we pretend the ultimate author is Him. Like…we do what we want, choose who we want and in the end, we pretend that God was the ultimate author of our story and our choices…..

    To be able to love means to die to self, and this focus on “I” is against selflesness….

    Please don\t be sorry for others’s beginnings and stories that do indeed have God as their maker! I don’t give a cent on those feelings that are just moods and swinging uncontrollable states: I just wait on them to pass or restart their uncontrollable cycle – like shower rains and sunshines in every day! There are no growing feelings – for these have nothing to grow to or from – there is only growing knowledge, growing love, and growing commited relationship!


    While the passage in Song of Songs does have its importance, let’s not make out of it what it does not say. Meaning let’s do its fair interpretation of text, and not dismiss Lewis. That passage is descriptive on some historical figures, it is NOT NORMATIVE for every single married couple! Any married couple would testify that they don’t have THAT kind of INTERACTION EVERY time they have sexual relations as husband and wife in their life, and so much not the case during their wedding night as virgins! So does this passage contradict Lewis point? By all means, NO!

    Yes, AMC, we are so bonded to “our preferences” because of our hedonistic self-centered individualistic “modern” culture that we don’t even recognize to be opposed to the Christian worldview anymore.

  • Christlike

    You have indeed misread (I choose to beleive you are misreading it rather than intentionally misrepresenting it) my post and taken quite a judgmental tone.  I won't repeat everything I said.  I am just saying that for most people, relationships (ordained by God) begin with feelings. I am not sorry that my began that way.

    We both agree that there is so much more to relationships that feelings.  I agree that our culture has taken a me focused view of life and relationships -- thus the reason for many divroces bc they arent "in love" anymore or it got too hard, etc.

    I think I made it quite clear I believe in commitment, choice, obediance to God when loving our spouses.  Clearly that is what we are called to...above feelings, despite feelings, without feelings.

    Yet, I will not apologize or let othes imply my relationship lacks those characteristics of obediance and commitment simply because I also feel love for my spouse.  If I didnt or don't feel love, I will still obey and love him. But, I am happy that I am blessed with feelings for him.  It didn't have to work out this way, but it did.

    We sought God when deciding on marriage.  I sought whatever HIS will would be (even if that meant we broke up- and thats a hard prayer to pray)  I feel confident that this is the man I can best serve God with in a lifetime commitment of marriage.  What makes my marriage any less "arranged" by God?  If being arranged or ordained by God means that a marriage lacks emotion, than many many examples of Godly marriages in my life were not arranged by the Lord.  I simply do not believe that.  Some arranged marriages do just involve a choice and some involve choices, obediance and feelings.  Those are no less arranged than your marriage.

  • Christlike-  would you elaborate more on a marriage "arranged by God" and how this may differ (and be superior) to how a Christian couple who may fall in love and seek the Lord for when and whether to marry.

    Also, wondering how long you have been married?

  • What does ""marriage arranged by God"" mean? Similar to what ""arranged by family/friends"" mean except it is God instead of family/friends who arranges marriages. The choice of a spouse belongs to God, not to the falling in love couple who seeks ""God's will"after they made the choice of starting a relationship or even ""falling in love"". Is that superior?  it's just different - the primary choice is of God and not of men who fall in love and seek afterwards the Lord's path and counsel.

    Don't see any difference?

    God: first His choice, then human obedience, love, commitment and fluctuating feelings

    Men: first falling in love, lokking for preferences, then ""seeking God's will""

    I thikg it depends on the personal theology one holds: mine starts with God and centers on God, in any life-situation. Others' start with man and then make God fit their human pattern, choices, desires, paths....


    Today was a sunshine day of feelings. Don''t you just love those? For no reason or correspondent reality, you feel like on cloud nine. Too bad it's just a feeling, and has no reality basis, nor other value than making yourself high-sky, or down.......

    As for your curiosity Kellie, I am sorry I am not giving personal details of my life that you should not be concerned about. Don't worry, everything is more than fine, there;s nothing for you to worry about!

  • Christlike,

    "God: first His choice, then human obedience, love, commitment and fluctuating feelings"

    You really haven't made it clear how we are to know who God chooses. Very few of us will have such choices made clear to us. So how does one seek God's choice for us (if indeed, we have a mate lined up)? God knows the choices we will make, but without us knowing the future, it is us who makes the choices. If we call ourselves children of God, then before/during/after we make these choices, we should be seeking God in His Word and prayer.

    Furthermore, you cannot make a choice against God's Will. It's His Will, it will be done. You may end up in a horrible marriage (for example) because of choices you make, but it was still God's Will that this happen to you, usually to help grow you or others around you.

    So that said, please elaborate, in practical terms, how we seek out God's choice for us?

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