Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Love Is A Choice, Not A Feeling

January 11, 1999

Our culture is steeped with notions of romantic love. Young people are encouraged to believe that love is a feeling, the excitement and passion of a new relationship. The feelings of awe and admiration coupled with sexual attraction and acceptance provide a powerful foundation for a while.

When the honeymoon is over. The sky high emotions of the courtship and honeymoon run their course. Feelings of romantic love delightfully last through courtship and for a couple of years after marriage. Then the honeymoon is over. The reality of marriage sinks in. There is a predictable period of disillusionment that is as normal as was the rose-colored beginning.

Your partner isn't perfect. A partner’s faults are the mirror images of the same qualities that provided the initial attraction. There is competition to see how decisions are made. Each partner brings with him or her powerful expectations from their childhood about what marriage should or shouldn't be like.

This awkward time tests communication skills and the ability to see and accommodate to a partner's needs and point of view. Love is cooperation, a yielding of autonomy for the well-being of another.

Love is work. Usually by the fourth year, the demands of marriage are multiplied by the addition of a child. New demands emerge as well as realignment of priorities.

If commitment to marriage were based on romantic feelings, then naturally the assessment of the marriage would be quite different from the days of its blissful beginning. Marriage now needs to be sustained by daily acts of thoughtfulness, consideration, generosity and patience. This is the practical side of marriage that requires sacrifice, effort and respect.

What love really is. At this point and throughout the coming decades of marriage, passion isn't the driving force though it still remains a delightful constant. Love is action. Love is a choice. Giving love is finding ways of putting the well-being and happiness of our loved one ahead of our own needs and desires. Maybe not 100 percent of the time, but most of the time, so there is no doubt about the faithfulness of that love.

It is especially important to give love when our loved one is under duress, facing a crisis or going through a loss. When loving support is required, being emotionally available is crucial.

With time, love feels more like peace, contentment, deep trust, understanding, mutual support and an iron clad commitment. Problems will be addressed and worked on. There will be no surprises.

This love needs to be protected by keeping one's fantasy life under control. There is no stepping over the line when an opportunity to cultivate an attraction to someone else is present. The desired fullness of love can only be negotiated, communicated and working within the marriage - with the history and trust of our mate.

What if we don't feel love? We can change the way we feel by how we act. When we act in loving ways and with sacrifice, we will feel great love, empathy and compassion toward that person we are serving.

"What we serve and what we learn to love takes our time, and what takes our time is what we love." -Marvin J. Ashton

People who enjoy great prestige, power and wealth can still maintain equality and love in their marriage by loving and giving generously to their loved one. If you are genuinely serving your mate, it is hard to be cruel, arbitrary, selfish or high-handed. Love is the great equalizer.

Love is commitment. We decide where to direct our loving attention and actions. Our ability to love is only limited by the amount of time and attention we decide to give. The things and people we give our attention to define what we really value and love.

Love creates love. It is easy to love someone who is loving you. The pace that love grows is accelerated by two people choosing to love at the same time. Each partner sees and magnifies the effort he or she sees coming from their partner. They tend to minimize or discount their own actions as not being important. But they are - to the partner.

Love evens out in the long run. Nobody keeps score. All you know is that you are being loved and your needs are being met. And to love someone else is a joy. It is when needs aren't being met that people pull back, start noticing and eventually start meeting their own needs first.

Love is as love does. We don't have to wait for our loved one to act in a loving way first. On our own, we can start the ball rolling - even if we don't we don't have those overly romanticized feelings of infatuation from those days of courtship. If we wait until we feel like it, it might not happen. Feelings will catch up to the way we act. Love is a choice, not a feeling.