COLUMN: A look at love, and what it really is

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By John Lapp

How about love, a sweet love, a give and take love? I like that kind of love, the kind that I can receive, you know a “take” kind of love. But, hold on, you must not have read closely enough to read the first word in that kind of love...give.
Did you expect it to come your way without giving? I sure hope not, and if you did you may not be able to receive…take.
Well, what is love anyway? Poems, songs, movies, plays, books and more have been written on the subject, so most of us have some idea of what are the ingredients that define this often used, but perhaps more often, misunderstood term, which all of us crave. Your definition of love will no doubt directly influence the attitudes and the ways you relate in any relationship, especially the one that should have it always in place, namely the marriage relationship.
I have heard on dozens of occasions in my 40-plus years as a licensed professional marriage and family therapist the following statement: “I don’t love my spouse any more.” In fact a phone call that came very recently included those very words.
I often wonder how long this feeling has been there before this has actually been stated, I know that it has been building for a lot longer than the past few days or weeks. Somethings have happened that caused the switch from positive to negative. I often wondered if what is really needed is a different perspective on love.
We all want and need special attention from one or more people we see as significant. This is not an abnormal need.
When both partners are able to work simultaneously on what is the right perspective on love, the marriage relationship takes on what is commonly referred to as “give and take.” If you are always, or more often, in the need to only receive love, and there are many marriage partners like that (although I wonder how they have stayed married as long as they have), you need to soon, and very soon, develop a new and healthy perspective or you may not be married very long — or you may stay married forever, but be mostly unsatisfied.
Throughout your entire married lives, each of you can work to find many new and meaningful, even exciting ways to put love into the real heart of your relationship. Just saying those three little words, “I love you,” without the action that must accompany the words can be only a matter of fact without a lot of “stuff” to back it up.
There so many ways to say those beautiful words, that the real meaning can get lost in the shuffle and fall flat. So, onto some further exploration of this wonderful word.
Authors have written on the subject for hundreds of years, and have pretty much brought it down to about four different types, namely erotic, belongingness, companionship and the ultimate, agape (pronounced ah-ga-pay).
Our culture has often viewed “erotic love” mostly, or even only, as a sensual experience. In fact, the word has most commonly taken on a tone of fleshly desire and lust. Unfortunately, most do not know that erotic love can also include romance and even sentimentality.
It is a love that is often included and depicted by those who write/compose music, or novels. Erotic love is usually seen as controlled or uncontrolled by physical needs. As a counselor, who is more commonly known as a faith-based Christian with a mixed clientele of both Christian and non-Christian families, it has been my experience that many people with a strong Christian upbringing/background view erotic love as evil. It has been my experience when this has been presented that they might want to read some of the writings from the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament where Solomon has presented that the marriage can have this type of love and is ordained of God. The problem seems to be that because the world outside of the Christian worldview has tainted this word with filth, licentious behavior and the like, so that the overall emphasis has been placed on mostly the physical aspects of sex. Eroticism, therefore, has been entirely blown out of proportion, and often in many cases been absolutely misrepresented, misused and misunderstood. It is, in fact, both a normal and healthy desire in marriage.
We all have a need for “belongingness” love, going back into our childhood experiences, and for sure into the later years of adulthood. I believe that what it means to belong is often represented when you finally come home after a lengthy trip, or even after a long, perhaps tedious day at your place of employment and you find a comfort in belonging to someone, or more than just one, and it feels good. It sort of solidifies what this kind of love means. When I would come home to my house and greet and show love to my wife and get hugs from my children, and now my grandchildren, I know I am loved, and that feels more than just great...it is fantastic. I actually feel like part of a team. In fact I can lean on some of these team members. I have someone to go to for assurance or reassurance that all is well, or is capable of being well, no matter what else has taken place that day, week or longer.
Now, the third word describing “love” that is a major part of my life, and has always been for the bulk of my 56 years of marriage is a love of a true companion, my wonderful, loving wife, Lynn. We have always, from the beginning of our courtship, when she was 16 and I was 18 years old, had a true sense of togetherness, which some may term camaraderie. We can really communicate, although not always in total agreement with each other, we have a willingness to go to great lengths to work together and work it out. I believe that a growing marriage has to have each person feel relaxed and at ease with each other. I can really be myself in this relationship and so can she, with an openness to share our feelings and thoughts with each other. One of the major areas of this type of love is a desire and willingness to not only hear but listen to the things that are important to each other.
The last type of love is the deepest and seems to be the most difficult to really achieve to the highest level. This type of love does not rely on feelings, which seem to be a large part of the other three types. It appears to me, as a human, that it requires more of an act of my will and is more of a selfless act of living in accord with principles taught in the Bible. In fact, the Bible states that God is love, and the word for love that is used in that place is agape. Therefore God doesn’t just agape…he is agape. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing you have read in this column so far? As a marriage partner I must be willing to give my whole love life over to the direction of God. Maybe you need to be reminded of the marriage vows that were stated when you were married. Feelings are present in love, but agape must still be present in the fullest sense when the feelings are not present, at least in the sense as they once were. Agape actually brings the marriage to a complete marriage when the emotional highs are not high, or as high as they once were. I have a writing on a paper on my refrigerator that reads, “Be loving today, even if you don’t feel it…love unconditionally...just like God does, and you know how much that means to you.”
That can be better than what is commonly known as a “happy pill,” you know that prescription that helps you up when you may have been down.
Unconditional love is better, far better than any happy pill, because it is always available. The choice is up to me. Oh, yes, and the choice is up to you. It may be hard to do, but that’s what the exercise of the will is all about, isn’t it?
A “give and take” love will go a long way, even forever, although it may be difficult.