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Love — What exactly does it mean?

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By John Lapp

Love. It has many shapes, many forms of expressions, and many “flaws”. When the word love has been expressed by one of my many clients over the past four decades, it is often misunderstood or unaccepted.
A prime example is when a couple was in my office and were discussing the possibility of rebuilding their fractured marriage after the husband had been having an extended affair. When he tried to explain how he really felt toward his wife, he proceeded with, “I know that I’ve really hurt you deeply but I want you to know that all the times I was with (the other woman), I never doubted then, nor do I doubt now, that I really love you and always have loved you”.
Well, she turned toward him and let out a heated blast, laced with some language I prefer not to print — but you can fill in your own blanks and you may not be totally correct but very close. Why that man chose to tell her this in such a tender, pleasant way, I could not understand except to try to salvage what was left of their relationship, if there was anything left.
Later, when we had an individual session, I posed the question, “Why did you choose to use the word love?” His response was as thoughtless as the first statement he had made. I chose to not tell his wife what he said, but proceeded to let him know an old shop-worn phrase which I had learned long before then that went something like this: “Be sure the brain is engaged before putting the mouth in gear!”
He got the message! He got this message: “Would you believe that all the time your wife would have had an elicit sexual relationship with another man that you would have calmly received the same message from her that all along while engaged in the affair, she knew that she really loved you and always has, and still does?”
His answer: “No!”
So, with this one example presented, let’s talk about this word. What is love, anyway? That question has intrigued philosophers since the beginning of time. This is certainly an important question, because your definition of love will directly influence your attitudes and mannerisms in relationships, especially marriage.
I have often heard the statement, “I don’t love my spouse anymore”. What happened along the way to have this switch take place from positive to negative? We all want special attention from someone significant. That is quite normal, and expected.
One author has suggested that when both partners express love in a regular fashion, things usually go well and get better, but when it lacks this give-and-take form and becomes a push-pull type of marriage, it usually goes in the wrong direction. So, let’s discuss the many forms of this word, “love.”
In our post-modern world, the word can mean “erotic,” mostly a love that is sensual. But this type of love can also include romance and being sentimental.
This is the love that is often written about in songs, sonnets, poems, even in novels. Too often our culture has associated the word erotic with the purely physical aspects of sex. This type of love portrayed on TV and in the movies appears to be the ultimate of experiences. King Solomon’s writings are amazing in the book of the Bible Song of Solomon, which is found in the middle section of the Old Testament. Many years ago, a Christian author attempted to describe the many answers he received on a questionnaire in which the responder had to complete the sentence, “Sex is . . . “ and he humorously presented some of the answers given, one of which sounded like the correct theological/doctrinal definition, but was as dry as dust. The author stated that the answer given which seemed to be the best, in his estimation, was, “Sex is fun!” Yes, God never said it had to be boring, stilted, matter-of-fact, a responsibility only. He never told Adam and Eve what it should be, but that it should be between them as husband and wife, and no doubt they experienced the enjoyment of it. So our society has placed the wrong meaning on the word erotic when it comes to love, as if it is only meant to be fleshly, based upon lust. It should mean much more than that.
What about the love that is found in companionship, a love I still have for my boyhood friend Bill who has shared a friendship with me for more than 60 years? We still talk with each other on a regular basis, although he lives in Florida. We are different in many ways, but our companionship keeps us still very close. My wife and I have a companionship in our marriage. My wife and I are as much close friends as we are lovers. We have always been close friends since we began dating at age 18 and 16. We think differently about many things, and are different in ways that do not interfere in our companionship. We both know that we can still be best friends and not let our differences matter like what happens in many troubled/unhappy marriages. Companionship love takes both partners to be cooperative and responsive to and with each other.
Another form of love, although not usually mentioned in literature, is described as a sense of belongingness. We all know that although we like to occasionally take trips or vacations, there seems to be something really good about coming home to your bed that is familiar and fits your needs. It is nice to have the security and familiarity of being able to wake up and be half-asleep and still find your way into the kitchen or the bathroom without bumping into a wall that you were unaware was there.
Ultimately, the finest form of love is that which is most often found in the Bible, that form being AGAPE (the letter “E” to be sounded as a long “A”.) This form of love does not rely on feelings. This form of love is when your love is given by sheer willpower, even when feelings are not present In fact, in the Bible it is stated that “God is love”. This type of love keeps flowing and going even when the emotional stops or struggles. When this love is in place, it is much easier to disagree, for example, without being disagreeable. It helps to continue being harmonious in spite of what you feel the partner/child/friend has said or done that has caused you to feel hurt. Finally, when agape love is firmly in place, you have found true love!
Maybe this has helped some of you, and if you are still struggling in a relationship that seems to sometimes be hopeless, and you have tried everything and still seem helpless, maybe a good dose of agape could help. Whatever you do, don’t give up!