In this episode, we will be discussing the common question, “Is love a feeling or a choice?” We’ll talk about different levels of emotions, how choices and feelings work together, and give examples of love based on our own experiences.

005: The Rhythm of Marriage—Love, Part 01

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Truly Equal is a marriage podcast created by Kyle and Christi Playford. Our goal is to talk about marriage from a fresh perspective. We tell stories about our lives, talk about how marriage is like a love song, and give practical solutions to the problems we've encountered.

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A Framework for Marriage

This is our first episode in a long series discussing how marriage is like a love song. Three key elements of any song include: rhythm, timbre, and melody. Today we'll be discussing the rhythm, or the foundations, of marriage. These rhythms within marriage include the following: love, commitment, and vulnerability. In this episode we'll be focusing on love, and whether love is fundamentally a feeling or a choice.


Love is a Choice

Many people say love is really about choice, not about feelings. I have often heard people say, "God commands love, and since an emotion cannot be commanded, love must primarily be a choice." Kyle often heard Jeremiah 17:9 quoted:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (KJV)

The argument continued that if the heart represents our emotions, and if the heart is deceitful above all things, then our emotions must be bad. I also heard that emotions are transient—they come and go—therefore we can't trust them because they may not always be there. People also talk about the honeymoon stage—the time in your marriage when you have the most feelings of love. Inevitably, they say, those feelings will fade over time, and you'll only be left with the choice to love.


Love is an Emotion

Before we dive into why we think love is primarily an emotion, we must admit that our English language limits us in having only one word for love. On top of that, there are many different kinds of emotions including: butterfly feelings, deep love, and a desire for someone's good. My premise is that love is primarily a desire—which is an emotion. So if you don't have a deep desire for someone's good, then I don't know if you can say that you truly love that person.

  • Example #1: Grocery Shopping

We always go grocery shopping together because neither of us really enjoy it. A few weeks ago, Kyle was really tired on our scheduled grocery shopping night. I knew he would go to the store with me if I didn't say anything, but I also knew that he really needed sleep. So I told him that he should go to bed, and that I'd go grocery shopping by myself. In that instance, I didn't feel like going to the grocery store. Not at all. So it may look like I simply made a choice to love my husband. But I believe that choice came from a deeper emotion of desire. I desired what was best for Kyle (in that moment it was for him to get sleep). So it was my deep emotion of love or desire that fueled my choice to do something that I didn't feel like doing.

So there are two sets of emotions displayed at the same time. The first is the more transient emotion of disliking grocery shopping, while the second is a deep-seated desire for Kyle's good. If you don't have that desire for someone else's good, why are you making these difficult choices of love in the first place? Is it just because you're supposed to? If the example was reversed, and I found out that Kyle went to the store simply because that's what he's supposed to do, I would prefer that he didn't go to the store at all. 

  • Example #2: Working Out

Let's say I'm going to work out three times a week for a month. What's driving that choice? Am I doing it just because I'm supposed to? Because that's what everyone does? I don't think that keeps anyone disciplined for very long. But if I'm working out because I know it will make me feel better, I'll have more energy afterwards, and I like the results of working out, then even when I don't feel like working out, I'll make the choice to work out because I like the results of working out. And ultimately, even deeper, I really do feel (or want) to work out because I like the results of working out.

So the big question we're asking is this: If you don't have this innermost desire, and you simply do actions because you're supposed to, is that really love?

  • Example #3: Showing Affection

When we were first married, we sat next to each other all the time, held hands, and kissed each other whenever we came home from work. It was easy. We made those choices without really thinking about it. But a few months into our marriage, we visiting some friends and I noticed that we weren't sitting next to each other. It wasn't on purpose, we just happened to sit apart from each other that time. And in that moment, I realized that if we didn't choose to make a habit of sitting next to each other, or holding hands, or kissing each other when we come home from work, it would all completely disappear. So we made a conscious choice to do those things. But the choice came from this desire to be close to each other, to show that we care about each other, that we have a deep desire for each other's good. Ultimately, deep down, we wanted to show each other affection. 

So it's a choice to form a habit, but there's an additional desire that drives us to make that choice in the first place. Over time, the butterfly emotions and even the deep feelings of love will come and go, but there's an even deeper emotion—a deep desire for the person's good—that's constant. It doesn't just come and go. Even when we're angry with each other, we still have that deep desire that we care about each other and that we want what's best for each other. This deep desire for the other person's good—despite conflict, despite time, despite being hurt by your spouse—produces choices and habits, and when we make those choices and form those habits it reminds us of those deep desires we have for the other person. 

Love is not so much a question of a feeling or a choice. Instead, it's defining where that choice to love comes from. Asking: why are you doing what you're doing, ultimately?

Love, then, is desiring people to be the best versions of themselves. 


(This is part 1 of 2 on the topic of love within the rhythm section of our "Marriage as a Love Song" series. You can listen to part 2 here.)

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