The First Years of Forever
By Ed Wheat, M.D.
As newlyweds or an engaged couple, you undoubtedly qualify as experts on the feelings of love. Since few parents today are in the business of arranging marriages, most couples marry because the feelings of love draw them together in an almost irresistible fashion. You know for yourself the euphoric wonder of new love—the magic, the mystery, the miraculous sense of well-being (often described as walking on air) when just being together makes you supremely happy. To love and be loved in this way within the security of marriage is probably one of the greatest pleasures in life.
But can you maintain these wonderful feelings for the next fifty years or more? In our new-marriage handbook, we want to show you how to relate to one another so that you never lose this most precious treasure: your feelings of love.
A dynamic truth that you need to recognize now, at the beginning of your marriage, comes not from a counselor, but a poet. Robert Frost observed that love (like a good poem) begins in delight and ends in wisdom. He wasn't saying that delight comes to a dead end because the lovers have learned better. He meant that ecstasy cannot stand still because it has a life of its own. It must move on— hopefully, in the direction of wisdom.
What does this say to you? That if you expect your love affair to remain the same or count on it to get better and better without effort on your part, you will be disappointed. Your love relationship must change because it is a living entity. And you will determine the nature of that change by the direction you set now and the course you follow over the years. Your love will either grow or diminish, progress or fall back. It will be more wonderful than you could have imagined, or, for some unhappy couples, it will be dreadful. Some may have to search very hard to find even the faintest trace of love left over from years of neglect.
The feelings of love will always require your attention. Think of it as an investment that yields high returns. Five or seven years down the road your love relationship will reveal just how much both of you have put into it.
Living With Your Feelings
To preserve your feelings of love, you need a clear understanding of them—what they are, essentially; what they can and cannot do; and how to nurture and intensify all the good feelings while you confront the negative ones that can threaten your love relationship when you least expect it. Here, in seed form, is the information you need to begin building the love affair of a lifetime. It will happen through treasuring, guarding, and nurturing the feelings of love you now share.
One husband offered this definition of feelings: "Feelings are thoughts of the heart rather than thoughts of the mind." In other words, your feelings give you an inner awareness of your emotional condition from moment to moment.
Your feelings are more immediate than thoughts, of course. They are more like vibrations or signals you must interpret—signs of your humanness. The Lord says in Psalm 33:15 that He fashions all hearts alike. But some people are more in touch with their feelings than others. Individuals differ greatly in their ability to recognize their feelings quickly and interpret them accurately.
Feelings are a gift from God to provide both protection and pleasure. They are indicators that can suggest and offer input, but they have neither authority over you nor power to control you. As children most of us learned we could not always do what we felt like doing. As adults we know that our feelings (our emotions) are not capable of conducting our daily affairs, so we do not give them control. This principle should also apply in our love relationships. Certainly, feelings have helped to bring you together as a newly-married or engaged couple, but they were never designed to drive you anywhere.
Your feelings are neither all-powerful nor all-wise. You can appreciate them as indicators—the things that let you know what's happening to you—but never as infallible guides. Only God's Word, the Bible, can guide us surely. If someone tells you, "Do whatever feels good!" BEWARE! Never let your feelings become the deciding factor in anything without checking all the available data first. Respect your feelings, listen to their warnings, but do not let them control you. God has given you a free will and the power to choose. You are in charge.
You must recognize, however, that feelings will always have persuasive force because of their ability to occupy and dominate the moment. George MacDonald describes the deceptive nature of feelings in this way:
They had a feeling, or a feeling had them, till another feeling came and took its place. When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it was gone they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they felt as if it had never gone.
Feelings are so fragile and explosive that they must be handled with special care. How you consider your partner's feelings will tell a great deal about you as a lover. As we have already suggested, the feelings of love are the treasure within the earthen vessel of marriage, but they can change unexpectedly, so never look to them as the last word. Always remember, you are more than your feelings!
Throughout the Bible God reveals a whole tapestry of feelings. The Song of Solomon offers a vivid display of the feelings of love experienced by a bride and her husband. But nowhere in the New Testament does God ever command us to feel anything. Rather, He would have us to behave in certain ways or to adopt certain attitudes, which will produce certain feeling. It is a principle worth learning that if we obey God with right actions, the right feelings will soon follow.
Touching the Magic
Feelings are the music of life and the magic that makes marriage exciting, pleasurable, and satisfying. Let's "touch the magic" by analyzing what happens when a man and woman fall in love. It's important to understand the dynamics of falling in love because they are the very dynamics you will want to keep alive in your marriage relationship. Don't take them for granted because the weight of everyday living can smother the magic of love before you realize it.
Two people falling in love is a powerful emotional event. That it happens to both lovers at the same time intensifies the sense of delight. There is the thrill of newness and a sense of wonder as if the two lovers have entered into a new reality—almost like time-space travel—in which they see themselves and their old world in a different light. C. S. Lewis said, in describing his relationship with his wife Joy, that even his body "had such a different importance" because it was the body his wife loved!
The term falling accurately depicts the suddenness and drama of the situation. The phrase in love correctly implies that the lovers are no longer where they were. They have left themselves as individuals to dwell in a new place together—"a safe and intimate world."
Falling in love has to do with summoning up . . . rapturous feelings of engulfment in a safe and intimate world—one in which two are as one, perfect company, and in which perfect nurturance exists. It has to do with the visions of Eden, buried within, before human aloneness had been perceived.
Four significant things usually occur when love is genuine.
1. The lovers long to be together.
In fact, they may even feel shock-waves of emotion when they must be apart, incomplete when they are separated—a foreshadowing of the time when two will become one in marriage. This powerful sense of need for the other may express itself in a sensation of "home-sickness." This happens because they have become bonded emotionally and now crave that feeling of security and at-homeness, which they find only in the other's presence.
As a newlywed told us, "We fell in love one weekend when he came to see me at school. It was incredible! On Thursday I was my own person. On Sunday when I took him to the airport, I was someone new. When he left to board the plane, I thought I would die. ... I felt so alone, as though half of me had gone with him."
Another bride said, "I used to hate having to say goodbye to him. It had nothing to do with wanting to be with him for sexual reasons. I just wanted to be with him! For me, marriage means not having to part at the end of the evening, but being together, whatever we're doing and wherever we happen to be."