LIFE, MARRIAGE & FAMILY: Causing love to thrive in relationships

By Dr Rachel Bradley, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family

The Oxford dictionary defines love as a very strong feeling of liking and caring for somebody or something, especially a member of your family or a friend.

St John of the Cross says ‘where there is no love, put love and you will find love’.

But if love is a feeling, how can you manufacture this feeling when it’s not there? How can you ‘put love’ into a situation when your feelings are not actually under your control?

One of the problems, is that in the English language, the word ‘love’ describes lots of different realities.

Sometimes we use the word to describe feelings of affection but on a more profound level, love really means willing the good of another.

This understanding of love in the ancient Greek was referred to as ‘agape’. This is the sort of love that we can decide to have, it is an act of the will. It is not dependant on our feelings which can change like the weather.

This is how we can make a promise to love each other in our marriage vows. You can only promise to do something that you have control over.

You are not promising to feel a certain way forever, that is not within your power, but you can promise to love the other through thick and thin, regardless of your feelings, by willing and acting for the good of the other.

We make a decision to be Christ like to each other in our relationship.

St Paul’s well-known treatise on love in his letter to the Corinthians describes actions and decisions you can take to love someone, all of which involve choices rather than feelings and emotions.

My husband Tony and I are currently doing a marriage enrichment course with some other couples. One of the simple pieces of advice that they give is to look for ways that you can make your spouse’s day better.

In response to this, Tony has been thoughtfully sending me lists of ways I could make his day better! He’s joking, but isn’t this our usual attitude?

We need to grow more like Jesus Christ who gave up even his life in the face of the ingratitude, mockery and hatred of those who he was offering it for.

We need to follow his example in the small opportunities that come to us, in repaying a cross word with a smile or refusing to hold a grudge, in serving each other rather than looking for ways that other people can make our lives easier, in this way we can take the advice of St John of the Cross and cause love to thrive in our relationships.

Tags: Life Family Marriage