Making a Marriage Even When You’re Not Feeling the Love

There is a great paradox that exists within the complexities of repairing hurt in a relationship.  This paradox creates a great deal of confusion and can even make it seem as though healing wounds is impossible.  It goes something like this…  When we are feeling harmed in some way by another our natural tendency is to push away from that person.  We may have hurt them just as badly, but our own hurt feelings keep us from fully absorbing that fact.  The other person may even apologize to us, yet our hard feelings remain.  The apology we received does not change the fact that we were hurt.  Because those hard feelings are still there, we continue to remain distant and cold.  While we are being distant and cold, we recognize that we don’t like it out here by ourselves.  We want to feel closer, but how can we feel closer when we are so hurt- apology or not?  Despite the others efforts, we certainly don’t feel like doing anything loving toward the other, feeling the way we do.  Apologies may not take that away. 

This is where the great paradox comes into play: we pull away because of the hurt we feel, but the hurt we feel also keeps us from doing anything that will bring us closer together, even when our spouse might be making efforts to draw us in.  It is the feelings of love and closeness that motivate us to act lovingly, so we wait for those feelings to return before we do so. 

This scenario reminds me of an experience I had while on a camping trip with a group of boy scouts.  It was in the middle of winter and we decided to be adventurous and camp without tents.  Instead, we brought a role of painters plastic and fashioned a meager shelter in the wake of a large ditch…  We absolutely froze!  I probably slept all of twenty minutes the entire night.  My sleeping bag was frozen to the ground and my body was so cold it literally felt as though I was frozen in place!  The only movement I could muster was forced upon me by my convulsive shivers!  It was an absolutely miserable experience (one of those we call “character building”). 

As I laid in my sleeping bag, it became very obvious to me that I was not going to get any warmer.  I needed to build a fire.  The problem was, the thought of having to get out of my sleeping bag and brave the outside air caused me to shiver even more.  I kept thinking to myself, “I just want to warm up a little bit before I go build the fire.”  I continued to say this to myself for several hours, but never managed to warm up any more.  In reality, I probably only got colder as the the frigid temperatures penetrated more and more into my bones.  Finally, after realizing my hopes of warming up without a fire would never be met, I peeled myself out of my sleeping bag and had a nice hot fire roaring within five minutes (with the help of a scout’s best friend- lighter fluid).  It still took a bit of time for the flames to chase the cold completely out of my body, but just to be warming up at all felt like heaven.

No matter how badly we want the heat of love to return to our relationship before we build the flames, all we’ll ever actually get are the shivers.  If we want the heat, we have to build the fire- no matter how cold we feel.  The efforts of others might keep us protected from the frigid outside temperatures, as my sleeping bag did in this story, but we cannot warm up completely until we make our own efforts to stoke the relationship.

It is very empowering to me to think that I don’t have to wait to warm up before I can build the fire and feel the flames.  This is empowering to me because I know that I have the ability to influence my relationship in a way that will bring me closer to my wife, even if I don’t feel particularly close in that moment. 

Some people might say that to act lovingly when you don’t feel that way is “fake.”  That we are not living “true to our feelings.”  As far as being fake goes, last time I checked nobody wins extra points in heaven for treating another like dirt because they don’t have the best feelings towards them at the time.  On the same note, I do seem to remember something about loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us.  Acting lovingly isn’t being fake, it’s just being a good person. 

As for “living true to your feelings,” I can say from personal experience that many times our feelings are flat out idiotic.  Idiotic in the sense that, when they are negative, they tell us to do things that won’t do anything but hurt us and others.  One very popular message our feelings may send us goes something like, “You should really tell her off right now!  Wouldn’t that feel good?!”  Yup, our negative feelings give us GREAT advice (yes, I do hope you hear the sarcasm dripping from my words)!  I don’t believe I have ever encountered any situation where telling someone off ultimately did any true good for anyone.  Basing our actions on what our feelings tell us to do is like always betting on the weather man to be right; we’re betting on a pretty unreliable standard. 

So now that we’ve established that following our feelings isn’t necessarily the most productive path to a good relationship, how do we actually get ourselves to act in a way that seems to be contrary to our feelings?  Ultimately, it really comes down to a question of what our goals are.  Is our greatest purpose to act according to how we feel, or is it to have the love and closeness in our relationships that we always wanted.  This may seem an easy question to answer, but I know that my actions have not always shown my goals to be what I believed they were.  We may swear up and down that our goal is to have an amazing marriage, yet when we distance ourselves due to hurt feelings or a lack of love, we are really showing that our greatest priority is self-preservation and maybe even selfishness.  That is exactly why considering our goals is the ultimate question…  By comparing our actions to what our stated goal is, it allows us to see very clearly how well, or how miserably we are actually working toward it.  If we make the decision to manage our actions based on what our goals are, our actions will inevitably lead us in that direction.  It will certainly feel as though we are working against what feels natural at times, but the feeling of discomfort is also the first sign of growth.

No relationship can bring the feelings of security, peace, and love that a marriage can.  But these feelings only come when the fire is constantly stoked, regardless of how cold it may be outside.  So, before you decide that you will not return your spouses love until you feel love, ask yourself the question, “How long do I want to be freezing out in the cold before I will build the fire?”  The warmth may not be as far away as you think.



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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. That is so true! Great words of wisdom!

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