I had the privilege of witnessing a friend’s engagement atop the Sugarloaf Mountain. It was a cool and comfortable night. The spectacular city of Rio de Janeiro offered a breath-taking view. The large statue of Christ was lit in its full glory. The night sky was in its full splendor as it wowed visitors with a wonderful lightning display in the sky. For my friend, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect!
There was a healthy number of people with us on the mountain that night who witnessed his girlfriend’s excitement as she said ‘Yes’ to the man of her dreams. After a longing look and loving embrace, the unbridled joy etched on the faces of the newly engaged couple was so undeniable evident that it could only be missed if perhaps aliens invaded the city!
We cheered, we laughed, and we sang.
When I returned to Baton Rouge, I was met with the grim reality of the experience of marriage for many. A casual friend I had not seen for a while walked up to me at the end of service with heavy tear-laden eyes. Hardly able to get the words out, he stuttered and whispered his way to telling me that he and his wife were getting a divorce after almost seven years of matrimony.
I could not help but think of the contrasting scene and news in the space of a few days. One, a happy beginning and the other, a sad end.
That roughly 50% of all marriages end in separation is a warning of how quickly dreams can turn into nightmares! Since no one starts with the intention of turning their dream into a nightmare, the divorce statistic is proof that something is amiss in marriages. While the answer to the conundrum of failing marriages in not clear cut, there are some questions everyone about to enter into marriage should ask and answer honestly to see if they have a good shot at winning in the game of love.
Am I in love?
The word in love suggests that one can be out of love. And truly, many people say they have fallen out of love or are no longer in love with their partner.
The kind of love that one can fall in and out of is that which is based on feelings (emotions), sentiment, and fondness. In the Greek language, it is called phileo love. This kind of love is based on what your partner adds to you. While it may not necessarily be selfish, it has a tendency to be self-centered.
This kind of love is often dismissed in some circles because it can be fleeting, is many times based on circumstances, and is self-centered. But I will not do that here. If you do not ask yourself if you are in love is to deny that you have needs and wants from a relationship. To avoid this question is to lie to yourself!
It is okay to ask if you have feelings for the person, if you are fond of the person you are with, and if you look at your partner with affection. Here is the crucial part: You must not stop at if but you must ask yourself why.
Why points to the heart of the matter. How you answer the why says a lot about your partner but says a lot more about you. It reveals whether you love yourself or are simply operating out of fear! No one is ever truly fond of a person who mistreats them unless they themselves have been disturbed by something in life or they have no way to escape. If you are fond of the person only for what they can do for you, then you have become selfish!
Fearfulness (lack of trust) and selfishness (unwillingness to compromise or yield) will always ruin a relationship.
When you ask yourself why, look at the content of your partner’s character! Look at who they are and what their life shows you. You can gather a lot of this information by listening to the person’s words, and looking at how they spend their time and their resources. This is because often repeated words, time, and resources always reflect priority and heart.
Having phileo love seldom guarantees the success of a marriage union. There is the need for agapeo love
Do I love My Partner?
The question, do I love my partner is different from am I in love with my partner. While one can fall in and out of phileo love, we either agapeo love or we do not. It is that simple! While phileo love is based on feelings, sentiment, and fondness, agapeo love is all about commitment and dedication and does not consider circumstances!
A rock solid agapeo love is needed to ride the waves of life and the roller-coaster of phileo love. Unfortunately, too many people spend their lives building and developing phileo love – through emotion charged compliments, flowers, gifts – and spend very little time developing agapeo love. The reason commitment never seems to last these days is because the commitment is based on feelings, sentiment, and fondness (phileo love).
Agapeo love is based on who you are versus who the person is. It is about what you add to the person versus what the person adds to you. This kind of love which is unconditional is always willing to reconcile, forgive, and work at issues unto restoration.
It does not confuse weakness and wickedness in a person. Since it does not seek its own, it does not seek perfection. It recognizes the journey of love and is willing to suffer.
The question agapeo love asks is this: A person will disappoint and hurt me, so who I am willing to suffer for? Jesus (who had agapeo) love for humanity thought is worthwhile and worthy to suffer for humanity though we did not deserve it.
If you are not willing to go through hard times, willing to hurt, willing to suffer, willing to forgive, willing to lay down your life, then you do not love your partner. You only love what your partner can do for you (phileo)!
The question, do I love my partner can only be answered Yes if you truly have love for mankind in your heart.
How Do I See My Partner?
A different way of asking this question is who is my partner to me? Do you see your partner as friend, lover, leader (spiritual and otherwise), powerful, royal, helper, anchor, and asset? Or do you see them as timid, fearful, abdicator, scattered, and double-minded?
It is important to be honest with yourself as your answer will determine whether you can (1) respect your partner (2) whether you will follow your partner’s leadership (3) whether you will be comfortable in yielding.
Your answer will determine if your household with be peaceful, whether there will be secret resentment in your heart, if there will be insecurity in your relationship, and whether the union is more of a battle than it is a partnership.
In the bible, Peter saw Jesus as his Messiah – Lord and Savior – and so was able to stand in relationship and fellowship with him until the end. Judas on the other hand only saw Jesus as a potential king and so betrayed him and left him alone when Jesus would not do what Judas thought He should have done!
So, how do you see your partner?
Jesus asked Peter the three questions above: Do you phileo love me (John 21:16)? Do you agapeo love me (John 21:17), who do you say I am (Mark 8:29). Being Jesus, he already knew the answers!
Do you know the answer to these questions? If not, then you are wise to ask yourself about the one who is to become a rock in your life. Your answer may very well determine the future. Do you agree?