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How to Know if You’re in Love

From the series Love Sex and Lasting Relationships

If you could take a test and find out if you’re in love or just infatuated, would you do it? You could make the biggest mistake of your life unless you know how to tell the difference between genuine love and ooey gooey emotion. Join Chip as he explains how you can know if you've got the real thing.

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Message Transcript

Well, I’ve got a question for you: How do you know – I mean, really know – if you’re in love? If you meet someone, and feelings start to come, how do you know when you’re in love? When you’re dating, and it’s getting more and more serious, how do you know for sure? And then, when you’re married, and time, and years, and some things go by, how do you know if you’re still in love?

Well, love is a tricky business, and falling in love is even trickier. The ancients talked about falling in love, and they compared it to going insane. It’s true.

A question I would ask you is: If we have this insatiable, internal, God-given drive to passionately find the right person, to connect with them at every level – spiritual, emotional, and physical – and then we want it to last and be great forever, why is it, when we fall in love, we make some of the poorest decisions that produce some of the most dysfunctional relationships and pain in all of our life?

So, you really need to understand if you’re really in love. To do that, we’re going to answer two questions, and then we’re going to go on a quick, little journey.

Question number one is: You can never know if you’re in love, unless you define clearly what love is. We use love for, “I love pizza,” “I love the NFL,” “I love God,” and, “I love you.” Now, I’m not sure about that, but that can’t all mean the same thing. So, we’ve got to define what love really is.

The second thing we need to do is, we need to understand, what is the difference between love and infatuation? We will define both of those. If you are wrong, if you don’t understand, if you’re confused, boy, you’re in for real pain. And so, we’re going to take, actually, a little test, where you can know whether you’re in love, or whether you’re just infatuated.

And then, I want to take the last portion of our time and I want to talk about, “Well, how do you nurture love?” Whether you are not in a relationship, whether you are dating and pretty serious, or whether you’re married, how do you nurture the love that God wants, in every area of your life?

Question number one, let’s ask and answer: So, what is love? We use one very general word in English; there are about four in Greek. I want to deal with three of them – three very different definitions of love, in Greek, three different words.

The first kind of love is called eros love. This is a need-based love. It’s a physical attraction. This love is necessary for a marriage to succeed; however, marriage cannot be sustained by eros love alone.

Can anyone think of an English word that remotely might come out of this Greek word, eros? Erotic. That’s right. We said it out loud, and in church. Okay? God wants married couples to have erotic love, to be passionate for one another, physically.

In fact, I’d ask you, if you will, to follow along as I read Proverbs chapter 5 verses 15 through 19. It’s a, maybe, PG-13 passage. But so often, we have, in Christian circles, not talked about sex the way God views it. And because of that, we have all these hang-ups.

The wisest person who has ever lived – Solomon – wrote, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow into the streets, and your streams of water into the public square?” And he’s talking about your sexuality. He says, “Let them be for yours alone” – speaking about your wife or husband – “never to be shared with a stranger.”

And then speaking to the man, he says, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always; may you ever be captivated by her love.”

Depending on the text that you’re using, that word, captivated, it’s literally intoxicated. It’s these wild, passionate feelings that we have that God has given us, that are one component part of love that really matter. It usually starts on the front end of relationships, and unless it’s nurtured, pretty soon, people think it’s unimportant. It’s a critical part of a loving marriage.

Second aspect – because eros does not keep love alive. If you think about building a fire, eros is like the paper, and the little twigs, and a little gasoline. And it flames up quickly, and gets hot very quickly, but it doesn’t keep you warm, and it’s not sustainable.

The second type of love is phileo love. This is friendship love. The Bible uses the word companionship several times to describe a marriage relationship. Phileo love is a reciprocal, or sharing, love of activities, home, hobbies, games, objects in common, fellowship. We get our word – what’s the city in America? The city of brotherly love? It’s Philadelphia. Right.

Romans chapter 12, describes authentic community, and authentic community has to do with phileo, or “best friends” type of love. Eros love is, you are passionate lovers with your life mate. Phileo love means you become best friends.

And in Romans 12, it says, “Let love be sincere. Abhor what is evil. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” And then, it goes on to talk about, “rejoicing in hope, and persevering in prayer.”

It’s talking about all these kinds of relationships where you’re devoted, loyal, friends, caring. This is grinding out life together. This is doing the bills together. But it’s also taking walks, and playing a board game. This is walking around the mall when you really don’t want to walk around the mall, but you do. This is watching a ballgame, and you’re thinking, I hate ballgames, but my husband is into this. This is putting some popcorn on, and watching an old movie, and cuddling up close together. It’s becoming best friends.

Love has an eros component, it has a phileo component, but it also has an agape component. This love is a giving love. This can be unilateral, in that one loves even when the other doesn’t respond as expected. It’s a self-giving, and meeting the real needs of the other person, with the purpose of helping that person become better, more mature, a godly individual. Agape love takes the initiative. It energizes the other two kinds of love.

And agape love is characterized in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. It’s patient. It’s kind. It doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast. It’s not proud. It’s not rude. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects – notice the word always – always trusts. It always hopes. It always perseveres.

See, you can’t give a supernatural love to another person, unless you get it from God. And agape love is giving that other person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost.

And see, it’s a choice. It’s a commitment. It’s understanding, in a relationship, that my wife needs phileo love, but there is the NBA All-Star game on, and I haven’t checked my email, and I’ve got all this business stuff in my mind, but I need to stop, and choose to meet that need.

It’s a woman saying, “My husband needs some eros love, but I’m really tired, it’s been a really rough day, and the last thing I feel like doing is being affectionate, let alone making love.”

And there’s a little moment that happens in a couple’s relationship where, Oh, God, I don’t have in and of me what I need to give to this person, and, honestly, the way they’ve treated me lately, I don’t want to give it to them. But I want to honor and love You, and I want to choose to love. And as I choose, will You give me power?

And that is what produces this amazing relationship. But you have to understand what love is. Three types. A relationship that really works needs all three. We’re going to talk about how to nurture each one in just a minute.

The second question we need to ask and answer is: What is the difference between love and infatuation? Well, we’ve said love, biblically, is three different things. But the fundamental aspect of love is, it’s a commitment, and it’s a choice.

Infatuation is a strong, passionate feeling that comes through chemistry. In fact, I have a quote from Dr. Michael Liebowitz, from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and they’ve done research that shows when passionate attraction occurs, a chemical substance called “phenethylamine” is released in the brain, causing feelings of elation, and excitement, along with a physical sensation such as light-headedness – that’s that tingling feeling – and a sense of being short of breath.

So, what you need to understand is, when you are infatuated, when you are attracted, when those things start bubbling inside your head, and your body, this isn’t you having an illusion. It’s real. It’s chemical. It’s physical. And it produces these amazing good feelings.

It also produces, as we’ve talked earlier, about a drop of thirty to forty points in your IQ. And when you’re infatuated, you get these new glasses. And this is where Nietzsche says, “You get these new glasses, and you start perceiving things, and life, and people, and priorities as far from reality as you’ll ever do in your life.” Now, there’s a right time, and a right way, and infatuation and those chemicals are a gift from God. You just need to know when to use them, why, and where.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. I have twelve questions for you, and we’re going to walk through and find out whether you’re in love, or infatuated.

Test number one is the test of time. Love grows, and all growth requires time. By contrast, infatuation may come suddenly. The feelings, they just explode. You don’t have to know the person. You can bump into the person – you’re at a Bible study, you’re at a coffee shop, you go to a meeting, it happens at work. Someone has a bright-colored something that they’re wearing, he looks really handsome, the light shines through, and all of a sudden, these chemicals start. Real love takes time. Infatuation can just drop on you, like – boom!

The second test, closely related, is the test of knowledge. Love grows out of an appraisal of all the known characteristics of the other person. In other words, to love someone, you need to know them. Who are they? What are their values? What are they like? Where do they come from? What matters to them?

By contrast, infatuation may arise from an acquaintance, with only a few, or one, of these characteristics. In fact, I shared a little earlier when my roommate from college, he came in and said, “I am in love!” I said, “Wow, that’s great! What’s her name?” He goes, “I don’t know. I don’t know!” No, he’s had infatuation chemicals go off in his mind. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not love.

The third test is a test of focus. Love is other-person centered. It is outgoing. It results in sharing. When you love someone – here’s the shift: How do I help them? How do I encourage them? What do they need? What is going to make this relationship work? How do I create time, and space, and structure, and resources, and energy, and finances to help this person? That’s love.

By contrast, when you’re infatuated, you get very self-focused.

The fourth test is the test of singularity. Genuine love is centered on only one person, and an infatuated individual may be in love with two or more persons, simultaneously.

See, genuine love is singular. And, see, here’s what happens: When you get married, and then you have some kids, and then there’s some pressure, and then there are some financial issues, or some health issues, and that triangle of God that is agape and eros and phileo, and parts of that aren’t working too well, you need to understand that just because you’re married, infatuation doesn’t stop. The chemicals in your brain don’t go, “Oh! You’re married! We’re not setting them off for you.” They’re just chemicals. There’s just attraction.

And so, pretty soon, you’re married, and it’s a difficult time right now. And in that difficult time, some people don’t look as pretty and so wonderful, and he’s gained a few pounds. And pretty soon, you go to work, and someone is very responsive, and there’s just something about them, and there’s a connection. And you believe the Hollywood model, Maybe I have the wrong person. Maybe this is my right mate. I’ve fallen out of love, now I’m falling in love.

That perspective will destroy two families. And, at best, it’s going to last six weeks to eighteen months. And you’re going to wake up and realize you’re the dumbest person on the face of the earth. What you needed to do was realize what real love was, realize the difference between love and infatuation.

In fact, I had a guy recently call me from a far, other state. And he’s a very educated guy and he’s a very committed Christian. And he said, “I have a problem. I can’t even talk to my pastor, because I don’t even know how to handle it.” And he began to talk to me.

And I said, “Well, what’s the deal, man?” He said, “There’s someone at work – and we’ve not done anything; we’re not involved physically, at all, but all that stuff you talk about going on inside your head. I just acted like it wasn’t happening. I found myself wanting to be around this woman at work. I found myself talking to her in a different way. I can sense that she’s probably on the same page. And it’s a difficult season at home. Chip, what do I do?”

I took a deep breath, and I said, “Number one, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s pretty normal. Most people aren’t this honest about it. And then, let me give you Jesus’ advice on this, and it’s the only way.” He said, “Oh, great, what is it?” I said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And if your eye causes you to sin, poke it out.” To which he said, “Thanks?”

And I said, “Look, you are on a collision course to destroy your life. That infatuation – it’s real; there’s chemistry.

And then, he talked about the relationship, and the company, and what he would have to do. I said, “Buddy, I got news for you. If you have to quit your job, or sell your company, to be righteous, and have a family intact five years from now, it’ll be the smallest sacrifice you ever made.”

How are you doing? Do you see how important this is? Love, or infatuation?
Number five is security. An individual in love tends to have a sense of security, and a feeling of trust, after considering everything involved in the relationship with the other person. In other words, there’s a sense of loyalty. There’s a safeness to being together.

An infatuated individual tends to have a blind sense of security based on wishful thinking, rather than upon careful consideration. He or she may have a sense of insecurity that is sometimes expressed in jealousy.

Test number six is work. An individual in love works for the other person, or for their mutual benefit. He or she may study to make the other person proud of him or her. Their ambitions are spurred on, and they plan and save for the future. He or she may daydream, but the dreams are reasonably attained.

By contrast, an infatuated person may lose his ambition, his appetite, his interest, his affairs in everyday life. He or she may think of his own misery, I just can’t live without them. I haven’t seen him in forty-five minutes.

The seventh is a problem-solving test. By the way, how are you doing? At least, mentally? “L”? “I”? Love, or infatuation? Problem-solving: A couple in love faces problems frankly, attempts to solve them.

If there are barriers to them getting married, these barriers are approached intelligently and removed.

When people are infatuated, it goes something like this: I’ve been married three times; you’ve lived with two different people. You want nineteen kids; I absolutely don’t want any. I’m sure it’s going to work out, because love covers everything. Right?

Test number eight is distance. Love tends to be constant. Infatuation often varies with the distance between the couple.

One of the greatest things that could happen in a relationship is a little window of distance. When you’re really in love, you keep writing. You think about the person. You keep the relationship up. When you’re infatuated, it starts to be a little “out of sight, out of mind,” because so much of what’s sustaining the relationship is how they look, and physical attraction, and all the little buzz that you get.

See, when distance causes your heart to wane, it’s probably infatuation. When distances causes you to begin to write, and to communicate, and think, and use the distance to deal with issues, it’s love.

Test number nine: physical attraction and involvement. Physical attraction is a relatively smaller part of the total relationship. And, by the way, smaller part. Let’s not over spiritualize. If there are no juices going toward this other person, if there’s not some attraction, I’m not sure what it is, but it may not be from God.

We have to be careful that, the culture is so out of balance, our biblical response can really get skewed. It’s a relatively smaller part of the total relationship when a couple is in love. It’s a relatively greater part when they are infatuated. When a couple is in love, any physical contact tends to have meaning, as well as be a pleasurable experience in and of itself. It tends to express what they feel toward one another.

In other words, when you’re in love, you want to guard the relationship, and so, actually, holding hands means something. Any progression in the showing of affection has to do with a greater and more significant commitment, while remaining sexually pure.

When you’re infatuated, you just want to get as close, and as much, all the time, as you can. It’s what drives the relationship. In infatuation, the physical contacts tend to be an end in themselves. It represents a pleasurable experience, but often devoid of meaning.

Jot in your notes, if you would, 2 Samuel chapter 13. It’s a very interesting biblical picture of this. David has a son, and David also has a daughter of another wife. The daughter is named, Tamar, and in the biblical usage, she is hot. Very attractive. Absolutely beautiful.

His son just is infatuated, overwhelmed with her beauty, and he wants her. And so, instead of going the right route – instead of building a relationship, instead of checking things out – he comes up with this plan, along with a friend, to pretend to be sick, asks the sister to come in and bring some food for him.

And if you read the story carefully, he begins to take her, physically, and she says, “Let’s do this right. Talk to your father. It dishonors God. It will dishonor me. It will ruin our relationship.” And he doesn’t listen. And he rapes her.

And then, there’s this amazing, interesting line – long before psychologists. And the interesting line is, “And he had now the same level of hatred for her that he had in love before he raped her.”

See, infatuation causes you to use people. The physical connection – we’re going to talk about that, very specifically, about the relationship, and knowing the difference between love, and sex, in our next time together. But physical attraction involvement – it’s normal, it’s important, but it means one thing to those who really are in love, and it’s at a progress where you remain sexually pure. And it means something totally different, and becomes an end in itself, when you’re infatuated.

Test number ten – very similar – is, in love, an expression of affection tends to come relatively later in the couple’s relationship. In other words, there’s time. “I want to get to know you. I want to see you with other people. I want to build a relationship. And so, I’m not going to begin to express affection until there’s a basis for it.”

By contrast, in infatuation, it may come earlier, and sometimes at the very beginning – in fact, usually at the very beginning.

The test of stability: Love tends to endure. Infatuation may change suddenly, unpredictably.

The final test is the test of delayed gratification. A couple in love is not indifferent to the effects of the postponement of their wedding, and they do not prolong the period of postponement, unless they see that it is wiser to wait a reasonable time.

They don’t feel an almost irresistible drive toward haste. When you’re infatuated, and you think, This is the right person, when anybody puts a little roadblock, like, “Hey, how about some premarital counseling?” or, “You know what? There are some issues to get resolved,” or, “You know, why don’t you come up with a financial plan?” or, “Don’t you think that your parents ought to be at least reasonably involved in this?” “No. No. We can’t. It has to be now! We’re in love!” Probably not.

Infatuated couples tend to feel an urge toward getting married. Postponement is intolerable to them. And they interpret it as a deprivation, rather than a preparation.

And I’m mindful of, reading the story of Jacob, and it says he waited seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel. And it says it flew by. And it flew by because he loved her, and he was willing to wait.

I do not recommend seven-year engagements, by the way. Take your time, process, get good counsel. We’ll talk about some specific ways. And then, once you’ve done all the hard work, and you allow the emotions to kick in, and allow the chemicals to go off – based on the spiritual, social, psychological, and God’s leading – then have a pretty short engagement. Because lots of bad things happen in really long engagements. And then, thank God for the gift that He has given you.

Well, let me ask you, just honestly, how are you doing? How are you doing? As I went through that, as a married couple, did you say, “Yikes, I’ve bought into testing the love in our relationship a lot more that’s infatuation than love”?

God has better. Okay? So, let me give you some ways to nurture the kind of love that He has given us. Are you ready? How to improve your love life.

I’m on the back page, and notice our picture. You might want to, at the very top, write the word God. You might, on the triangles, put the man on one side, the woman on the other. We know, you might even put an arrow of the man and the woman – God’s goal in marriage is oneness. It’s intimacy of spirit, mind, body, and soul. And you’re going to see that, in the center of it, is God wants you to experience love.

Now, the basis of love, what allows you to love, in both ways, is agape love. “Being dearly loved by God, walk in love.”

And then, the eros love is a very important part of God’s – the sexual attraction, the candlelight, the weekends away, the negligees – all the good stuff, all right? And the walks, the talks, the board games, the popcorn, the movies, the walking in malls.

So, over here, we have phileo love – best friends. Over here, we have eros love – passionate lovers. And here, brothers and sisters, living under the Word of God.

So, let me give you two suggestions. If you are a single, keep your emotions and physical involvement behind your leading from God, and commitment to the other person. Keep your emotional and physical involvement.

So, if we would go back to the triangle, God’s way, spiritual: Do they really walk with God? In fact, do they love God more than me? Social: How do they treat other people? What is their behavior before we start dating? Psychological: I want to really know them – their heart, their soul, their mind, their personality.

Now, all those things line up. The Holy Spirit has given you a green light. Ding! Let your emotions kick in. See where God takes it then. And save the full expression of God’s design, because the marriage bed is holy.

If you’re married, a word to the married: Love requires the nourishment of all three kinds of love. Examine which your mate needs most, and then choose to give that as an act of worship. Examine which one, of the kinds of love above, does your mate need, and then, as a choice, as an act of worship, you give it.

Let me just, this is a general principle. Don’t take this to the bank; it’s not always true. In general, when I talk to men, or have done counseling for most men are saying, “The eros part of our relationship is not really what I would like it to be.” Most women say, “The phileo part of our relationship isn’t really what I want it to be.”

And so, often, it goes like, “You know, if she would really be more affectionate, I would step up and be the man in the house.” “Well, until I’m nurtured in love, and cared for, how can I be responsive at ten or ten thirty at night, when here he is. We haven’t talked. I have all the kids. I also work. You know what? He hasn’t shaved in two days. He thinks I’m attracted to him? Are you kidding?”

And so, it becomes this unspoken standoff, often, that is not communicated.

Let me give you some specific ways to nurture. Eros love nurtured: Have a date night. Once a week, go on a date. Hygiene. Everyone, after they get divorced, what do they do? You go to the gym, and get in shape. Go there now! Eat better now! Shave now! Use deodorant now! I’m serious! Don’t come home, you come home to your mate, and if it’s, like, sweatpants, and everyone is dressed up at work, and you come home, and your wife looks like, Well…I mean, you love her but…

One of the greatest things Theresa did all of our married life was, boy, when I came home, she looked great. She actually prepared for when I got home. And it has been a huge help to me.

Non-sexual touching – guys! Every time you touch your wife, and she thinks, Oh brother, it’s the sex maniac again. She wants to be nurtured, and loved. Make it a priority.

Everyone wants everything to be so spontaneous and wonderful. Set a night a week – if you have kids, figure out what to do with the kids – and at least you both know, once a week, you can have something to look forward to. “Well, that’s not spontaneous.” Well, how is that, compared to what your current romantic life is like? I’ll leave you with that one.

And then, plan a weekend away. There is something that happens when you get away from work, and kids, and get away, where God allows you to really connect at the eros level.

In terms of the phileo, take walks. Have talks. Find something – a hobby, or something you do together. Discuss hard issues. Sit down and do the finances together. Play some table games. Throw on some popcorn. Watch an old movie. Get away together. Do things that nurture the relationship.

Now, you won’t feel like that, but remember, love is not a feeling, correct? Infatuation is a feeling. And so, what you need is supernatural power. You need agape love to choose to give the other person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least.

And so, here are a few suggestions to develop agape love. You personally begin to get into God’s Word, because there is no power apart from His Word. The Spirit living in you, as a follower of Christ, needs the raw material of God’s Word to translate the written Word to the living Word that births conviction, that the Spirit uses to change your life. No Word, no power.

Second, pray for your mate, the things you really want to see change. Nagging – how is that working? Or hinting. “Honey, I think you’re eating a lot of chocolates.” Oh, she is really going to love you now. Pray for them. What do you want to see happen in their life? Ask God to work in them. Pray together. Forgive them.

Some of the big barriers, you don’t want to be connected, you don’t want to talk because, if the truth is known, this happened, this happened, this happened, this happened, and you are bearing a grudge. You have to release them. You have to forgive them. “As God has forgiven you, so freely forgive.”

And that is the beginning. You get in God’s Word, you begin to talk, you begin to pray, you begin to pray together, you begin to say, “Coming to worship is a priority for our family” – God will work. In fact, I came across something – this is so good. I’m going to finish with this.

A little article, it’s very, very brief – it’s about a man. He said, “I made a vow to myself, as we were driving toward the vacation beach cottage, that, for two weeks, I would try to be a loving husband and father. Totally loving. No ifs, no buts. The idea came to me as I was driving in my car, and listening to someone teach on the radio, where he quoted the passage that ‘to love your wife is to love her in an understanding way.’ And then, he said, ‘Love is an act of the will, a person can choose to love.’”

And then, in a moment of honesty, he said, “To myself, I had to admit that I had been a selfish husband, that our love had dulled by my own insensitivity, and often in petty ways, like insisting that the TV channel that we watch is the one that I want, throwing a day-old paper away that I know she still wanted to read. “Well, for two weeks, all that would change, and I did it, right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, ‘That new yellow sweater looks great on you!’” I mean, he had been out of town, she had been with the kids at the cottage. “‘Oh, Tom, you noticed!’ she said, surprised and pleased, maybe a little perplexed. “After the long drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested we walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, Evelyn has been here alone with the kids all week, and now she wants alone time with me. We walked on the beach, while the children flew kites. “So it went: two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I’m a director, a visit to the shell museum. I usually hate museums. I actually enjoyed it. Holding my tongue when Evelyn made us late to the dinner date, like normal. Relaxed and happy, that’s how the whole vacation went. And I made a vow to keep remembering to choose love in my relationship.

“There was one thing that went terribly wrong with my experiment. Evelyn and I still laugh about it today. On the last night at our cottage, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression I’ve ever seen. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. ‘Tom,’ her voice filled with distress, ‘do you know something I don’t?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, that checkup I had several weeks ago – our doctor, did he tell you something about me, Tom? Tom, you have been so good to me. Am I dying?’ It took a moment for it to sink in, and then I burst out laughing. ‘No, honey, you’re not dying. I’m just starting to live.’”