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About this series
Love Sex and Lasting Relationships
God's Prescription for Enhancing Your Love Life
Everyone desires to love and be loved. The pursuit of "true love" is everywhere you look! It's romanticized on TV and in the movies we watch. Countless books and songs are written about it and hundreds of online dating websites and relationship seminars abound - all of which are designed to "help" you find that special someone to love. So why is "true love" so elusive? Could it be that the picture of love we see in today's culture is nothing more than an illusion? If so, what does real love look like? In this series, you'll discover God's way for finding love, staying in love, and growing in intimacy for a lifetime.More from this series
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.
See, when you’re infatuated, and it’s all about feelings, “He’s talking with so-and-so.” “She’s talking with so-and-so.” “You’ve got a meeting where, with whom? I want to know about that.” When you find someone, especially those in dating relationships, where there are high levels of jealousy – ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. This probably isn’t love.
See, when you know someone, when there’s time, when it’s based on character, when there’s trust, it produces security.
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.
They often daydream, but the dreams are sometimes not limited, or attainable. They’re given free rein. At times, the dreams become substitutes for reality, and the individual lives in the world of his dreams.
I remember when my oldest boys were in their early twenties, and we had a young man who was good friends with them. He hung out at our house, and a really neat young man, and a good-looking guy – big, tall, handsome guy. And so, he became a part of our family, and ate a lot of our food, and hung out at our house.
And so, one day, he comes and says, “Mr. Ingram, Mr. Ingram, I’m in love! I mean, I am in love!” I said, “Well, what is her name?” “I just met her, but I am in love!” And next week, “What happened?” “I talked for, like, four hours on the phone, and I got my phone bill, you know, like a three-hundred-dollar” – and this was before cell phones. “I got, like, a three-hundred-dollar phone bill.”
And then, he knows her by phone for three weeks. And then, he comes and he says, “You can’t believe what I did this weekend.” I said, “What?” He goes, “I got in my car, and I drove eleven hours to Phoenix, because she lives in Phoenix. I knocked on the door, and I had one rose, and a piece of candy, and I said, ‘All I know is, all I think about is you.’ And then, I had to get back to work, and I drove eleven hours, and I got back in time – five a.m. – to go to work at six.”
The next weekend, he drove again, but then he couldn’t tear himself away and missed two days of work. He was convinced he was in love. Believe me, he was not. He almost lost his job.
See, when you are acting irresponsibly, and your emotions are driving your life, you may be deeply infatuated, and the chemicals may be bursting in your brain, but it’s not love.
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. And the ones that can’t be removed, they may be circumvented, but with the knowledge that you are deliberately doing that.
In other words, people who are in love realize, Wow, man, I think God is bringing us together but, boy, our family backgrounds are different. You know what? We have a lot of debt. Your school loans, my school loans. You know a lot about the Bible. I don’t know very much about the Bible. Your life vision seems – they’re close, but you’re going this way, and I’m going that way. You’re wanting to have, like, nineteen kids, and I’m not really big on kids.
A couple that is really in love gets all those things on the table and says, “You know what? We need to be objective, and reasonable, and what is it? Are we going to work through these things? Can we work through them?”
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.
I remember my youngest son, he was very direct with us. He said, “I know who I’m going to marry.” “Okay.” And we got to know her, and then she went full-time with Campus Crusade, to Sweden.
And I watched him, like – whoo! And they wrote. And he was poor. Believe me. He saved up his money. Six months later, he flew to Sweden. I watched him do a long-distance relationship for a year, because he loved her, he was focused on her, and she really mattered, and he knew this was from God.
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.
I’ve been around groups that are so spiritual, it’s like, “We align, and we have all these things in view, and she loves God, and I love God,” and you sit with them, and they’ve dated for sometimes a year or more, and they’re sexually pure, and sometimes I sit down with a guy and say, “So, you got some passion in there?” “Well, not really.” “Well, you’re not marrying your sister. You know this, right?” Okay?
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. I remember listening to Julia Roberts, a number of years ago, being interviewed on Entertainment Tonight, or TMZ, or something. And she was so honest. It was a season where she was in all the tabloids, and this partner, and a different partner, and did a movie, and she loves this person and that person, and she is “the Pretty Woman.”
And I thought it was such an honest comment, because they were asking her. She goes, “Well, you know, relationships can be very, very hard, and what I realized is, that first year or so is the part I really like.” And she was honest. In fact, she made this statement. She goes, “I think I’m really in love with being in love.” And I just thought, So perceptive.
I wonder how many of us have so been skewed in our thinking that what we’re really in love with is being in love, and in our marriages, if all the buttons aren’t firing, and if we don’t have these emotional experiences, we’re starting to privately question, or ask, Do I still have the right person? Or if you’re not married, I wonder how many of us are really unconsciously or very consciously basing everything about, Is this the right person? or, Who should I date? really, primarily, on physical attraction, then followed by, Is my brain kicking in, and giving me these euphoric feelings? See, love is stable. Infatuation comes and goes, like a bird that lands, and then just takes off.
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”?
Or if you are here, and you’re dating someone, is it like one lady told me? She walked up to me in an airport, and she goes, “You know that book, Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships?” I said, “Yeah.” She goes, “I read that. Thank you very much.” I said, “Well, why?” “Well, you know that chapter on the difference between love and sex?” I said, “Well, yeah.” She goes, “Well, I’ve been married twice. I was in another relationship. I was goo-goo, ga-ga, all that stuff – brain cells, IQ dropping. And I read that, and I went through, and ten of the twelve things were infatuation, and not love.” She said, “I broke off the relationship. I have stepped back. I’m getting whole personally.” And then, she said, “So, how come you didn’t get this to me two marriages ago?” To which I said, “I’m sorry.”
But do you understand? Think carefully, as a parent of pre-teens, teens, college ministry, young professionals. Your mate died. You’re divorced. You’re in that forty to fifty range. And you’re saying, “I believe there’s someone for me,” now.
If you believe that infatuation is love, you will be a part of that next percentage of people where the next one doesn’t work out, or you will be a part of that great population of people that, Wow, marriage is great for the first two years, and then that window between year three and year six, when it requires love, not infatuation – you’ll see this happen. 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.
Now, this is a choice, by the way. It doesn’t mean you don’t have those feelings. You don’t have to share them. You don’t have to act on them. You don’t have to tell them. You hold them.
When I met Theresa, those feelings went off the first time I saw her. I can tell you the color of her dress. She had hair down to here. I was walking into a college campus, looking for a job, because it was getting too cold to lay bricks. She walked out – and here was my first thought, guys, Lord, if she is not a Christian.
Now, I found out she was a believer.
Now, I had already decided. Everything I’ve talked about, about how not to do relationships, I had already done. It’s dysfunctional. I knew it wouldn’t work. And so, I decided I wasn’t going to marry just a Christian, or date a Christian.
I was going to date a Christian who loved God more than me, who was passionate about living the life. Because I tried all that other stuff. But I’m not going to deny, when I saw her, it was like, Oh my lands. Ding, ding, ding, ding!
Well, for the next year, I took those emotions, and I set them over here and said…and then, I found out she was a believer. Then, I found out she really walked with God. And then, we had big problems to face.
The first one was, she had been married before. The second one was, she had these two little kids who were two years old. The third one was, I was very poor. The fourth one was, I had people telling me that God would never use my life if I married her. The fifth one was, I wasn’t really sure what God said about divorce and remarriage when someone has been abandoned, and they have had adultery.
Those were real problems. It took me a year to observe her life, to work through all those, and then, together, almost another year to deal with those, until God gave us the green light. But I kept my emotions – in fact, she will tell you, it was semi-ridiculous. I went a little overboard, probably. No, I did.
Our dates were, she would play the guitar, we would sing worship songs, read the Bible, and pray together. And then, after a number of months – because I don’t want to mess up these kids, I don’t want to break her heart, and I know how passionate I am – we start down a trail that’s not going to be good.
And so, later on she tells me this story: “The most affectionate thing Chip did, as we were processing this, was, he got up – and he must have felt very affectionate. And he tapped me on the head as he left.” You know, she’s going into her room going, This guy is nuts! I’m praying for a husband, and here we are, singing worship songs and praying. But I knew how not to do a relationship. And you know what? I’m pretty excited with the result.
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, men are engaged in their work, and women are engaged with work, and kids.
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?” “Well, why should I read bedtime stories, come home for dinner, be this super-dad, when, you know what? I feel like I’m a monk?”
And most men will tell you, “Let’s see, it’s been seventeen days. It’s been six days. It’s been ninety-three days.” They know when the last time was they had physical union with their wife. Okay? 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.’”