How much do you love your spouse? This can feel like a confusing question in part because love can be so difficult to define. Strong marriages have three basic kinds of love:
Eros is passionately expressed in love songs and poetry. It is romantic, sensual, and sexual love.
Philia is the word for deep affection felt from friendship.
Agape is historically considered the highest form of love. It’s an unconditional love that is not connected to circumstances. When significant problems arise and strain the other two kinds of love, agape allows for you to feel compassion and forgiveness; and to continue being there for your spouse.
Each of the three kinds of love support and increase the others. So, it is important to attend to them all. One way to do this is to think about how you can deepen each one. While you can reflect on this alone, you might want to discuss it with your spouse.
You might even find it more helpful to do this in writing by creating three columns on a page, labeling the top of each column with one of the kinds of love.
List the ways you currently nurture each kind of love.
For instance, you might note how you wear sexy lingerie to inspire eros; engage in personal and supportive conversations as an expression of philia; and offer forgiveness even when you struggle with feeling hurt.
List new ways you might nurture each kind of love.
You might arrange for a romantic dinner (eros), set aside time to go for a long walk with your spouse (philia), and refocus from your personal struggles to compassionately support your spouse in facing their inner demons.
List ways that you tend to hinder each kind of love.
You may notice that you hinder all three kinds of love by spending very little time together and being distracted when you are together.
Address how you can address each hindrance.
You can arrange to do have regular date nights, turn off your phones during that time, and gaze into each other’s eyes as you open up your hearts to each other.
As with any goals, it helps to be specific about what you are going to do. Rather than saying you will spend more time together, decide when you will do this (e.g., Tuesday nights) and what you will do (e.g., cooking dinner together). Being specific does not mean you need to decide on every detail. For instance, you might agree on spending one night together out of the house, but make different plans each week – perhaps focusing on each of the three kinds of love at different times (e.g. taking a romantic cruise, seeing a movie and then discussing it over dinner, volunteering together at a food bank).
Although all marriages have their times of greater and lesser closeness, your marriage will continue to flourish as long as you nurture your sexual connection, bonds of friendship, and unconditional love.