Is Love a Decision or a Feeling?

What does the word “love” evoke in your mind? Is it your love affair with cheesecake or warm chocolate pudding? Or an image of you and your sweetie having an afternoon picnic? When you were a child, you probably loved your teddy bear or your parents. As you grow older, your understanding of love should grow and evolve, just like your understanding of everything else. Too often, we have a shallow understanding of love, concluding as long as two people make each other happy, that’s love.

Love has lots of definitions. The most common are 1) a deep feeling of affection or attachment, 2) sexual affection or 3) a strong liking or predilection for something.

I would suggest that none of these definitions encompasses what mature love involves. In my interviews with long-time married couples, their view of love is not the fly-by-night romantic view. You might be surprised to learn the romance and affection is still there even for older couples, but there is something much more, something that happened along the way to make the love richer and more permanent.

What these mature couples have developed is a view that love is an action—a decision—not a feeling. The fact that they have been married a long time doesn’t mean they didn’t face serious obstacles. What it means is that they found a way through the obstacles. They didn’t always feel loving toward one another, but they decided to love anyway. One couple who faced tremendous difficulties including a marital affair early in their marriage, talked about how this decision to love one another changed their perspective. They found that if they led with loving actions, their feelings soon followed. In other words, after they started acting lovingly, they felt more in love. They transformed their entire marriage more than 30 years ago to an extraordinarily loving one that continues today.

Anyone who has children knows that children don’t always act in ways that deserve love, but good parents decide to love them anyway. You can’t say you love your children while you neglect them. Similarly, you can’t say you love your spouse if you neglect him or her and refuse to act in a loving manner when your spouse doesn’t “deserve” it. For example, if your spouse is having a bad day, do you contribute to it, or do you provide encouragement? If you’re having an argument, do you sometimes choose to give in, or do you dig in your heels?

The bottom line is that you have to decide whom to love and how to love. Use your behavior and choices to lead your feelings, rather than allowing your daily feelings to determine your behavior. That’s mature love.


To love is to choose.–Joseph Roux

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11 responses to “Is Love a Decision or a Feeling?

  1. very true! and i’d like to add few more definition for true love.. and they are:
    4) possessiveness
    5) loyalty

  2. this definition of love is one that’s been reinforced by many mentors and authors i’ve come across… as someone who’s dating it can be confusing how much romantic love you should feel for the person. i don’t want to miss out on someone great because i don’t feel that electricity or magnetic draw to be with and around them. i wonder that because they don’t inspire feelings of adoration, or it’s not just overflowing from my heart to actively adore them that it’s not what it should be. but i know adoration and that kind of puppy love isn’t the same as the kind of love it takes to work through and strengthen a marriage… thoughts? =)

    • It’s an interesting question. I will share with you that I did not feel an immediate spark/attraction to the man who is now the love of my life. The more I learned about him and got to know him, the more I really liked him. Our deep friendship turned into a love relationship. Having a deep friendship at your core, I think, is essential to a long-lasting relationship. You still need some kind of physical attraction, but often that will grow once you’ve falling in love with their personality.

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  6. awesome! i placed a link in my blog to this page because you hit the nail on the head. thanks.

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  8. From what I can see. This concept of love is not love itself. Love is an emotion. In the moment you categorize it as a decision then it becomes something else. It’s not love what you decide. It’s “convenience” what you’re deciding. Love is a feeling totally irrational. And staying with someone for your convenience is a decision. So bottom line. Mature love=deciding to stay with someone because it’s convenient for you. Not because you feel it.

    • I’m not following your logic. Mature love may mean staying with someone even when it’s not convenient or not how you feel a certain day. Our emotions are fleeting but if we decide to act in a loving manner, our emotions can, and often do, follow our actions. If we have a bad day or an argument and then act on those negative feelings, we allow our actions to follow our fleeting feelings.

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