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

13 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.

  9. Object of Contempt

    “Love is an action — a decision — not a feeling”. This isn’t new to me; I’ve said it myself many times throuhout the years. It is popular and seems to address the problem of people being fickle and blaming it on their feelings. The truth is that it guts the concept of love (particularly in marriage) and leaves many people out in the cold.

    Love is *not* an emotion. In a marriage, however, it definitely, and obligatorily *includes* emotion. If you don’t feel love for your spouse, and think this is okay (you haven’t left, so you are clearly committed), then you are defrauding your spouse. If a spouse feels unloved, the feeling isn’t rubbish that can be discarded as a shallow understanding of love or commitment. Love that cannot be felt is empty just like faith without works.

    Are the decision and action negligible? NO! But when you say your vows, what are you promising? I cannot imagine any person being happy to know that their new spouse thinks that romance and feelings of love are not really love, but just fluffy fly-by-night extras. What is the dexision? Is it just not to have sex with someone else? Is it to keep doing the laundry or keep paying the rent till one of you dies? No… the decision is to love. That is, if you don’t feel love for your spouse, then you are committed to move your emotions towards that again.

    In a sense, this was mentioned in the post. This concept is old, too: If you don’t feel loving, but do the actions, then your feelings will likely follow. The fact is, the feeling of love comes and goes, and commitment keeps the marriage together through those periods. But when the emotion is considered extraneous, then the unloving spouse feels justified in *continuing* to just go through the motions (at this point I would call this hypocrisy). All the while, the spouse that is shivering in the cold can be easily categorized as being shallow or unspiritual for not discounting the God-given emotions of isolation and lonliness. (I have seen churches support the one who is unloving because this is the one who is more “reasonable”. Of course the one who is hurt is *hurting*, and is less fun to be around. )

    The vows we speak in most christian weddings include taking the person to “have and to hold.” Is that not about “acting” in a way that shows emotional love and desire in a physical way? They also include promises to love and to cherish. How can a person who thinks that the emotional feeling of love is not that important be trusted to keep that promise? Why do we promise to cherish if not because the person we marry needs that emotional, tender expression of affection?

    The commitment implicit in our marriages, and explicit in our vows, is to not let that feeling of love, affection, and romance die — to make sure your spouse can feel that passion and warmth for better or worse, in sickness or in health, for richer or poorer, till death do part you. If it wanes at times, you are human. If you don’t nurture it, you are being as unfaithful as a lustful spouse. If you let it die… well, you fill in the blank.

    Love in marriage actively involves the body soul and spirit. Please don’t discount the role of emotions in love. It is important and crucial to the health and viability of marriage and, far more importantly, to your spouse.

    • You make some interesting points. I agree that emotions are not unimportant–certainly. The point is that emotions can be fleeting. I may be angry at my spouse for an hour, but I don’t storm out of the house in anger. I choose to work it out and then come back together in love. Some situations make this harder, and not all situations should be tolerated. If one or both spouses are hurting and feeling slighted or unloved, that is not something to be ignored. In that case, a loving action is to attempt to get help for the marriage. The loving action is not to pretend that all is well. Sometimes feelings of anger, hurt, frustration, resentment can make it difficult to get back to the loving feelings, but it may be possible to move past those negative feelings and develop greater intimacy and trust, and yes, loving feelings again. Best wishes to you.

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