Ahhh…the science of love.
It’s pretty cool that something as amorphous as love can be studied. And even cooler when you find research that identifies the daily habits that catalyze the deepening of love.
Withdrawer or Pursuer?
Some of the most helpful research on love falls under what is known as Attachment Theory. It’s a superb framework for understanding the emotional bond of family and marriage relationships.
In the context of marriage, the theory provides for the idea that a spouse will default to a withdrawing or pursuing role. Most often, each spouse will compliment each other: one typically pursues and the other typically withdraws.
A withdrawer tends to be more turned inwards and less likely to voice wants and needs and also finds it more difficult to self-disclose.
A pursuer, on the other hand, is more characterized by blaming. He or she may be more volatile and outspoken in conflict and tends to attack when hurt rather than pull back and shut down.
In our marriage, I tend to be the withdrawer and Verlynda the pursuer. That’s actually the most common format: husband withdraws, wife pursues.
But is that normal?
In this episode I posed a question to Verlynda: in the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church, which one is usually pursuing and which one is usually withdrawing?
Right. Christ is the pursuer. Here’s the connection: in Ephesians 5 we are given a model for marriage where husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church.
God calls husbands to be the pursuers.
But we’ve been socialized in North American culture to lay the responsibility for relationships at the feet of the wife and mother in our families. In my opinion, as males we have abdicated one of our critical roles.
So, how do we fix that?
Four Habits to Deepen Your Love
Husbands: I’m calling you to lead in this. Here are four areas in which we can develop healthy habits that deepen our love for one another. Hear me when I say this: these are all doable. This is not out of your reach!
- Everyday Talking and Sharing
This comes from research our team found in the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy.
You can create daily companionship very easily by having conversations about personal matters. This is a simple tool that creates powerful leverage for building the love bond between you and your spouse.
Just share things like your activities for the day, plans for tomorrow or the weekend. Get face to face, make eye contact, put your cell phone down and share. Listening to understand is a key part of this..
Everyday interaction is easy, straightforward and it’s important.
- Recognize Your Role and Compensate
If you’re a withdrawer, push yourself to voice your wants and needs.
Self-disclose. I know you want to – I feel the desire and the resistance myself. But the more you share and open up, the deeper the intimacy goes.
If you’re the pursuer, your job is to soften your responses and respond more positively to wants, needs and disclosures from your spouse. Resist defaulting to a blaming stance and do what you need to do to make the connection safer.
When both work together on this through the challenges of daily life, stronger attachment (i.e., deeper love) is the result.
- Healthy Physical Intimacy
Think about how you bring yourself to the physical intimacy in your marriage. Are you relaxed and confident? Or are you using sex to gain reassurance or avoid rejection?
Do you communicate your needs openly and respond to your spouse’s equally? Or are you demanding and only focused on your own pleasure?
People: this is called “making love” for a reason. Closeness should be both the cause and effect of sex. Go for that deep emotional connection that comes when you lose yourself in your spouse.
- Spiritual Intimacy
This is taking your emotional connection into another realm altogether. But a vital one for deepening the love in our marriages (Harris & Marshall, 2008).
Pray together. That’s a habit that took us a while to develop. In a way, it’s really just a reformatting of #1 above: your talking about the stuff in your lives that matters most. It’s just that this time the two of you are talking to God about it. And that’s a bonding experience.
Involve yourselves in a church together. Further, develop a shared sacred vision and purpose. Something that you do together, as a couple, that is for God and for his kingdom. For us, OnlyYouForever is a huge part of that. We have friends who foster kids, others have adopted, others serve in missions work and others immerse themselves in serving their church or community.
And be willing to forgive. This weaves the emotional and spiritual together and extends the power of the Gospel into the fabric of our marriages.
You see, the science of love comes down to some pretty simple daily habits. But those habits will have a profound impact on your marriage and maybe even the world as well.