An interesting idea struck me a few weeks ago. Now I finally get to write about it.
There are 4 Greek words in the New Testament that all get translated into English as “love.” But they each mean something different. Several times in the last few weeks I have told clients that a healthy marriage must include all four types of love.
John Gottman, a well known researcher on marriage, has an idea that there are “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” that are very strong predictors of divorce. So the idea struck me, what if each type of love is just one side of the coin, and each horseman is the other side?
I don’t mean one coin, I mean four coins. What if the utter absence of one type of love is indicated by one specific horseman? What if the utter absence of one horseman is indicated by one specific type of love.
I have an idea of how they might pair up, but I’m not sure. So I thought it might be fun to do a survey of sorts. I’ll briefly explain each type of love and each horseman, then I’d like you to tell me how you think they pair up by filling out the survey. Once enough people have responded to the survey (at least 100), I will publish the results via email. I’ll publish the results on the blog once 250, 500, and 750 people have responded. And I’ll publish a small ebook once 1,000 people have responded.
Four Loves in the Biblical World
In order to keep this brief, I won’t be going into a ton of detail. For more on this topic, check out Truth or Tradition’s article.
Agape – Unconditional Love
Agape is God’s unconditional love for us. He loved us while we were yet sinners, and died for us – with this sort of love.
When Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, he said to “agapeseis” your neighbor as yourself. This is the way that we are supposed to interact with everyone.
In marriage, agape love means to accept your spouse’s flaws. This allows your spouse’s change and growth to be between them and God, not dictated by you.
Agape love is most deeply demonstrated when you show compassion to someone else, and most deeply felt when you are on the receiving end of that compassion.
Phileo – Brotherly Love
Philadelphia is the “city of brotherly love,” right? But “brotherly love” is not necessarily based on a blood relationship, it also speaks of very close friendship.
In marriage, and in any romantic relationship in general, phileo should describe the first phase of the relationship. That time when you are drawn to each other. Over the long term, it is the sense of warmth and closeness between you.
Phileo love is most deeply demonstrated (and felt) when you spend emotionally present face to face time with someone.
Storge – Loyal, Familial Love
Storge love is not necessarily characterized by closeness. But it is certainly characterized by commitment.
In marriage, storge love is to stick it out through the hard times and dry spells that occur in every relationship.
Storge love is most deeply demonstrated by unwavering loyalty, and most deeply felt by being supported through hard times.
Eros – Passionate Love
Eros is most closely related to erotic or sexual love. But it is not necessarily limited to sexual expression. I prefer to characterize it as passionate love. Good sex is undoubtedly passionate. But so is the anger you feel when you are protecting someone you love. So is the pride you feel when someone you love achieves a major goal or milestone in their life.
In marriage, eros happens during the initial infatuation (even if there is no sex), on the wedding day (certainly on the wedding night), when children are born, etc.
It is important to remember that eros love is episodic, it is not enduring.
Eros love is most deeply demonstrated and felt any time that your intense emotions draw you closer to another. Eros is also demonstrated and felt whenever you do something that illustrates and illuminates the underlying phileo, agape, or storge loves.
Marriage needs all four
You’ll have a great honeymoon with only phileo and eros. But you won’t last.
Your marriage will last forever with only agape and storge. But you’ll be bored out of your mind.
Phileo, agape, storge, and eros (best in that specific order) are all needed for a lasting, happy marriage.
Gottman’s Four Horsemen
Gottman has an entire series of articles and books on this topic. If you want to know more about this concept, be sure to check out those resources.
I won’t go into as much detail on the horsemen as I did on the types of love. I think these are easier to personalize and understand than the different types of love.
Criticism is shaming or blaming. It is attacking your spouse’s personality or character by using words like “always” or “never.” Often, but not always, a criticizing question starts with the word “why?”
Stonewalling is withdrawal from the relationship. It is the silent treatment. It is one-word responses. It is walking away to “cool off” but never returning to the subject.
Contempt is bullying, name calling, and degrading. An attitude of contempt assumes superiority over the other person.
Defensiveness is whining about fairness, cross talking, or excuse making. It might be minimizing the other person’s position on an issue. It might be yes-butting, where you sound like you agree with them but really disagree.
If you want to see the results of this survey, I need you to do two things:
- Fill out the survey for yourself (should take less than 5 minutes, there are no wrong answers)
- Share it with your friends via social media or email
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