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“Actions of love lead to feelings of love.” – Tim Keller

Most days, we we wait to feel loving feelings before we act loving actions.  Especially towards those closest to us.  Especially towards our spouses.  But Tim Keller speaks in his book called The Meaning of Marriage of love in marriage as something so different, so much more powerful than a feeling-based love.  The marriage commitment calls us to actually love by our actions, regardless of our feelings.  And the good news is that our feelings usually follow our actions.

It is much easier to love someone when we have loving feelings towards them.  But really, is that love?

Here are three ways to “activate” feelings of love in your marriage:

1. Be generous with your words.

Say thank you.  Tell them things you appreciate about them. Say kind things to their face, and behind their backs (then tell them you were bragging about them to others).  Tell them how thankful you are for the way they provide, serve, lead, listen, parent, take the trash out, bring in the paper, whatever you can think of.  If nothing else, thank them for simply being your spouse.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  Even if it feels canned, just do it.  Your heart will follow your words.

2. Initiate intimacy, even especially when you don’t feel like it.

*For men, that might mean a thoughtful and unexpected gift for your wife, just so she knows you care.  Or it might mean that you sit down and simply listen to her heart as she talks.  Really listen.  Follow up with questions.  Touch her arm or hold her hand while you listen.

*For women, initiating intimacy may mean giving him the gift of your body and your heart at the same time, even if you are tired or are not “in the mood”.  Be present to him while you love him.  Validate him by telling him how much you admire and respect him.

It may feel especially difficult to initiate intimacy (whatever that looks like) if your “heart bucket” is empty, but you have to start somewhere.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you love and pursue your spouse and to love them selflessly.  Ask God for ideas on how to love your spouse well.  He is so good at helping us live outside of ourselves and to love when we don’t feel like it.

3.  Spend time FACE TO FACE and dream together.

Turn off your phones.  Turn off your Ipads.  Turn off the TV.

Actually engage each other at least one night a week.  Talk about what you really want in life, what you really want your future to look like together.  Even if you can’t remember the last time you had a quality conversation that wasn’t about money, the kids or your calendar, just go for it.  It can’t hurt to just admit that you’ve been a bit distant and that you want to start again.  Tune into each other’s dreams, to the dreams you have for your family, and encourage each other as you both share.

It’s okay if you don’t feel like showing your spouse love.  Don’t over analyze the situation.  Just begin with small acts of love.

Because LOVE ACTS, it doesn’t just feel.

Acting your way into love is counter-cultural.  We have been taught through most sitcoms, reality shows and Hollywood-star drama to live and love by our feelings.  But honestly, that’s the opposite of true love.  We are not to love according to our feelings, but we are to love according to the example of Christ.

We are instructed to show love by laying our lives down for others (John 15:13) and looking out for the needs of others before our own. (Philippians 2:4)  This is where we will find the depth of relationships we long for, the kind of relationship we were created to enjoy and to model for our broken our world.

What is one way you will “act” out your love towards your spouse today?