Choosing to love

Love is much more of a daily decision than a feeling.

I’m not sure I would have said this sentence five years ago. Then, I was still looking to gratify my own sensual and sexual needs. I was coupling these needs with an imaginative story of success and happiness and believing that love was somehow a concoction of them all. Love, then, was imaginative, playful, hopeful, and ultimately ridiculous. Today, I choose to define it differently.

Love can still be imaginative, playful and hopeful but ultimately it’s a choice. We choose to wake up and love. We choose to look across the dinner table and listen with intensity or passivity. We choose to unload the dishwasher and clean the litter box because our partner hates it, even though we’re exhausted and want to go to bed (this is a little insight into my world).

We choose to create imaginative spaces where love can bloom and hope can reside. We choose to reorganize business schedules and plans to maintain date nights and vacations. We choose board games over secret Facebook relationships, honesty over brevity, communication over silence, forgiveness over regret, apology over anger, trust over threats, and most importantly, we choose to not take ourselves too seriously.

Love is a choice.  How often we choose it defines our happiness and our hope.

But I also get that it’s unrealistic to think we can live in a constant state of ecstasy. We can’t always listen or always succeed. We’re human and we fail. We put ourselves first, we hurt, we get frustrated and sad. We wish we had more time to spend at work as well as time at home. The balancing of both makes marriage confusing, and at times lonely. Which is another reason why I believe love is a choice.

We all get sad, depressed, frustrated and angry. We also get excited about things our partner hates. We love watching football when she/he loves it when the TV is off. We spend money on eating out when she/he spends money on groceries to cook at home. Over time these patterns fester and eventually cause conflict. The conflict leads to arguments; the arguments lead to personal attacks.

But despite our flaws, temptations, and cowardice attacks on the other, love is still the choice to change, to apologize, to seek forgiveness, and to see beyond our own ego and insecurities.

In the two years I’ve been married, I’ve asked numerous couples what the best and worst thing about marriage is. The two best things I’ve ever been told were by my best friend. He said the first secret to marriage is remaining “emotionally available.”

Being emotionally available means choosing to listen when all you care about is being heard. Choosing to cuddle when all you want is to be alone. Choosing to appreciate, understand, not judge, hold in unconditional positive regard, and to love with a love that comes from God.

Remaining emotionally available allows you to navigate tough times, lower your defenses, feel less threatened, and see the other as equal.

I’ve learned a lot in two years of marriage, but none better than being emotionally available to my spouse. She deserves that from me. She’s a person who cares deeply, is passionate, works hard, and shoulders more responsibility in a given day than anyone I know. And for these reasons alone she deserves a spouse that is emotionally available. She deserves a lover who knows her for who she really is and a partner who walks alongside her.

And so do I for that matter.

When both parties realize they are responsible for the decisions they make, love blooms. When both parties remain emotionally available to one another, love deepens. And all of this is most definitely a choice.

The second thing my best friend told me was, “You have to love yourself.”

To fully embrace and hold your partner in love means you must be comfortable and secure in yourself. Otherwise feelings of defensiveness, insecurity, and hate arise.

To love yourself and to be comfortable in who you are allows you to look into the eyes of your partner with the capacity to be emotionally available, for you finally aren’t worried about you. You aren’t preoccupied with outward expressions, one-liners, or always having the last word.

You are just present.

Ready to receive.

Ready to love.

Today, and hopefully everyday, I choose to love my wife.

Barrett Owen

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About the Author
Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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