Well, that might be overstating things a little, but I am concerned about a chemical dependency on endorphins to keep a relationship healthy.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters, which in English means chemicals that pass signals from neuron to neuron. There are quite a few different kinds, but I am specifically referring to the feelings of euphoria that come when our nervous system is flooded with them, what has come to be known as an endorphin rush. Endorphins make us feel good.
Which is why they play such an important role in romantic relationships. That feeling of ecstasy when you first hold hands or the first time you kiss the woman of your dreams, to say nothing of sexual intimacy, is largely an endorphin rush prompted by close contact. And it feels good.
So it’s not that endorphins are bad. It’s just that they tend to wear off after a while. Three years into a marriage, people don’t usually feel the same as they did when they started. They can be regenerated, but that doesn’t just happen. You have to proactively make decisions to love your spouse in ways that trigger the release of endorphins again.
And that’s where the problem is. In the beginning, the feelings prompted actions. As time goes on, the actions are what trigger the feelings. And that takes some effort. A marriage build on an endorphin foundation will run into problems. How often is attraction expressed as, “I have feelings for you,” and divorce justified by, “I no longer have feelings for you”?
The biblical definition of love emphasizes the priority of action over feeling. If we want to experience feelings of love for a lifetime, we have to get this straight. We have to think past feelings and make conscious decisions to love the way Jesus loved, that is, love as a conscious choice to act for the good of others.
I can honestly say that life got a lot better when I stopped relying on endorphins to make my marriage good and started relying on my actions of love to produce endorphins in my wife. Whenever I do that, she responds—and I benefit.
So here are a few thoughts about love, based on Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:
1. Have you consciously decided today to be patient with your spouse? Or have you allowed yourself to be irritated by things she/he does?
2. Have you determined today to be kind to your spouse? Or have you belittled her/him to make yourself look better and feel better about yourself?
3. Have you encouraged, complimented and validated your spouse today? Or have you been rude?
4. Have you asked your spouse what she/he wants to do today? Or have you presented a list of your own desires without consideration for anyone else.
5. Have you taken a moment today to consider your spouse’s good qualities and why you’re glad she/he married you? Or have you allowed your mind to rehearse criticisms of things your spouse has done in the past that you didn’t like or approve of?
The bottom line? If you want more endorphins, you have to learn to love.