Every February, our attention to LOVE is hallmarked by Valentine’s Day. Advertisers prey on the tired narrative of inept husbands and boyfriends failing to adequately adorn their partners with reminders of their affection for them. Flowers, chocolates, PajamaGrams, and pre-written greeting cards become romantic currency. And couples everywhere seek to honor their relationships though intentional displays of love for one another.
Valentine’s Day has a great purpose. Any reminder we get to express appreciation, affection, and gratitude to our romantic partner is a beautiful thing. Love is powerful, transformative, healing, and sometimes…confusing.
The English word “love” is used to express feelings of affection. We might say to someone we “love” our spouses, kids, parents, siblings, pets, and friends. Yet in the same breath we might also say we “love” fettuccini alfredo, fantasy football, The Bachelor, or 10 for 10 sales at Meijer. Are these “loves” the same? As great as the sales are at Meijer, few of us would say we love them the same way we love our spouse. Yet we use the same word to describe both.
Unlike our one word for love in English, the Greek language has 3 separate words used to communicate feelings of love: Philia, Eros, and Agape (Hargrave, 2000).
Philia is the type of love we get from our friends. It is loyal, companionate love. Philia is the type of love, that when we feel it, we know we are not alone. Somebody is with us. Somebody has our back.
Eros (like in the word, “erotic”) is the type of love that is characterized by passion and desire. When we are loved with eros it teaches us we are unique, precious, and one-of-a-kind. Desire is always directed at a specific object of our affection. The Greek language used eros to describe not only love between romantic partners, but also the kind of love a parent may feel toward their child as they reflect on the uniqueness and preciousness of their newborn baby.
Agape is the type of loved characterized by sacrifice. When we are loved with agape, it teaches us we are worthy. If we recognize someone else’s willingness to sacrifice for us it enables us to see significance and value in ourselves (e.g. “You would do that for me? Wow!”). Agape is perhaps easiest to see in how the Bible talks about God’s love (John 3:16: “For God so “AGAPED” the world…) and the type of love God asks people to show to each other (Matthew 5:44: “AGAPE your enemies” and Matthew 22:39: “AGAPE your neighbor as yourself”).
Thinking about the ways love is defined by these Greek words provides some direction how to LOVE others well. Rather than sending flowers and chocolates this Valentine’s Day, try these three ways of showing your significant other love instead:
- Give them some philia by demonstrating you are with them, even in the toughest parts of life. Try asking them, “What are your biggest stressors in life right now?” Or, “What worries you most right now?” And then say, “How can I help?”
- Show your partner eros by telling them, “I love you,” but be more specific. This weekend, come up with a list of 5 specific qualities you most love about your partner and/or specific times in your relationship you felt the most love for them. For example, “I love you because of how kind you are to my parents.” Or “When we were hiking at the lake last year, I felt so much love for you as you patiently waited for me to get us back on the trail after we got lost.” And then subtly tell them these 5 things at different points over the course of the weekend.
- Agape your significant other by making a sacrifice for them. Put your phone/laptop/tablet down and give them a back massage instead. Offer to do one of their household duties/chores. Or simply try thinking less about your own life worries for an hour, and offer to listen to theirs.
Expanding your language of love and applying it in these three ways will make your Valentine’s Day more enjoyable and meaningful than any chocolates or flowers.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Hargrave, T. (2000). The essential humility of marriage: Honoring the third identity in couple therapy. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, Inc.