Selected Teachings on
Agency and Love in Marriage

Lynn G. Robbins (Quorum of the Seventy)

Somewhere in the history of the English language the expression “fall in love” began to be used to describe the sublime experience of finding someone to love. While it is a beautiful idiom, there was inherent risk involved in selecting the verb fall because it mostly means accidental, involuntary, with no choice involved. And subtly, it has also led to the use of its distressing corollary, “We fell out of love,” an all-too-common phrase heard nowadays as an excuse for a failed marriage. “Falling in love” and “falling out of love” sound as if love were something that cannot be controlled.

Many who feel they are falling out of love with their spouse throw their hands up in resignation as if they were victims of an outside influence that controls them. They begin to wonder, “Do I really want to be married to this man (or woman) for eternity?” Having fallen out of love, as they suppose, they begin to drift apart, often saying things to hurt one another. “I don’t love you anymore” is a common assertion. They tolerate one another for the children’s sake, resenting one another; or they separate, believing their differences to be irreconcilable. The result is a damaged or destroyed family, another casualty of Satan’s assault....

[E]very couple will encounter some struggles on their journey toward this glorious destiny. There are no perfect marriages in the world because there are no perfect people. But our doctrine teaches us how to nurture our marriages toward perfection and how to keep the romance in them along the way. No one need ever “fall out of love.” Falling out of love is a cunning myth which causes many broken hearts and homes....

We know that any commandment by God involves agency. We can obey or disobey, but there is always a choice. Therefore, in Matthew 22, verses 37 and 39, when the Lord says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” [Matt. 22:37, 39]. He is not saying, “I hope you ‘fall in love’ with your neighbor.” The command is a directive, an appeal to the mind to make a conscious choice, involving the mind in reasoning and decision making. The Savior made it clear that love was a command to be obeyed—a command upon which “all the law and the prophets” hang (Matt. 22:40). To achieve a Christlike love we must overcome the natural man (see Mosiah 3:19), control natural impulses, and even love our enemies (seeMatt. 5:44). This is a command that requires a decision.

Too many believe that love is a condition, a feeling that involves 100 percent of the heart, something that happens to you. They disassociate love from the mind and, therefore, from agency. In commanding us to love, the Lord refers to something much deeper than romance—a love that is the most profound form of loyalty. He is teaching us that love is something more than feelings of the heart; it is also a covenant we keep with soul and mind.

As we read his counsel to parents, it is obvious that King Benjamin was also aware that agency had much to do with love. “Ye will teach them [your children] to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15). How can something be taught that cannot be learned? Once again, the scriptures are teaching us about a love that is to be discovered in the mind.

What about love between spouses, which involves the additional elements of romance and intimacy? Does this principle of agency and love, or the command to love, apply to marriage as well?

Once again, the Lord uses the command form of the verb love in “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22). It doesn’t require any guesswork here to discern that the Lord is giving us a directive with a presupposition of agency.

In Matthew, the Lord said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In His mortal life, He demonstrated a perfect kind of love, then said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34; emphasis added). Loving as He loved is a higher form of love than loving “as thyself.” It is a pure love that puts another higher than self. This pure love is the same love that should exist between husbands and wives. In Ephesians 5:25 [Eph. 5:25], the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Husbands,love your wives, [How?] even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”...

This is the love that is to be applied in marriages, in families, and with our fellowmen. A marriage based on this kind of love becomes the most romantic of all, generating eternal tender feelings between a husband and a wife....

Thus we have seen that while a person may “fall in love” with a spouse by emotion, the husband or wife progresses and blossoms in love by decision....

If a husband and wife are willing to apply the scriptural definition of love to their relationship, even a stale marriage and romance can be revived....

Because love is as much a verb as it is a noun, the phrase “I love you” is much more a promise of behavior and commitment than it is an expression of feeling....

Scripturally, the Lord is very clear with us on this doctrine—you can’t “fall out of love,” because love is something you decide. Agency plays a fundamental role in our relationships with one another. This being true, we must make the conscious decision that we will love our spouse and family with all our heart, soul, and mind; that we will build, not “fall into,” strong, loving marriages and families. “Don’t just pray to marry the one you love. Instead, pray to love the one you marry” (Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in Joe J. Christensen, “Marriage and the Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, May 1995, 64; emphasis in original).

It is only by our constant, committed effort that we will make the love we share with our spouse a constant for eternity. ("Agency and Love in Marriage," Ensign, Oct 2000, 16)