Love And Affection Are Different

Dollar Photo Loving elderly couple holding each otherI repeatedly referred to love and affection separately whenever I speak. That’s intentional—because love and affection are not the same thing.

Love is a biblical mandate and is foundational to a successful marriage. I’m convinced every reasonably healthy person is equipped to love others the way God designed. You choose to love someone else by putting their needs above your own. It’s a commitment of your will.

Affection, however, is a step beyond love. Affection takes the loving relationship between a man and woman in marriage into the deeper realm of tender expressions that result in feelings of closeness, passion, and security. Affection takes work because it requires knowledge of what makes the other person tick.

You show affection when you perceive and appreciate what your spouse needs and meet those needs in a way he or she can understand. Affection results in marital contentment, intimacy, satisfaction, anticipation, and joy all wrapped into one package.

Affection isn’t sexual, but it naturally leads to sexual satisfaction.

Affection isn’t time, but it requires time to accomplish.

Affection isn’t communication, but without communication there can be no affection.

Affection isn’t romance, but it typically involves romantic spontaneity, creativity, and fun.

Moreover, when affection is present in your relationship, you just know it. If you don’t feel it, you probably don’t have it. Here’s my definition of affection:

Affection is the kind of love that leaves you feeling close, safe, and cared for. In marriage, you feel the passion, and the loving acts become person specific. Affection is also important between parent and child. An affectionate family makes a child feel close, safe, and cared for as well. Affection must be an ingredient in all healthy personal relationships, including those with friends and extended family.

The Bible describes love in terms of action, not feelings. Look at the familiar description of love from 1 Corinthians 13, and notice all of the actions required:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV).

I like to say (though it may be grammatically flawed) that affection is “love as actions” —actions that leave your spouse feeling really good about you and your marriage. Affection is one of the out-workings of love: Love is the commitment and the action, and affection is the safe, secure feeling that results. Strong marriages thrive when both the behavior of love and the feelings of affection are present. This “love as actions” is what moves you the eighteen inches from your head to your heart:

Love is patient. Affection is empathetic.

Love is kind. Affection is tender.

Love is not rude. Affection thoughtfully apologizes for its words.

Love is not self-seeking. Affection rubs the back of a discouraged spouse.

Love does not delight in evil. Affection carefully and privately uncovers sin and helps the person back onto his feet.

Love never fails. Affection under-girds and confirms your unfailing love for your spouse.

The above article comes from the book, Starved for Affection, written by Dr Randy Carlson, published by Tyndale House Publishers. In this book you’ll find practical help and encouragement to strengthen your connection with your mate in all aspects of your relationship. And in doing so you’ll find the table spread with a banquet of blessings that God as prepared just for you.

Dr Carlson is a licensed marriage and family therapist and is the CEO of Family Life Communications. He hosts the nationally syndicated radio program, Intentional Living with Randy Carlson. The web site for this program is


Filed under: Grow Your Marriage

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12 responses to “Love And Affection Are Different

  1. English is not my mother language. But I think “Affection, however, is a step beyond love.” It should be the other way around: Love is a step beyond affection.

  2. You can never have affection for someone you don’t love therefore love is over affection. I am in Uganda.

  3. They have it right. You must have love, before you can show affection. So therefor affection comes after love. This is a beautiful posting, and so true!

  4. My wife enjoys the bounty of affection I shower on her. And yet, I am bankrupt when it comes to her showing me any. I’m talking about the small things in life – any kind of gesture. But nothing. I am very sad.

    1. Mike, I’m not sure what’s happening in your wife; it could be any number of things. But there is a book I highly recommend you read, because if it’s just a “normal thing” with her (even though it didn’t appear to be earlier in your life together), this book could give you excellent insights that you may find helpful. It’s titled, How We Love -written by Milan and Kay Yerkovich, published by Water Brook. The authors of this book “draw on the tool of an attachment theory to show how your early life experiences created an ‘intimacy imprint’ —an underlying blueprint that shapes your behavior, beliefs, and expectations of all relationships, especially your marriage. They identify four types of imprints that combine in marriage to trap couples in a repetitive dance of pain. The principles and solution-focused tools in this book will equip you to… –identify the imprints disrupting your marriage –understand how your love style impacts your mate –break free of negative patterns that hinder your relationship –enhance your intimacy, and –create a deeper, richer marriage.”

      I hope this helps as you read it and apply the advice given, and hope that your wife opens her eyes. She may have a hard time expressing love in ways that you need for her to do, and she may not be as good at it as you are, but she DOES need to stretch herself so you feel loved, as you thought you would when you married. I pray for you both.

      1. Thank you for the suggestion on the book. I’ve been trying to learn more about attachment theory and the legacy it seems to create that keeps partners, as you say, “trapped in a dance of pain..” I work with couples as a Holistic Life Coach employing the Tender Touch Method, which helps couples learn how to connect more deeply though loving, physical non-sexual touch. employing this methodt is very effective when both partners are motivated to improve their relationship, are willing and committed to the Consistently practicing the The Tender Touch Method in their day to day lives. Those who are committed to the process has helped many couples enhance their bonds, communication and affection.

    2. Wouldn’t it be affection the soil where love thrives and florishe? You can care for someone and show affection. Can you love someone and show none?

  5. Thank you for the wonderful explanation and discussion on the distinctions between LOVE and AFFECTION. The concrete examples you give next to each quote from Corinthians helped me understand the differences and further solidified the meaning of “affection is love in action.” Beautiful. Thank you so muc. I will tune into your talk show. God bless…

  6. You can talk with someone for years, everyday, and still, it won’t mean as much as what you can have when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever…. connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.