Love And Affection Are Different

love and affection 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.

Love and Affection Are Different

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. It’s one that results 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, and anticipation. It’s joy all wrapped into one package.

  • Affection isn’t sexual. However, 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 13:4-8 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 and Affection:

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.

This 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.

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Filed under: Grow Your Marriage

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26 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.

  7. My husband says he has a lot of affection for a female subordinate in his office, but that it is not love. He says he loves only me. I am confused. To me love and affection are same… both have passion, tenderness and care.

    1. Your husband is separating love and lust. Men are often able to separate feelings differently than most women are able to do. But that doesn’t make it right in this type of situation. Lust can also lead to love… there is a fine line (sometimes a thicker line) separating them. It’s like the scenario of marijuana “not” being addictive, and yet it has been noted in many studies that it can lead to a hunger for more of a high, which leads to the user going over into taking more hard core drugs, and getting addicted there.

      Your husband is playing around with feelings, thinking he can get away with it and not get burned. But the problem isn’t only with HIS feelings, it’s hers –he is playing with her feelings, which she may not (and probably doesn’t or won’t always) be able to not pass over that fine line of lust into a type of love. He is being selfish in allowing himself to be a stumbling block to her emotions. And if she tips over to the other side, what does he say, “sorry?” That just doesn’t do it. That is cruel. He is wrong in playing with feelings like this.

      And more importantly, he is wrong in putting you into this place while he goes out and plays around with his “affection.” Why did he marry you? Was it just to capture you into a marital prison while he goes out and divides his affection between another woman and you? He is not acting honorably way in any way. Our actions speak loudly about who we are and what we are capable of doing in the future. If he is an honorable man, he will stop playing around (whether or not he feels he can separate his affection from love). That is behavior that a married man should never participate in or consider. He should be putting all of this type of energy into playing around and flirting with you –his wife (and you with him). He made a vow to love and be true to you. He should honor that promise.

      He may not get the same “highs” that he would get with being affectionate with women, other than his wife… but eventually, if he puts effort into it, he will find that he will get different types of highs with his wife –you, and they will be better and more fulfilling. He will also be a great example to other men who notice the type of man he is. He should ask my husband. I can testify to these wonderful, faithful highs too, and can point out many, many husbands and wives who have gotten to that point, as well.

      So basically, I totally understand your confusion. Your love is a purer form –one that God wants us to have and give to our spouse. Dividing and subdividing love as he is doing is wrong for any faithful, married person to do. I would not stand for it. If my husband would want to play around with another woman, than he would have to take his choice. In marrying I would have thought he showed that he made a choice, if but he is putting his toe into the pool of temptation, believing that no one will get hurt by it, he is wrong. Either he is a faithful, honorable man, lavishing love and affection on his wife only, or he is a foolish cheater who cares only about what HE wants, and cares less about hurting those he claims to love.

  8. Hi and praise Jesus, Kindly help me as I am confused here. I have been married for two month and our sex life is slowly deteriorating. When I discussed it with my spouse, one thing came up; that I have not been affectionate enough to make her want sex. However as far as I know, I have done the best to show her my love and affection for her. Am confused; what then is this thing called affection? How can I be affectionate to her? Any material that can help me learn to be affectionate will be appreciated.

    1. Good evening all, please I really need help. I’ve been in a relationship for some years now and it has been going very well; but recently everything changed. My boy friend started chatting on me with different girls; I was so mad that I started nagging and we started having problems. When ever I tried to ask him what the problem is he would just say “nothing.” What I noticed was he felt bad when he saw some text I sent to a friend and he said that I have never been a caring lady and I also complain he’s not a caring man. But now I am more confused than before. I don’t feel loved, I don’t feel respected and we don’t have any connection as before. I really need things to back as before but I don’t really know what to do. Please help save my relationship. I love my man so much. I know I’m not a caring woman; I am just 21, but I don’t mind to learn.

  9. Love is like a Rose. It needs to be showered with fertilizers and water frequently, or else it’s gonna die easily. The moment you apply that method, then that’s Affection, and the outcome of that process is an Unconditional & Endless Love.

  10. I’ve really liked the article. It clearly shows and explain the difference between love & affection.

  11. When one is in love or in an affectionate relationship, it is like a good dream you never want to wake from.

  12. This article seems to help me understand the disconnect a little better that I have and have had in my marriage of 29 years. My wife has always expressed verbally that she loves me but I have never felt deep affection or adoration from her. My wife cries at the drop of a hat. She cries over the kids, grandkids, happy and sad crying, even watching a movie or a commercial on TV. Not once in our 29 years have I ever seen her cry for me, our relationship or during an apology after she has hurt me deeply.

    Don’t get me wrong these hurts are few over many years. However it is becoming more apparent to me as we age that true deep affection and adoration is something that I crave and need. She and anyone that knows me/her knows my affection and adoration towards her. It is quite obvious to others my deep feelings for her. I have wept openly to her and in private numerous times during arguments or painful moments, never has she shed a tear. We have discussed this and she cannot explain her actions or unwillingness to let her feelings show during “our” times of discontent. It is a pride thing that she just can’t get past. She doesn’t know why this part of her is so open with anything or anyone else but shuts down when it comes to me.

    Don’t get me wrong here, she is a great mother, grandmother and overall great person. She is also a wonderful wife in all other facets but she is missing a part that I am realizing I need and that is true unconditional, tear the wall down affection. Please reccomend some books, exercises etc. to help me help her and help me.

    1. Scott, I’m so glad your eyes are opening up in this area of marriage. There is a book that I highly recommend for you to read that could perhaps give you insight into your wife’s “love style” and what you can do about it. It’s a book written by Milan and Kay Yerkovich titled, How We Love. It’s 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 injured 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 sexual intimacy, and –create a deeper, richer marriage.” I heard the Yerkovich’s talk about this subject and could see how it could absolutely change the lives of couples in positive ways as they better understood each other’s communication styles. It’s truly an enlightening book –revealing things I’d never realized before. I’m thinking it would do the same for you.

      Recently, the ministry of Focus on the Family aired a past 2-part radio broadcast with the authors of this book. It was excellent! It could give you insights into book and your situation. I’ll give you a link to the broadcasts (although I can tell you that you have to do this quickly, because they will change these links soon. But here is the first part of the broadcast titled, “How We Love”: And here is the second part (aired on December 20):

      I hope this helps, and I hope you will listen to the broadcasts and obtain the book. I truly think they could help you.