Recently, my wife Lisa and I were able to take a short retreat to Cincinnati to focus completely on our marriage as we attended a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference. Going into the weekend, we both would have said the weekend was really just a chance to get away and rest, and maybe takeaway some refresher tips for our marriage. After all, we’ve been married for 23 ½ years and have seemingly gone through every struggle imaginable over those years and persevered, and eventually thrived, through those struggles…focusing on God really makes all the difference in the world! However, we learned quickly that in every marriage, and likely every healthy relationship, when not being 100% intentional, we tend to take each other for granted and slip up in areas of connection and conversation. I am so thankful that we were able to attend and invest in our marriage to ensure many fruitful years to come! I highly recommend a yearly marriage retreat or conference for every married couple (and every engaged couple)…your marriage is worth the yearly investment!
As I began thinking more about some of the discussions during the weekend, as well as witnessing so many young couples struggling in the areas of love and communication, I was reminded of some very wise counsel we had received a few years into our marriage that really helped us gain a better understanding of how marriage works and thrives. The area of challenge is love – is it a feeling or a choice?
Let me ask you this: If someone were to come up to you and demand for you to “Love Me!” what are the odds that you will fall deeply in love with that person at that moment? Demanding love never works, and is likely to repel the other person, not attract them. Yet, when we show someone we love them, making choices to love them by having conversations with them, doing things for them, placing their needs and desires above your own, not only will your love for that person grow, odds are they will reciprocate that love. You see, people respond with love when you love them in practical ways. That giddy “in love” feeling can be deceiving because when that feeling, or emotion, fades we have a choice – we either choose to love or we choose to run. True love always chooses to love, even when the feeling of being “in love” wanes a bit. Mature love is active!
Some will say the “in love” feeling will never fade; “I love him/her too much!” However, ask any woman with kids who are nurturing and caring for them, taking care of them when sick, running them around to all their destinations, all while working and trying to maintain the family unit…that “in love” feeling either turns to resentment or she chooses to love her husband in the midst of the trials and child-rearing.
In our marriage, that “in love” feeling faded pretty quickly as we had been married for 6 months when we got pregnant with our first child. How I wish we would have understood that love is a choice as opposed to a feeling early in our marriage…I believe it would have saved us a lot of heartache and pain. Once we understood that love is an action, not an emotion, we were able to begin healing and start loving each other again because we wanted to…not because of a feeling, but because of a choice. Like any stage of life, love grows and matures as it becomes part of who we are. Once discovered, I can honestly say that I love my wife Lisa more now than I ever have!
I can say without any hesitation that any marriage can be healed, regardless of how deep the hurt and betrayal may be. I have witnessed in many marriages, as well as ours, miraculous healing that can only be credited to God and two people choosing to not give up on the godly institution of marriage. You want to know something key…your spouse doesn’t deserve your love! And you don’t deserve their love either! We are all broken and fallible individuals seeking love and acceptance. The key to a thriving marriage is placing God first in everything you do! When we keep God first, loving our spouses becomes an act of love toward God as well as our spouse. Our spouse may not deserve our love at times, but God always does, and He says that we love because He first loved us:
1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he loved us first.
So remember these key tips on growing a healthy marriage:
1 – Love God first and above all else.
2 – Love your spouse because God loves you – you reciprocate His love by loving your spouse.
3 – Remember, mature love is a choice, not a feeling.
Every healthy and mature marriage requires these three steps, and every unhealthy, failing marriage can be healed by two people taking these three steps.
I can say with all the boldness I can muster that because God loves me, I love Him more than anyone else! Because I love Him so much, I choose to love Lisa with all my heart and in my daily choices. Choosing to love her because God loves me doesn’t cheapen my love for her…it actually deepens that love because our marriage now is firmly planted on the foundation of God’s love! And no other love can be as solid as God’s love for us…after all; He sacrificed His Son Jesus because He loves us that much!