Some think love is a hazy thing, like early morning fog in a valley. It’s pretty, mystical. But it disappears as the day warms. Others think love is all about passionate feelings and powerful, knee-shaking kisses. Great stuff, romantic too, but not the practical kind of love that makes a marriage last.
One young Singaporean woman, once a well-known blogger, gloried in her image as a “party girl.” She engaged in sex for fun, and loved to party. According to her blog, time-tested moral principles were outdated, confining, and dangerous to her freedom of self-expression.
But I wonder. Did anybody really love her? Is there anyone she truly loved? Restless as a bee in a field of flowers, she went from one encounter to another. Lots of lust, but where is the love that would help her become all God intends her to be?
Sam and Jane have been married twenty years. That’s staying power, isn’t it? Well, yes. But you wouldn’t want what they have. Their marriage has been a long grey silence, with few bright moments. Lasting, but not fulfilling. Dreary- like twenty years of cloudy days. Why have they stayed married? They ask the same question, but don’t have an answer. It usually comes down to obligation.
Do Sam and Jane love each other? Doubtful. They live separate lives–hardly thinking about what will help their partner. They do the minimum to keep marriage bearable, not the exceptional that makes marriage beautiful.
True Love Helps
Remember this: true love helps. Hold onto that thought, and you will never again have trouble understanding love. People who love each other, help each other.
I Corinthians 13, from the New Testament, appears in many Christian weddings. These verses are so familiar that we put them on plaques, even on coffee mugs. But we overlook their practical power for a lasting marriage. Read them carefully, though, and you’ll find the kind of determined love that gives a marriage staying power. Here is a part of that chapter:
“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.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)
Let’s take a closer look at some of those qualities and see why they help love grow:
Patience helps love grow. Patience means giving our spouse time to change and grow. It frees us from the compelling need to force our partner to change. When patience is present, complaining isn’t. True, we cannot tolerate some behaviors (like abuse or infidelity), and should not tolerate them. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. If you want a lasting, loving marriage, love patiently. As someone reminded me when I was a youth: “Be patient with others; others are patient with you.”
Kindness helps love grow. Kindness is the quality that does not like to inflict pain. It’s a word of mercy. But how many marriages are long histories of unkind words born in angry, irritable hearts? Kindness is the better way, for it builds and beautifies.
Og Mandino has a penetrating take on kindness:
“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”
Rejecting envy and boasting helps love grow. Can a man envy his wife, a woman envy her husband? Oh, yes. They can envy abilities, temperament, friendships– anything their partner has that they don’t have . . . or don’t think they have. There is no joy in our personal progress and growth, when we know it is likely that our partner will feel threatened by our achievements.
Replace envy with rejoicing. As the Bible says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice!” As I write this my wife is on a three way Skype call with her sisters. When I hear a burst of laughter coming from her direction, I rejoice, really rejoice, that she and her sisters can talk.
The flip side of envy is boasting. We can do it so expertly and subtly. We may not crow like roosters over our accomplishments. But we may act superior and condescending toward our husband or wife. We puff up, while deflating our spouse.
We help love grow when we refuse arrogance or rudeness. C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, noted that we often treat everyone else more politely than we treat our own family members. It is true. We interrupt each other, criticize each other, and use tones of voice with our spouse and children that no one else would tolerate.
Instead of an arrogant, rude attitude, try graciousness. Here is how James said it in his letter to his Christian friends:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)
We help love grow when we refuse to insist on our own way. The person who always wants his own way is spoiled, like the child of indulgent parents. But reasonable, adaptable people develop loving, lasting marriages.
Defusing anger helps love grow. Why do we get so easily angered? Sometimes it is because our overall stress levels are too high. We store up pressure like a steam engine, and the least irritation causes a blow-up. Then we blame the person who irritated us.
We need to depressurize, and the best way to do that is to slow down, calm down, and pray. If you do react in irrational anger, ask forgiveness as soon as you can. That shows that you know your words and your tone were unloving.
Forgiveness helps love grow. Is your spouse married to an evil accountant? Do you have a mental ledger where you keep a record of their faults and mistakes? Do you open that ledger every time you want to gain an advantage? That cannot be love. The greatest Lover, God, has no record of our confessed sins. Destroy the ledger. And forgive!
Refusing to rejoice at wrong helps. If you get any secret pleasure when something bad happens to your spouse, you are rejoicing at wrongdoing. Have you ever said, “Ha! I told you so! Serves you right.” When you do that, you are rejoicing at wrongdoing. A marriage would have to be in bad shape for either partner to have this attitude, but some do.
No one is a perfect lover, but all of us can raise the love percentage in our marriage. If you start today, you’ll see great results in a very short time.