What is the greatest difference between couples who build successful marriages and those who don’t? In most cases the difference is the presence or absence of purposeful love. Some think love is a hazy thing, like early morning fog in a valley. It’s pretty, almost mystical, but the heat melts it away. Others think love is all about passionate feelings and powerful, knee-shaking kisses. Great stuff, romantic too, but not true love.
One young Singaporean woman, famous for her blog, gloried in her image as a “Party Girl.” She said she engaged in “sex for fun,” and loved the party life. According to her blog, time-tested moral principles are outdated, confining, and dangerous to her freedom of self-expression.
Singapore Party Girl wrote about lots of sexual partners of all races, all for the “fun” of it. But I wonder. Does anybody really love her? Is there anyone she truly loves? Restless as a bee in a field of flowers, she goes from one encounter to another. Lots of lust, but where is the love that helps 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 rare bright moments. Lasting, but not successful. 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.
Remember this: True love helps. Hold that thought and you will never again have any trouble understanding love. The person who loves you helps you, and the person you love, you help.
I Corinthians 13, from the New Testament in the Holy Bible, is part of almost every Christian wedding. These verses are so familiar that we put them on plaques and 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 just one segment 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)
Patience helps. Patience means giving our spouse time to change and grow. Patience frees us from the compelling need to force our partner to change. When patience is present, complaining isn’t. As God reminded me when I was a youth: “Be patient with others; others are patient with you.” No, we cannot tolerate some behaviors, and should not tolerate them. Those are the exceptions, not the rule. If you want a lasting, loving marriage, you need patience.
Kindness helps. Kindness is the quality that does not like to inflict pain. How many marriages are long histories of unkind words born in angry, irritable hearts?
Avoiding envy and boasting helps. Can a man envy his wife, a woman envy her husband? Oh, yes. They can envy abilities, temperament, friendships– anything their partner has they don’t have, or don’t think they have. Envy sours personal progress and growth, because we know our partner will feel threatened by our achievements.
The flip side of envy is boasting. We can do it so expertly and subtly. We usually don’t crow like roosters over our accomplishments. We just act superior and condescending toward our husband or wife. We feel big, but we make our partner feel small.
Refusing arrogance or rudeness helps. Author C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, noted that we often treat everyone 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. Considerate words are helpful words.
Refusing to insist on my own way helps. The person who always wants his own way is spoiled, like the child of indulgent parents. But reasonable, adaptable person build loving, lasting marriages.
Refusing irritability helps. 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. 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? If so, it can’t be love. The greatest Lover, God, has no record of our confessed sins. Destroy the ledger. Forgive!
Refusing to rejoice at wrongdoing 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 in wrongdoing. A marriage would have to be in bad shape for either partner to have this attitude, but some do.
Rejoicing in the truth helps. What does ‘rejoicing in the truth’ mean in a marriage? It means that one of your greatest joys will be discovering what is true so you can stop believing what isn’t true. Every lie you believe is one more week that is choking the life out of your marriage. On the other hand, truth nourishes your marriage. We have a good article on recognizing truth and lies. Booby Traps and Blowups
Finally, real love is strong. It doesn’t allow us to give up easily, to stop believing for God’s best, to lose hope, or to quit when marriage is hard. It really is love that gives us staying power.
Choose love each day, and you’ll be in love for a lifetime. As Gloria Gaither wrote, “I am loved, I am loved; I can risk loving you, for the One who knows me best loves me most. I am love, I am loved, won’t you please take my hand? We are free to love each other. We are loved.”