In two days, on the 16th, it would’ve been our 33rd wedding anniversary, and I thought I’d honor this day by talking about love and marriage. So, what’s love got to do with it? That’s what Tina Turner asks in her number one song that won three Grammys. She asks, “What’s love but a second-hand emotion?” That’s a really good question, I think. Is love an emotion, a feeling? Or is it something more? Something altogether different? That’s what we’re going to explore today.
So, Brian and I were married 30 years and together for 34. He was my best friend and I loved spending time with him more than anyone else. We had a lot of fun, spontaneous adventures together that provide wonderful memories. But our marriage was far from perfect. We were two strong individuals who got married right out of college and had a lot of growing up to do. We had a lot to learn about loving each other well…instead of loving ourselves first. Fortunately, not long after we were married, we recommitted our lives to Christ and set Him in the center of our marriage. Now, that didn’t make everything easy, and it sure didn’t solve all of our problems, but our advantage was that Christ was in us, molding us at every turn to look more like Himself. Which is perfect, pure love. First John 4:8 says “God is Love.” And the more He poured His love into our lives and marriage, the more we were able to love like He loves - unconditionally and sacrificially.
Brian and I learned and committed to Ahava love. Ahava is a Hebrew word meaning "Love as strong as death; a "no matter what" kind of love. It’s a ferocious love. An “I’m not going anywhere” kind of love. “No matter what.” And believe me, all kinds of "what" comes!!
When you have your first child, everything changes. The roles you both play shifts. Expectations of one another creeps up. You’re both just trying to figure out how to take care of a tiny human, and insecurities come out, blaming one another for not stepping up and carrying their load. Communication gets difficult without escalating into an argument. And who wants another one of those, so you just stuff it and stay silent. If this becomes a pattern in your marriage, then you find yourselves drifting away from each other. That’s why the divorce statistics are so high after the kids leave the home. You’ve grown apart, not together. Gary Smalley wrote a book called Love Is a Decision. It is. Love is not a “feeling” or emotion. If it were, then we would fall in and out of love every day, all day long, based on our mood, emotion, or even our circumstance. Love is a decision to be committed to one another no matter what. It is a decision to do what it takes to keep your marriage healthy. It’s a decision to think loving thoughts about your significant other. It’s a decision to continue to pursue one another’s hearts, just like you did when you were first dating. We grow and, yes, we change. And that’s a good thing. If you’re apt to say, “My spouse isn’t the same person I married,” then one, if you’ve been married any significant amount of time, you’re right, and two, thank goodness that your spouse has grown and matured. But that doesn’t mean you have to grow apart. Being committed to that Ahava love means that you’re purposeful about growing and changing together. So, whether you're single, engaged, or already married, commit yourself to Ahava love. It will revolutionize your relationship!
But what if you say, “Tricia, my spouse is not committed to this kind of love. He or she won’t do the things necessary to make our marriage stronger or improve our communication.” My answer to you is this: You do what God is calling you to do, loving your spouse the way He would want you to love, and watch what the Holy Spirit can do in response to this kind of obedience. It is amazing how a marriage can be transformed when just one person decides to love the way God intended for you to love. I have seen this first-hand in my own marriage!
So, how do you pursue one another’s heart year after year? How do you make sure you’re growing together not apart?
Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages. In it, he explains that each one of us experiences love differently, and then the way we show love can actually miss the mark if your significant other doesn’t experience love in the way we’re expressing it. Sound like such a mess, right? Let me give you an example from my marriage. My love language is split pretty evenly between spending quality time with someone and receiving words of affirmation. So, I would want Brian to sit next to me and just chat about things - how amazing I was, what a great cook I was…no I’m kidding, kind of. I felt easily loved just by a passing compliment. But one day, I said, “Brian, I’m not really happy. I don’t feel like you show me that you love me the way you used to.” His response was, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just unloaded the dishwasher. Earlier I took your car to get the oil changed.” See, Brian’s love language was Acts of Service - meaning that the way he received or experienced love was when someone did something for him. And typically, when we’re not aware, we tend to show love or give love to others based on how we experience or receive love.
After we found this amazing book and learned about each other’s love language, our marriage was like it was fresh and new. And the reason why is because we both were purposeful to show love to the other in the way that THEY experienced and received love. I still loved it when he forgot and still emptied the dishwasher, though. I think he had other motives there though. But I’ll tell you, I’ve never a heart so melt as when one day I cleaned out and straightened his closet. Acts of Service. You would’ve thought I had said “I love you” for the very first time. Now, I want to tell you this. I didn’t really want to clean out his closet. It was his closet. I didn’t look at it, so I didn’t really care if it was a mess. So, cleaning it out was an act of sacrificial love, and the rewards were huge. The more I showed him love through Acts of Service, the more he sought to show love in the ways I experienced it. It’s a small tweak that pays huge dividends for your marriage. And, I’ll also say, if you see your spouse trying to show you love in their love language, and you understand what they’re doing, in tuned to that, then you’re more able to receive it that way, too.
Here’s a real-life example. I shared in the last episode about an antique market that we would go to twice a year. It was miles and miles of booths, shops, and set-up tents all on the dirt fields. Some grass, but mostly dirt. And we’d walk those miles happily. About the second or third year of going, we were about to get into our car to head home, and Brian opens the back of the Suburban and says, “Sit back here a minute.” I hopped in, feet daggling off the back. He took off my dirt covered sandals, grabbed a cloth and a jug of water he had prepared for just this moment, and began to wash the dirt off my feet. His love being displayed in this precious act of service. And I knew it and received it wholeheartedly. Lucky me, this became our tradition for years after.
But it’s interesting, right, that in order to show love to someone the way they experience it you may need to do something that you don’t really like to do or want to do. That’s called sacrificial love. And that’s what healthy, growing-together marriages are all about. Laying down your own preferences to love another well. What would it look like in a marriage if you both were trying to out-serve one another? Out-love one another in the way your spouse experiences love? How would your marriage look then? That’s exciting to think about, right?
I think there’s just one more thing I’d like to share with you that Brian and I figured out later in our marriage, and I wish we would’ve known this earlier. Sometimes you might say something to your spouse, or to anyone else for that matter, that may come across wrong. Now you may not have meant it the way they heard it, but it can cause hurt feelings, confusion, or even anger…just by words. So, Brian and I learned to ask the “Assumption Question.” If I said something he didn’t like or didn’t set well with him, he would say to me (and let me just admit here that he was way better at doing this than I was), he would say, “I don’t want to get upset based on assumptions about what you just said, so would you mind clarifying what you mean so I can understand better?” This gave me the opportunity to choose different words that were more in line with what I meant instead of what it sounded like. Or, gave me the opportunity to back it up a bit, change my tone, change my attitude, check my form of communication. Our desire for clarification was based on the thought that “Because I know you love me and have no intentions of hurting my heart, I’m not going to assume that what was just said was what I thought I heard.” It was probably the most transformational communication tool we discovered. Listen, usually nothing good comes out of assumptions. The best thing you can do for your marriage is to commit to open, honest communication. If something is said that you’re not clear about, talk about it. Ask, kindly, for clarification. You’d be surprised how many times we as humans make assumptions based on a single sentence that can destroy a relationship, all because we refuse to commit to open and loving communication.
I’m fully convinced that two people who have committed to putting Christ in the center of their marriage will change and grow together. 1st Corinthians 13: 4-8 says, “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Ahava love. Two Christ followers who have the Holy Spirit inside them have the capability to create the kind of marriage God intends - one where the husband is respected and honored, and the wife is loved and cherished…Just as Christ loves the church. My prayer for you is that you experience Ahava love - that “no matter what” kind of love - and that you and your spouse grow old together, holding hands in a rocking chair while the sun sets.
So, what do you think, friend? Is there something you could do today to love someone well - the way they experience it? I do believe this will revolutionize your marriage, as well as other relationships. Are you ready to commit to Ahava love? It’s never too late to start.