My essays about healthy relationships with God, others, & yourself.

Category: Marriage

Make a list of what you love about your spouse.

Yesterday, I uncharacteristically focused on the negative. So today, I want to make up for that by going positive!

Here’s today’s assignment: Make a list of 50 things you especially love about your spouse—things you appreciate so much.  (This may take longer than yesterday’s assignment because it’s so easy to focus on what we don’t like.  It’s easy to fixate on the stubbed toe and forget the other nine toes that work perfectly well.)

Go ahead and do it now before continuing to read my post. I will too.

 

[Pause here until finished.]

 

How long did it take you to come up with 50?  Did it surprise you how easy or hard it was to come up with this list?  Did it take more time than yesterday’s list of negatives?

(By the way, unlike yesterday’s list, I recommend you DO show this list to your spouse!  It would be a blessing to you both!  Perhaps you could “pretty it up” and present it to your spouse as part of a Valentine’s Day gift!)

Now at the top of your list, I want you to add the words, “NOT BECAUSE.”  This is your NOT BECAUSE LIST.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how agape love is an essential component in a uniquely Christian marriage.  It’s the kind of love that the Bible portrays as being unconditional.

On the list I just made about Cindy, I came up with 50 qualities that I love about her.  But please note that this use of the word “love” is not agape love, it’s more akin to “like.”  I like those things about Cindy—a lot!  But if I want to incorporate genuine agape love in my marriage to Cindy, I’ll need to show love to her…not because.

Likewise, you also need to show unconditional love to your spouse not because your spouse provides… [insert all 50 of your compliments here].  The question I want you to consider is this: if none of your spouse’s good qualities existed, would you still agape love him or her?

I’m suggesting that our loving treatment must be completely unrelated to our spouse’s current wonderfulness.  Here’s why:  most of the things we enjoy today will likely go away.  Our bodies will increasingly become older, and uglier, and eventually may even become disabled.  Our minds may not stay as sharp and may deteriorate altogether.  We may lose our abilities and capabilities.  We won’t have the energy we once had.  Our strength and stamina will likely lessen.  Our productivity will decrease and may disappear altogether.

In a Christian marriage, we pledge to love purely and unconditionally till death do us part.  If my grandfather’s love had depended on my grandmother retaining her wonderful qualities, he would have left her eighteen years earlier rather than love her until she died.  His love was not because of her loveliness, which was fading.  His love toward her was agape love.

Why must we love our spouse this way?  I can think of two reasons:

First, the Bible commands that marital love should mirror Jesus’s love.  We are to love just as He loved. This not because type of love is the kind of love Jesus showed us.  He loved us not because we qualified—in fact, we could never qualify.  His love had nothing to do with our qualities.  He was choosing to love us without conditions.  We should unconditionally love our spouse in the same way.

The other reason is the Golden Rule, which Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12.  Imagine if it was your wonderfulness that faded (and it will), wouldn’t you want your spouse to keep loving you as my grandfather did?   Therefore, we should treat our spouses the same way.

I’ve taken these last two posts to define two facets of agape love, which are really two sides of the same coin.

Nothing we might do will make him love us less  (the even though  aspect of agape love).

Nothing we might do will make him love us more  (the not because  aspect of agape love).

Let’s make that true in our own marriages!

Make a list of your spouse’s faults.

Those of you who have met me know that I, generally, have a positive outlook on life.  So what I’m about to ask you to do may sound surprising:  Make a list of 50 things that annoy or irritate you about your spouse—things you would change about your spouse if you could.

Go ahead and do it now before continuing to read my post.   I will too.

 

[Pause here until finished.]

 

How long did it take you to come up with 50?  Did it surprise you how easy or hard it was to come up with this list?

Ok, now consider the categories of the things you wrote down.   Your list likely includes…

  • Annoying habits.
  • Personality quirks.
  • Differences in personal preferences or values.
  • Sinful tendencies.
  • Physical inabilities or deficiencies.
  • Lack of knowledge and awareness.
  • Other things that wound you—whether intentional or not.

To simplify things even more, we could probably summarize them all into one simple category:  All the ways in which my spouse is not just like me!  [By the way, please don’t show this list to your spouse–that would not end well!]

Now at the top of your list I want you to add the words, “EVEN THOUGH.”    This is your EVEN THOUGH LIST.

In my previous post, I talked about how agape love is an essential component in a uniquely Christian marriage.  It’s the kind of love that the Bible portrays as being sacrificial, selfless, and unconditional.  I cited my grandfather’s steadfast love for my incapacitated grandmother as my prime model.

So if I choose to utilize agape love in my marriage to Cindy, an admittedly imperfect person, I’ll need to show my love to her…even though.

Likewise, you also need to show unconditional love to your spouse even though your spouse does such-and-such [insert all 50 of your complaints here].

Our loving treatment must be completely unrelated to our spouse’s failures, foibles, and follies.  We must love purely and unconditionally.

Why must we do this?  Because the Bible commands that marital love should mirror Jesus’s love.  We are to love just as He loved.  This even though type of love is the kind of love Jesus showed us.  He loved us in spite of us.  Imagine if Jesus listed our deficiencies—it would be way more than 50!  Yet he loved us even though.

We were his enemies—rebellious, selfish, idolatrous, prideful, distracted, self-promoting, objects of wrath—and yet he treated us lovingly anyway by dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.    This is the good news, the Gospel.   We’re treated better than we deserve!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

He offers us his unconditional love; we only need to receive it.

But back to marriage, let’s determine to love our spouse even though.

Tomorrow I’m going to have you make another list–one that I promise will be much more fun!  But first, why don’t you go ahead and destroy this list I just had you make.  It’s served its purpose.

 

 

[Note: as I said in my last post, I’m talking about normal marriage relationships.  If there is abuse, adultery, or abandonment involved, this post should not be construed to mean you must put up with it.  In fact, the most loving thing the abused one can do for the abuser would be to stop him or her from abusing you.  If this applies to you, protect yourself, get help from those you can trust, and institute whatever boundaries may be needed.]

Marriage is neither 50-50 nor 100-100.

I saw a meme on Facebook that I can’t help but comment on.   There are some things about it that really trouble me, so I want to use the meme as a springboard to make some points that I think are important for a strong Christian marriage.

First, I’ll paraphrase the meme:

Marriage isn’t 50-50.

Divorce is 50-50 where you divide everything in half.

Marriage has to be 100-100, where you give it everything you’ve got.

I think I get the overall intent of the quote:  “Don’t be half-hearted in your marriage but give it 100% effort.”  It’s certainly hard to disagree with that!  We could all use a reminder to put more effort into the things that matter!    So I agree with the spirit of the quote.

I also agree with the first phrase: “Marriage isn’t 50-50.”  Too many people enter marriage with the idea that “I’ll meet you halfway;  I’ll do my half and you do yours.”  The problem with this 50-50 perspective is that it makes the couple competitors; we’re comparing who’s putting in their fair share of effort.  And it sets up a comparison about who is working the hardest at the marriage.  The natural progression of this view results in “I’ll match your effort, but no more.  If you’re not doing your part, I’m out.”  Fairness, then, becomes the standard, and the success of the marriage hinges upon me coming out ahead, or at least we come out even.   In this view, marriage is essentially about me getting what I deserve.  So we can agree with the meme that marriage isn’t 50-50.

But what about the meme’s phrase, “Marriage has to be 100-100.”?   I disagree with this statement on multiple levels!  First of all, as I’ve blogged elsewhere, it’s impossible to give 100%  at anything — simply because we’re human.  And with marriage in particular,  Love Fails and we can’t perfectly keep our wedding vows even for a single day.   So it’s an illusion to think we can give 100%.  I’ll never get anywhere close to that.

But an even greater problem with the 100-100 model is that it takes us right back to the exact same problem we had with the 50-50 model:  I’ll match your effort.  “You do your 100 and I’ll do mine. and everything’s good.”  We’re right back in competition to see who’s putting in maximum effort.  Fairness is still the standard and getting what I deserve is still the driving motivation.

Is this what a Christian marriage should be about?  Hardly!  It’s neither an “I’ll meet you halfway” proposition nor it is an “I demand you be all-in” one.  Business partnerships may work that way, but not a Christian marriage because that’s simply not how biblical love works.  The agape love that 1 Corinthians 13 describes is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional kind of love.  It has nothing to do with reciprocation or effort on the part of the other.  It’s loving someone regardless of what they are doing.  A Christian’s wedding vow to love until death is not a conditional contract, but rather an unconditional covenant before God that does not depend on the other’s effort.

Over the years, I’ve seen many good examples of selfless love, but the gold standard, in my view, was the love modeled by my biological grandfather, Arthur Olsen toward his wife, my grandmother Ruth.   They were married for almost 70 years, which in itself shows a tremendous amount of commitment.  But the last years became the hardest for them both when my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s at the age of 72.  For the next eighteen years, my grandfather loved her unconditionally until her death at the age of 90.

What did his unconditional love look like during that final chapter of their marriage?  For the first ten years, he took care of her at home.  During that time, he assumed more and more (and finally all) of the responsibilities in the home:  cleaning, cooking, shopping, and caring for her every need with little (and finally nothing) in return.  As her mind deteriorated, she would even fail to recognize him at times, fearfully thinking there was a strange man in the house.  Yet he patiently and tenderly reassured her that she was safe with him.  And she was.

Eventually, it became necessary for her to move into a care facility, but for the next eight years, my grandfather stayed close by her side.  Though he was required to live in a separate apartment from the nursing center, he came down to see her nearly every day, sitting with her for hours, walking with her, washing her, changing her, and feeding her lunch and supper.  He would cut up her food as needed and spoon-feed it to her.  In the final six years, she didn’t recognize him at all.  In the final year, she could no longer walk and was completely non-verbal.  She grew increasingly non-responsive, head drooping, staring blankly most of the time.  Yet he remained by her side as her faithful husband.  Amazingly, never once did he complain.

The nurses at the facility teasingly said they wanted to marry my grandfather because they saw in him what a real man and godly husband really looks like!

My grandfather took his marriage vows seriously.  It would have been an insult to my grandfather to speak of such nonsense as marriage being 50-50 or 100-100.

So what should the ratio be?

I suggest we let Jesus be our model here.  Paul, in Ephesians 5, tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church.”  The whole point of the Gospel is that we are undeserving sinners and yet, Christ loved us anyway.  We did nothing to deserve His love.  In fact, while we were still his enemies Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  So, was it a 50-50 proposition with Jesus, where He meets us halfway?  Not a chance!  Was it 100-100 with Jesus?  Ridiculous.  With him, it was 100-0.  And if His love toward His church is the standard for us to follow in marriage, then we’ll need a new ratio from the one in the meme.

Since we can’t be perfectly Christlike on this side of heaven, I suggest the model each of us should aim for is this:

99-x   (with 99 being what you do and X being what your spouse does).

In other words, faithfully love your spouse without regard to how much he or she loves you back.  That’s selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love!

 

[Note: in this post, I’m talking about normal marriage relationships.  If there is abuse, adultery, or abandonment involved, this post should not be construed to mean you must put up with it.  In fact, the most loving thing the abused one can do for the abuser would be to stop him or her from abusing you.  If this applies to you, protect yourself, get help from those you can trust, and institute whatever boundaries may be needed.]

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