I thought it was fitting this week, as the world acknowledges a day to celebrate love, to take a minute and talk about this phenomenon.  What is love?  How does it work?  Do we fall into it, step into it blindly, or grow into it?  If we can fall into it, can we fall out of love just as quickly?  I have three teens at home who are just a few years away from all being on their own.  As I approach this new decade in a few months, I am keenly aware of the reality that by my next landmark birthday I could have three new children and probably even a couple grandchildren.  I have always been a dreamer and excited to anticipate the future for myself and for my kids.  This practice actually keeps me focused on how I want to guide and teach them now.  There are so many things I want my kids to learn before they head out on their own, but I believe this concept of love is one of the most important.  I hope that they would say that they recognize ALL the aspects of the love story displayed for them by myself and my husband.  Just in case they need something in writing to refer back to, I thought I would compile a short list of some of the most important truths about the bond of marriage.  If it also helps you, then I count myself blessed to have been able to speak into your life a little bit!

  1. Love is different than infatuation.  That feeling you get when you meet “that guy” and you’re all giddy and feel like you’re floating on cloud 9 is NOT love.  That’s infatuation.  It takes time to develop the relationship from infatuation to love.  Some people get married for infatuation and then wonder what went wrong when that wears off.  They thought it was love, and so they claim that they just fell out of love. You fall out of a tree, or off a bike. You don’t fall out of love. The reality is, you fell out of infatuation and now you have to work at building the right foundation of love.  A better option is to take the time while you’re dating to learn what love is and how it will look in your marriage.  Take the time to talk about your dreams for the future, your specific beliefs, how you would want to raise kids, your fears, weaknesses, and quirks.  This is all easier done before marriage, but if you never did this and you are already years into a struggling marriage then I encourage you to talk to your pastor and get some help.  It’s never too late to choose love once you learn the difference between love and infatuation.
  2. Marriage was created by God, established by God, and directed by God.  He has laid out very clear principles in scripture that show us the model for marriage and His perfect design for a godly home.  If you want a marriage that honors God, you must be in His word learning what that looks like.  You must stay close to the Lord and allow Him to be the center of your relationship.  Praying without ceasing is a practice vital to any godly marriage.
  3.  Intimacy isn’t just for the bedroom.  Hold hands, cuddle on the couch, smack your husbands butt in public once in a while.  Don’t be gross about it, but if the only time you ever touch is when you’re having sex, that’s not intimacy.  My husband and I make it our mission from time to time to make our kids run from a room yelling “ewwweeee!”  It’s good for them to see that their parents are still in love.  Intimacy also isn’t just about the physical.  Having someone that you can sit down with and talk to about your most private thoughts and feelings is one of the most intimate things there is.  Being able to let go of your tears with them and feel completely safe and loved is vital to a healthy love story.
  4. Learn to apologize quickly and properly.  Our culture has tried to brainwash us that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  While, certainly, there are those cases that require a person to take a step back and evaluate if their habit of over-apologizing is the result of some mental or emotional abuse, this should not brand the entire concept of apology for a healthy marriage.  Quit saying “I’m sorry I made you feel” or “I’m sorry you don’t think” and get sincere about it.  If you love your husband and you have wronged him in some way, just apologize.  It takes a lot more strength and courage to say “I was wrong, will you forgive me” than it does to stew in your pride and refuse to apologize for anything. 
  5. Marriage is hard work!  There are a lot of factors that go into HOW HARD each marriage really is.  Some people get married and stay married for 50 years without having a single fight from the time they start dating to the time they reach the grave.  I mean, I’ve never met anyone like that.  If you fall into this category of couples that have never had any struggles, please pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming.  For the rest of us, it takes work.  Marriages don’t fall apart in a single day.  There are always warning signs, sometimes lasting for years that one or both of the couple turned a blind eye to.  These warnings are different in every marriage because people are so vastly different.  You can recognize these warnings and avoid problems simply by taking the time to work on your marriage. My husband and I have always believed in routine “maintenance” for our marriage.  Our thought is that we maintain other things, like our home and vehicles.  Regular maintenance in the marriage is way more important than the regular maintenance of our vehicles.  I have owned my van now for seven years.  We’ve put over 200K miles on it over the years.  I am crazy meticulous about getting my oil changed and taking it in for every little warning sign because I know that a little bit of maintenance now is far less painful to me than if my engine needs replaced.  Marriage is the same way.  The little bit of maintenance now could save you from a lot of pain and suffering later. Here are some ideas for regular marriage maintenance that far too few couples take advantage of:  Pre-marital counseling, counseling with your pastor and/or pastor’s wife, marriage conferences, Bible Studies about marriage, regular date nights, special date nights specifically designed to talk about and evaluate your relationship, take walks together, hold hands, kiss each other hello and goodbye, say “I Love You” often, find a hobby you like to do together, PRAY with and for each other, and above all have grace for each other.  Quit getting offended and don’t keep a record of wrongs.  One of the biggest things you can do to maintain a healthy marriage is to maintain your walk with the Lord so that you are fully equipped to fulfill your role in the marriage well.  
  6. COMMUNICATE.  I don’t know how many conflicts could have been avoided in these past 20 years of my marriage if we would have simply communicated properly.  Too often we just get into a groove of living and we fail to make sure we are communicating.  True communication in marriage is more than just talking.  It also involves understanding what the other person is trying to say.  I remember one time recently that we were both doing our normal routine on one Thursday evening.  Typically, this consists of me working while my husband teaches his martial arts class.  He and the kids figure out their own dinner as often happens and I grab something quick on my way home for the night.  It’s not unusual at all for me to come home and eat after everyone else.  So, when my husband asked me if I was picking up dinner on my way home, I thought it was really strange since he knows that’s what always happens.  Instead of ASKING him any kind of clarifying questions, I just said “yes” and went to work.  Well, you can imagine how awful I felt when I arrived home with my nice warm dinner and nothing for my starving husband who was waiting patiently for me!  Thankfully, we were able to laugh about it and move on, but we also learned that even after 20 years we still need to make sure we are working on our communication skills.  There is no such thing as “over-communicating” when it comes to a marriage.  The real trouble begins when the line of communication gets jammed.  Give each other the freedom to ask questions and say things different ways to gain the proper understanding of what is being said. 

The reality is, there are so many more things I could write about what is important in a marriage. I think these sum up a good deal of the foundation of a healthy marriage.  I would love to hear from you about the things you have learned in your years in marriage!  Leave a comment below and join the discussion so we can all learn from each other and encourage one another.  If you are in a season of struggle in your marriage or maybe it’s already in the process of dissolving, can I plead with you to please seek out some help.  Love is easier during the times of “better, richer, and healthier” and it takes so much more work if things have been “worse, poorer, and sicker” for a long time.  There is ALWAYS hope when we are willing to seek the face of Jesus in our marriages.  Call your pastor, I know he would be honored to walk you through the process of healing and strengthening your marriage! If you are still waiting for Mr. Right, then again I say keep seeking the face of Jesus.  He will bring the right person to you at the right time and with the Lord’s help it will be a real life fairy tale!