I first met my wife in high school. I was a senior, she was a junior, and we were seven lockers apart.
We met. We talked… a LOT. We fell in love.
That phrase is actually a pretty good descriptor of what often happens when a guy and a girl first start dating. There’s a strange mix of chemicals in the brain that give us a sense of euphoria. It’s a drug, and the high lasts, according to researchers, eighteen months or so.
During that first period of any serious romantic relationship where both parties share mutual feelings of being in love with each other, there are lots of notes and phone calls and dates spent just driving and talking and staring at each other a lot. Our friends make fun of us as they watch our personalities and preferences bend a bit to impress and woo our potential life mate.
We fall. It’s almost (though not entirely) uncontrollable. Some call it infatuation, but it’s not entirely a bad thing. It’s how God made you.
God wants you to fall in love with the person you’ll wind up spending the rest of your life with. But he also wants your love to grow into something solid and timeless – something more steady and reliable than mere human emotion.
In time, the notes and phone calls usually get shorter. If infatuation – that euphoric chemical high or brain has been enjoying – is our only foundation, the “love” will start to fade (and to clarify, it isn’t really love if it fades).
Without love, we revert to our self-occupied single mentality. Sometimes there’s a painful tearing away and a sense of loss over the time invested into a relationship that didn’t make it. Sometimes, we forge ahead out of a sense of commitment or an avoidance of conflict.
Sometimes people stay married, but not truly in love anymore for years or decades without ever progressing and maturing to something deeper, better, and more unshakeable than those initial emotional highs. We’ll still say we’re in love, but when conflict and tension and suffering come, it gets harder and harder to hang in there and make it work.
I believe marriage is a divine growth opportunity. It’s our chance to grow deeper and to develop virtues that outlast any season of infatuation. What started as a couple falling in love can become a couple rooted in love.
How do you get there? How do you go deeper and develop something more lasting and solid than mere emotion? Paul said it best…
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
– Ephesians 4:2 NIV
The apostle urged every believer to develop certain personal attributes all designed to take us deeper than the thrill of a season. He equipped us with virtues to last a lifetime. And he pointed out that the only real way to cultivate these character qualities is to do so in love.
Here are four ways to demonstrate you’re still in love with your spouse.
1. Be humble.
Humility isn’t thinking poorly of yourself. It’s not a matter of lowering your self-esteem or making self-deprecating comments.
Real humility is intentionally shifting your focus away from yourself. It’s having a realistic picture of 1) who you are, 2) whom God is, and 3) how important other people are.
Pride typically goes before the fall of any relationship, especially marriage. When life becomes about me having my way, asserting my right to be right and struggling for power over another, we’re uprooting ourselves from love and we’re living in selfishness instead.
Humility can be chosen. It can be developed, prayed about, and nurtured.
2. Be gentle.
The word here can also be translated as meek. And meekness isn’t weakness. Real meekness – the kind Jesus embodied – is best defined as strength, under control. It’s power, placed properly in submission to authority and in service to others.
Meekness involves the laying down of our need for power over our spouse and the developing of a kind of power under them. It’s serving. It’s sometimes silence when the temptation is to talk louder.
It isn’t appeasing, pleasing, or going soft in the sense of taking abuse. Rather, gentleness is the practice of forcing our emotions into submission to more holy and healthy interactions with our spouse.
3. Be patient.
To be patient is, quite literally, to suffer long. It’s about more than mere waiting. It’s about walking in partnership even in the middle of conflict and tension.
Guess how patience gets developed? Yep. Like any of the fruit of the Spirit, patience is developed as we’re placed in situations that require us to use it.
When you’re truly in love, you hang tough through sickness and health, for richer and poorer, for better or for worse. Again, patience is not about taking abuse or tolerating destructive behavior. But it does involve making allowance for each other’s faults and weaknesses.
4. Bear with one another.
The two words Paul uses for patience and forbearance are very similar, but have different shades of meaning. While patience has to do with enduring suffering, forbearance has more to do with the weight of the things we carry together.
To bear with one another really means, to partner with another person to help them hold up whatever burden is weighing them down. It’s working in tandem to carry the load.
A spouse who is in love stays by the hospital bed, walks through job losses, figures out the financial potholes, and shares the heaviness of grief when the other partner suffers a loss.
When I look at this list, I first see my own glaring need to grow. I haven’t, by any means, mastered them. I can recall far too many moments when I’ve asserted my right to be right, when I’ve lost my attunement with my wife’s pain, and when I’ve been unwilling to sustain gentleness and have chosen anger and defensiveness instead.
I also see the reality about my wife. Angie has been willing to bear with me and exercise patience through all kinds of idiotic seasons and episodes of my life.
Why would she stick it out? Keep showing grace? Demonstrate meekness on repeat? Because I am firmly convinced she’s in love with me, not because she says so, but because she proves it again and again.
And I’m in love with her. I still often feel those familiar warm, fuzzy feelings when we’re together, but far deeper than that, by the grace of God, we’re mutually cultivating a kind of love that outlasts any difficult season.
If you’re married, do an inventory. Check your own heart for these qualities. Where do you need to practice repentance? Where do you need to cultivate love in your heart and in your posture toward your spouse?
And if you’re not married yet, here’s the cool thing… Paul wasn’t actually writing these words for married couples. He wrote them for every believer, in every age, for all time. So when you become these virtues, you’re preparing yourself for stronger and healthier relationships for the rest of your days.