Falling in love is the easy part. It involves butterflies in your stomach and long walks talks on the phone. You might hear wedding bells, have dreams of the future, and fall into something that feels perfect. Staying in love, to be honest, is not so easy. Once the initial sparkle of new love has worn off, obstructions and obstacles appear seemingly out of nowhere. There are bumps; there are distresses — there is baggage. Sometimes, staying in love feels impossible. Though divorce statistics jump all over the place on any given day, there is little denying that we are a culture prone to giving up on love. We are a culture that believes when the going gets tough, it’s just easier to go. We run from the pain and challenges in our relationships and wonder how we could ever feel so far from someone we once felt so close to. But what if staying in love is possible? What if working hard, instead of giving up, is the key to passionate, long-lasting, true love? What if the real relationship starts when we get real about staying in love? We’ve all wondered what it’s like to be truly treasured by someone. To be needed and missed and loved. Not just for a long weekend or even a decade, but for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years and more. I know that it is possible to experience a love that goes the distance. It’s a gift God longs to give us, and there are four things we can do to accept that gift:
Make love a verb.
For many of us, the concept of love is difficult because we never learned the right form of love. We focus on the external qualities of love and ignore the internal. We treat love like a noun. It’s an experience that happened. A moment. A thing. But in John 13:34, we see a different side of love. John says, simply and honestly, “Love one another.” It is not a one-time event. It is not the warm and fuzzy feeling or a field of flowers. It’s an action. A verb. It’s not just about choosing the right person; it’s about becoming the right person, the type of person who loves the way Christ loved us.
Put your spouse first.
For years, I fussed about Ken’s passion for bowling. All those bowling balls (more than 30!) and so much money spent on three different leagues. I reasoned that when you consider all the time and money invested in bowling just as an outlet, I felt like we could have gone on a nice long Caribbean vacation and a few short ones. Besides, his outlet time didn’t do anything for me. I used to bowl, in fact that’s how we met, but there was not real benefit in it for me once the thrill wore off.
For a long time, I had a good case going … until I read Philippians 2:3 again: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” I wish that were a complicated verse with multiple Hebrew variations. But it’s simple: Value others (in this case, your spouse) above yourself. Don’t try to prove you’re smarter or better at the family budget. Allow your husband to have the free time he desires. To stay in love, we need to change our approach to determining what is valuable. We must demonstrate an interest in things because they are interesting to the people, we are interested in. By doing this, we learn to put our spouse first.
Pay attention to your heart.
Imagine you are a mug with thousands of tiny beads inside. Each bead represents a negative feeling or painful experience or unfulfilled expectation. You are careful to keep them inside. Then you meet someone and think she just might be the future Mrs. Mug. So, you are gentle and thoughtful around her. You make certain that as few beads as possible spill out on the road to the altar. But a month or a year later, suddenly there’s an issue: She gets upset for no apparent reason; or you don’t call, though you said you would; or she feels ignored. Your mugs bump into each other, jostling your beads. Jealousy spills out. Anger overflows. All the stuff that was hidden during the courtship is on display. This is the type of situation the Bible anticipates when it implores us to guard our hearts. When your emotional “beads” get bumped, stop, and think about what you are feeling before you speak. Name what you are feeling with specific words: “I feel jealous” or “I feel angry.” When you name your feelings, they lose their power. If appropriate, tell your spouse what’s going on in your heart. Healthy people stop doing hurtful things when they learn what the issues are. And they stay in love by paying attention to their hearts.
Fill the gaps.
In every relationship, there are gaps between what is expected and what happens. We have fairytale views of how marriage will be, and they fail to materialize. We have expectations of how a spouse should act at a dinner party, and that doesn’t go as planned. We have ideas about when our partner should come home at night, and the reality is different. Gaps open all around us. When that happens, we have two choices: We can believe the best, trusting that there is a reasonable explanation for our spouse’s behavior. Or we can assume the worst, reading disrespect, hurt and a thousand other things into those situations.
Into those gaps, 1 Corinthians 13 walks boldly.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
Long used in weddings, these popular verses describe the nature of love. Beyond the verses about love’s patience and kindness, we find a plea for the gaps. We find help for the holes. Verse 7 says love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In a marriage, that means when you have a chance to doubt or trust, you trust. When you have a chance to give up or hope, you hope. When you have a chance to quit or persevere, you persevere.
One of the most powerful ways to fill the gaps is to believe the best about your spouse. Such an attitude communicates, “I trust you. Even before I hear your explanation, I trust you.” It is possible to stay in love, but it does take more than the warm and fuzzy feelings and moonlit beaches. Falling in love only requires a pulse. Staying in love? That requires a plan.
Do you have a plan? If not, think about getting one. You might also want to update your plan annually, maybe on your anniversary. The end goal is to love, and how you love may change slightly over the years. Be aware and love with intention.
We would love to be a part of you plan; to help with the creation and execution. Check out the upcoming workshops or schedule some time to chat with me on the website: www.TriTeamUnlimited.com. Hope to chat soon!