Here are three ingredients to keep loving one another through the years even when our spouse has changed and the feelings don’t show up.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that marriage grows richer through the years as your love for one another grows deeper.
But, maybe you’re not feeling the love. Or experiencing the depth.
Maybe you’re only seeing how your spouse has changed through the years.
After 32 years of marriage, I’ve learned that love is not something we always feel. It isn’t an emotion, it’s an action. And it’s something God expects us to continue to extend toward one another whether we feel like it or not.
(I’ve also learned that when we start complaining that our spouses have changed, they often believe we have changed just as much).
While writing my books, When Couples Walk Together, When a Woman Inspires Her Husband and 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, I interviewed nearly 100 couples married anywhere from 10-50 years to find out how they continue to keep love alive. From those interviews, along with personal experience in my own marriage, I came up with a list of three ingredients to keep loving one another through the years even when our spouse has changed and the feelings don’t show up.
And the amazing thing about this list is, when we do our part to love regardless of our feelings, God shows up and many times, in His grace, brings those feelings back.
The Kind of Love God Wants in Our Marriages
God designed marriage to work perfectly. And I imagine, before sin came into the picture, Adam and Eve had no problem loving each other. After all, they were each sinless and perfect.
Yet, their sin created a whole new dynamic for every marriage (Genesis 3). As a result of sin’s presence in our lives, the only kind of “love” that comes naturally is that feeling of infatuation we had when we first met our spouse.
Back when you and I first married we saw in our spouses what we wanted to see. “Love is blind,” they say. And then through the years, our eyes are opened to reality and we see many things we may not have wanted to see at first.
We saw that our spouse was a sinner. We saw they were capable of letting us down and causing us pain. And they saw the same sin and capabilities in us.
But agape love--God’s kind of love--sees all and still loves. God knows everything about us, including our imperfections, and He still loves us.
He knows what lurks in our minds and hearts, and He knows not only our past sins but our future ones as well--and He still extends love. God loves us unconditionally and in spite of who we really are. And that’s how He calls us to love one another--including our spouses.
Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another.” Jesus loved us by giving His life for us. He showed sacrificial, persevering and enduring love for us. And by doing so, He showed us how to love our spouses.
Based on how Jesus loves us, here are three ways to love your spouse through the years:
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1. Show Sacrificial Love
As humans, and therefore sinners, it’s easy to put ourselves first.
I am ashamed when I think of my Lord’s example of washing His disciples’ feet and dying for the sins of mankind. I’m sure my selfishness is displayed in my marriage more than I realize and that my husband sees it. And of course, that is not Calvary love.
Calvary love--or sacrificial love--dies to self. Calvary love puts another first. Calvary love says “Not my will, but yours,” “Not my happiness, but yours,” “Not my preferences, but yours” and “Not my fulfillment, but yours.”
How can our spouses not be encouraged, inspired, and motivated to love us back when we demonstrate to them that kind of sacrificial love? And as we do, our love for our spouse grows deeper.
Yes, God created marriage to be equally fulfilling for both partners. But we are sinners, and therefore at least one of us must bend and become unlike the other. At least one of us must choose to be more like Christ. To show sacrificial love to our spouse is to ask yourself “What is it costing me?”
During the early years of our marriage it is a joy to love our spouses. But as the years go by and the pressures of life set in, it becomes more of a challenge to show that love consistently. And if that love does not cost you something in some way, it is not sacrificial as Christ’s love is for us.
Such love will sometimes cost us an inconvenience, a delay, or a setback. Other times, sacrificial love will cost us our own desires. But such love is worth it. It shows our spouses--and God--that we do know something of Calvary love.
2. Practice Persevering Love
Scripture speaks frequently of God’s great lovingkindness, or steadfast love which endures forever (1 Chronicles 16, 2 Chronicles 7, Psalm 136). Some translations call it His unfailing love. Regardless of the terms, it is a love that perseveres.
The most thorough description of love that we can find in Scripture is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Quoted at many weddings, this passage describes persevering or enduring love--the kind of love that just won’t quit.
Here we see a beautiful description of God’s love and we are instructed to practice this love toward others, especially our spouse:
“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; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (ESV, emphasis added).
Did you catch that? The New International Version says love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” If that last line didn’t convict your heart, enough, look the opening words of the next verse, where we are told more about this love we are to practice: “Love never fails” (verse 8).
Fewer marriages would struggle today if just one partner in every marriage practiced that definition of love. Yet, can you imagine what marriages would be like if both partners practiced enduring love? There would be no strife, no stress, no bitterness, no built-up baggage. There would be no devastation, nor divorce.
There would be two people who daily give up their rights to themselves so they can serve one another. There would be a perfect picture, in our love toward each other, of God’s love toward us.
If your spouse does not seem like the same person you married, yet you are still together, that is persevering love. That is love that says “I made a promise; now I’m keeping it.”
God did the same with you and me. Take a look at His unending, persevering love for you:
- He has promised He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5)
- He is gentle toward you when you’re broken (Psalm 147:3)
- He promises nothing will ever come between the two of you (Romans 8:39)
- He loved you in spite of yourself, and still does (Romans 5:8)
- He is constantly thinking about you (Psalm 139:17-18)
How can you practice persevering love toward your spouse the way God practices it toward you?
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3. Extend Renewing Love
Because we are not like God, who never grows weary or wounded, we must know how to renew our love for our spouses. We can’t simply wait around for our feelings to be there.
I’m so glad God’s love for us isn’t based on His feelings! Rather, He has determined to love us, regardless. He calls us to love one another (and our spouses) that way, too.
Because the world will take it out of us. Pain will take it out of us. The everyday stuff of life will take it out of us. But thanks be to God, He can replenish it in us.
In Isaiah 40:28-31, we have this encouragement from God, who can fill you up with love for spouse:
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
If your love for your spouse has waned, how do you renew it? How do you get back that delight in each other when something in your spouse or in this life has taken it out of you?
By waiting on the Lord for His strength, which will enable you to love your spouse, and by going back to what first drew the two of you together. Was it your spouse’s smile, sense of humor, integrity, charm and wit, or love for God?
Ask God to help you focus on what you once saw and trust Him to open your eyes to see it once again.
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Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is also a mother, pastor’s wife, and author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, and When Couples Walk Together:31 Days to a Closer Connection, which she co-authored with her husband of 35 years. For more on her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.