"When couples first marry, they think their romantic love will last a lifetime. The vows and commitments they make usually depend on it. But romantic love is short-lived for most couples. For some it is sustained for only days after the wedding. For others, it lasts months or years before it’s gone. But when it goes, marriage and its commitments usually go with it. Some marriage counselors advise clients to accept the inevitable: Enjoy romantic love while it lasts, but don’t expect it to continue forever. Some recommend rising to a higher form of passionless love, while others recommend divorce… Some couples suffer through years of lovelessness for the sake of their children or their religious convictions…Since so much personal and familial happiness depends on the success of marriage, you’d think that couples would approach it with a careful plan to insure success. As it turns out, most don’t give their marriages much thought until it’s too late"(Love Busters, Willard F. Harley, Jr., pp. 9,14).
While the Bible says that "love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:8), it is talking about agape love, which can be defined as the love of the will, the type of love which always seeks the best spiritual interest, even of our enemies. The love that is able to treat with kindness people who are being very unlovable (Luke 6:27-31). Agape love will keep a marriage together even when the romance is gone, but I think that most people would prefer to be treated with agape love by someone who also really liked to be around them. Harley is right, in most marriages, even those that contain Christians, when the romance fades, the marriage often fades with it.
Are you and your spouse victims of lost romance? 1. Usually experience a good feeling whenever I think about my spouse. 2. I enjoy being with my spouse more than anyone else. 3. I tend to overlook my spouse’ mistakes. 4. I find my spouse to be physically attractive. 5. I would be very upset if I were to lose my spouse’s companionship. 6. I enjoy talking to my spouse. 7. I feel that there is a "chemistry" between my spouse and me. 8. My spouse brings out the best in me. 9. I enjoy doing things for my spouse.
Titus 2:4 "to love their husbands"
The word rendered "love" in this passage is the Greek word philandros (fil'-an-dros), which means to be fond of one’s husband, i.e. affectionate as a wife. I think we can see true romance in this word. The woman who cherishes and has tender affections towards her husband. The same basic root, "Phileo" is attached to such things as "the love of money" (1 Timothy 6:10), and "lovers of pleasure" (2 Timothy 3:4). Clearly, this form of love adores and has definite warm feelings towards the object of it’s love. I believe we see some romance demanded of husbands in the statement, "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it" (Ephesians 5:27-28). The word rendered "cherishes" thalpo (thal'-po); means to, warm, to keep warm and then to cherish with tender love and foster with tender care.
The Love Bank
"When we assign good feelings to people, love units are deposited into their accounts. But bad feelings cause love units to be withdrawn. Once in a while, our feelings are so good or so bad that many love units can be deposited or withdrawn in a single encounter. The most volatile accounts usually belong to those with whom we’ve had romantic relationships, because the feelings we experience are more extreme. When things go well, hundreds of love units pour into their accounts, creating the feeling of romantic love. When things go badly, hundreds of love units can be withdrawn. If the balance becomes seriously overdrawn, feelings of hatred may replace the love we felt earlier. When a married couple’s relationship starts a downward slide, the love loss actually gains momentum, and they can come to hate each other more than anyone they’ve known. Love units can be withdrawn almost continually, because every action—even an innocent one—is seen as uncaring and insensitive" (Harley p. 16).
People might downplay the importance of romantic feelings in a marriage, but romantic love is a great motivator for good as well as evil. Political, business and religious leaders throughout history have thrown away their influence, ethical values, fortunes, health and their faith for a chance at romantic love. But it can also influence couples to take special care of each other, to sacrifice for each other, and when a couple is in love, their whole perspective changes. "Marriages usually go one of two ways: Nature takes it course and eventually love is squandered, or a couple can make a special effort. Each spouse is his or her mate’s most dangerous threat of pain and sorrow. We have unprecedented opportunity to make our spouses miserable" (p. 18). ( See Ephesians 5:28-29; Ecclesiastes 7:26; Proverbs 27:15).
- Angry Outbursts: When God condemns sinful anger (Galatians 5:20 "outbursts of anger"), it isn’t simply because it is wrong, it is also very destructive to others and our own happiness. The term "outbursts of anger" can also be translated, "fits of rage", and "a bad temper". The anger condemned here is very violent and very brief, it is not a long cherished anger, but rather the blaze of temper which flares into violent words and deeds, and just as quickly dies. Because such anger blazes and forgets he or she thinks that others should equally forget the pain they have inflicted.
"Anger is the feeling that other people cause your unhappiness, and they’ll keep upsetting you until they’re punished. They can’t be reasoned with; the only thing they understand is pain and personal loss. Once you inflict that punishment, they’ll think twice about making you unhappy again. When you become angry with your spouse, you have failed to protect your spouse" (p. 28). Anger is very deceitful, for it tries to convince you that inflicting pain upon others will force them to change and line up with your personal agenda, but this never happens. Most people don’t want their emotional needs met by someone who hurts them. "Clients who have angry outbursts want me to convince their spouses that they could learn to control their tempers if their spouses would be more considerate. If we blame our temper on our spouses, we’ve lost perspective" (p. 33). If we cannot react with optimism, kindness and patience when faced with the normal ups and downs in life (things that happen to everyone), how are we every going to love our enemies?
- Disrespectful Criticism: Honoring, cherishing and nourishing your mate (1 Peter 3:7) means that you don’t belittle their talents, imput or physical appearance. If you need to offer some constructive criticism then do it in a manner in which you would like to be approached if you were wrong (Matthew 7:12; 2 Timothy 2:24-25). Again, no one likes to have their emotional needs met by someone who is their constant critic. People who tend to be overbearing, harsh and very insensitive in their criticism often argue that they can take whatever they dish out, but I usually find this to be false. It seems that the devil is always trying to convince us that sharp, bitter and hurtful words directed at those that we love is simply a normal part of marriage. But the Bible says otherwise (Psalm 64:3; Proverbs 12:18; 18:21; Matthew 12:36-36 "Every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment"; James 3:6-18). God expects that the conversations that we have with our spouses be filled with words which are edifying (Ephesians 4:29).
- Annoying Behavior: This would include such things as distasteful habits. Such habits are typically the result of just becoming careless and lazy. Often when couples divorce they blame it on "incompatibility". People have forgotten that marital compatibility is something that the couple in the marriage must create and continually work on. "Usually we develop annoying habits randomly, over time, for trivial reasons. Most parents rid their children of the worst and most annoying of these before adulthood. But those that remain can seriously threaten marriage" (Harley p. 73). I might add that considering the breakdown of the American family, a good number of parents today are no longer cleansing their children of many annoying habits. God does expect us to be people who are considerate of the feelings of others (Philippians 2:3-5). In addition, since we claim to be the children of God, we need to make sure that we aren’t doing anything which will turn people off from the truth (Matthew 5:13-16; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Corinthians 9:22).
- Selfish Demands: "Demands imply a threat of punishment. ‘If you refuse me, you’ll regret it’. If you force your spouse to meet your needs, it becomes a temporary solution at best, and resentment is sure to be the cost. Either meet each other’s needs willingly, from a commitment of mutual care, or do not meet them at all. Threats, lectures, and other forms of manipulation do not build compatibility. They build resentment. Those who make demands play the zero-sum game—the gains of the winning player equal the losses of the losing player. Since the protection of your spouse’s feelings is essential to protecting romantic love, a marriage cannot endure zero-sum games. Do not demand anything of your spouse that causes pain or discomfort" (Harley p. 78). In addition, when something is a demand, all of a sudden the thing being demanded becomes very unpleasant. Such demands are a basic violation of love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 7:12), and the fact that true love is patient, kind and unselfish (1 Corinthians 13:4).Concerning physical intimacy in marriage, Harley notes, "Without mutual pleasure, lovemaking will never become the habit you want it to be. But if your sexual relationship is enjoyable, you’ll both look for excuses to find privacy together" (pp. 84-85).
- Dishonesty: Romantic love is firmly fixed in the ability to trust your spouse. Harley notes the following areas of honesty: Emotional Honesty: Reveal your emotional reactions, both positive and negative, to the events of your life, particularly to your spouses requests or behavior. Historical Honesty: Reveal information about your personal history, particularly events that demonstrate personal weakness or failure. Current Honesty: Reveal information about the events of your day. Provide your spouse with a calendar of your activities, with special emphasis on those that may effect your spouse. Future Honesty: Reveal your thoughts and plans regarding future activities, goals and objectives. Complete Honesty: Do not leave your spouse with a false impression about your thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, and so on.
Remember, God portrays the marriage relationship as being "one flesh" (Ephesians 5:31), which speaks of the closest physical relationship which you will ever have in this life. Some people, even some marriage counselors, campaign for a certain amount of dishonesty in marriage. But dishonesty, or pretending, is only a short-term fix. Eventually such dishonesty or pretending will get you into trouble or will lead to resentment. Since both spouses will continue to grow, mature and change, adjustment in marriage is a constant process, will demands honest communication (Ephesians 4:25).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/(503)644-9017