Red hearts, roses, chocolate, and jewelry.
Many married couples, though, eventually agree not to spend money on one another at this time, and family responsibilities mean the romance may be replaced with daily cares. We may feel “love” is no longer a meaningful word in our relationship.
Below is part of an essay I wrote many years ago for a marriage counseling course. It’s not academic, and is a bit of a longer read, but I think you’ll enjoy it, and trust you will never again look at your toothbrush the same way.
When Love Leaves, Brush Your Teeth.
Our toothbrushes stand in the cup at the edge of the sink, leaning together in comfortable intimacy. They are testament to the fact we are married, and our marriage is as regular and ordinary as everyone else’s marriage.
In the early years, we carefully respect each other’s “washroom time”, even ensuring we recap the squeezed-from-the-bottom sparkling blue tooth gel. Now, in the rush of life, we nudge elbows and struggle for control of the tap. We spit bland toothpaste into a sink we later argue about whose turn it is to clean. When did our marriage go from honeymoon to plain white toothpaste? Do we now just lean together in comfortable intimacy and call it marriage? Was that the end of love?
No love comes with a lifetime guarantee. Even Christians, who grew up in stable homes, attend church, and promise “until death do us part” can suddenly find love has left the relationship. The truth is, this is a problem many couples face yet rarely prepare for – the eventual realization that everyday life goes on and they suddenly find they are no longer in love. They wake up one morning and wonder, just who is that stranger snoring next to me?
This day may come quickly, shortly after the honeymoon when rose-coloured glasses fall away and we realize our spouse left toast crumbs in the butter – again! Or the day may not come until after children share your home, when mom becomes “touched out” from small hands demanding her attention all day and dad becomes weary of working to pay the bills. Be assured, however, the day can come! Instead of romantically working together as an “us” team, we find ourselves feeling we are once again alone in the world. We have sworn to stand together against all odds, yet are unprepared to find we stand at odds with each other. What happened to our love?
The real problem is not that we have fallen out of love, but we have misunderstood the journey to mature love. Love is not a feeling accompanied by flying cupids and red roses. Love is a choice. The day we realize the feeling of love has left is the day the choice to love must begin.
There is a problem in Christian marriages as great numbers of couples “opt out” of their relationships. It seems accepted that if we have fallen in love, we must be able to fall out of love and to quit is our only option.
We can run from the challenges of marriage, we can settle for the comfortable “old sock” feeling, or we can admit many marriages (perhaps all) experience the challenge of lost love. God did not design marriage for us to be comfortable, infatuated, and happy-ever-after. God designed marriage to be a reflection of His love in a vibrant relationship. Yes, vibrant! Our walk with God can be vibrant, and our marriage can be exciting, intoxicating, effervescent, and even vivacious. To make this happen, Christians need to choose love.
As time goes by, there is a great danger of taking our spouse for granted. Small hurts and disappointments cause cracks between you that, if not recognized and addressed, can cause chasms to form in your marriage.
Even in our relationship with God, we must guard against complacency. God tells the church in Laodicea to be hot or cold, anything but warm! The psalmist pleads with God in Psalm 51:10-12 to rejuvenate his relationship with God. This same prayer could apply to our marriage. God, clean me and give me a right attitude toward my spouse. By your Spirit, renew the untamed love of my wedding day and make me willing to work at this relationship!
Marriage vows are the foundation that really hold a couple together and define their love. We vowed “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health”. We pledged to an unknown future together, promising no matter what life brings we will face it together. Couples who consistently look back to their vows, to the promises made before God, will find strength to keep their relationship going.
Marriage is a partnership, and developing a mature love is the responsibility of each spouse. Whether or not our partner wants to work at this is irrelevant. It is our own responsibility to show God’s unconditional love through our marriage. In a me-centered world, practicing sacrificial love is the only key to develop loving intimacy, yet this is the most challenging aspect. Crises of finance, health, or communication may force a couple to set deep roots together, but only if they face them together.
Many Christian books outline ways to practice loving the person you married (see a list at the end). Most offer common themes.
Generally, the first guideline is, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Instead of a partner with whom we can pursue God we expect to find a soul mate to complete us. So when our marriage encounters problems, from irritating habits or weighty issues that seem impossible to live with, we find ourselves lost and must go to God for guidance, because choosing to love is not easy.
Often, though, we go to God with the wrong question. We want to know how to fix our spouse. The problem is not our spouse, or even our relationship, but our self. We are complacent and selfish. When we go to God, He will not tell us how to change our partner to be a person we can love. Instead, He tells us how to become the kind of partner our spouse will want to love.
Matthew 22 goes on to say we must love our neighbour as our self. What closer neighbour is there than the one with whom we share a bathroom? This is the second guideline to develop loving intimacy in our marriage; love our spouse. Whether or not we “feel” like showing love to our spouse, or “feel” they deserve love, God requires we submit by obediently loving our marriage partner.
There are many ways to be obedient to God in loving our spouse, but first we must adjust our attitude. Focusing on the strengths of our spouse helps change our own attitude. Perhaps we must take the time to learn all over again just who our spouse is. As well, make a conscious effort to encourage rather than criticize. Our spouse needs to know that you are on their team; that as we pledged on our wedding day, we will stand by them no matter what comes, whether a loss of job or a burned meal.
Marriage is a God-ordained relationship between man and woman and should be a reflection of humankind’s relationship with God. Marriage is the most intimate relationship on earth, where individuals express love for another.
So, when we realize the feeling of love is leaving our marriage, go to the bathroom and look at the toothbrushes. The cup holds them together. They lean together, his bristles nuzzling yours much like his day’s growth rubs against her soft cheek. They are worn, yes, but leaning on one other for warmth and companionship. Our life may have grown comfortable but therein lays the excitement. Our marriage is not a humdrum passing of days, but is in the process of developing mature love. Christian marriage can be a vibrant relationship of sacrificial love as each partner grows toward God with each other.
Some books I have read that helped form my thinking about marriage:
Dillow, Linda. Creative Counterpart
Durham, Ron. Happily Ever After (And Other Myths About Divorce)
Hocking, David & Carole. Good Marriages Take Time; Bad Marriages Take More Time.
Mason, Mike. “How Dark the Night” and “Winning Through Surrender”, excerpts from The Mystery of Marriage
Richmond, Gary. The Divorce Decision
Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life