by Leslie De Morais
Opinions differ regarding what a marriage needs to either become strong or stay strong. The following is from a list I compiled of ten essential characteristics couples need to build a strong and lasting marriage.
You might wonder why I’d include “love” on the Strong Marriage Check List. Isn’t love a given? Isn’t it obvious that a marriage requires love? Yet I’ve met many women who have married for innumerous reasons other than love. Here are a few (all the names are fictitious):
- Pat married to get out of her parents’ home.
- Jenny married because all her friends were getting married.
- Diane married because she got pregnant.
- Beth married because she feared her boyfriend was interested in another woman.
- Sue married because she was obsessed with having her dream wedding.
- Cathy married because she thought it would solve some of her financial problems.
- Linda married to end the relentless pressure from her family.
- Terry married because she was bored and thought it’d be fun.
- Paige married because she didn’t think she’d get a better offer.
- Judy married because she was afraid of growing older and being alone.
And the list goes on. Even if you married for love, it may be difficult to maintain that love as life unfolds.
I’ve learned from my own marriage that without love there really is no marriage. Love is the glue that holds us together in the tough times and enables us to flourish in the good times. Love is more than a feeling; it is more than an emotion. Love is a decision made daily, regardless of circumstances and independent of sentiment. Love is the result of a choice and the choice is, “I choose you, I choose us.”
But what exactly is love?
If you are as old as I am, you might remember searching the newspaper for the popular “Love is…” drawings by New Zealand artist Kim Casali. Over the years, the successful comic strip must have accumulated thousands of definitions of love. Some funny, some insightful, some whimsical.
When it comes to love, it seems as if everyone has their own definition.
Watch this video of children who candidly share their ideas about love.
Now, what do you do if you found yourself on the list above of women who married for reasons other than love? What is love and how can you cultivate it in your relationship?
Known for her practical advice dispensed for decades through a syndicated newspaper column, Ann Landers gets us a little closer to a working definition of love. Yet there’s an even more complete definition inspired by the One who invented love.
If I speak in the languages of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)
The first three verses describe how accomplishing incredible feats and deeds without love only results in emptiness and utter failure. Let’s apply this to marriage:
- If I have an awesome wedding planner and amazing party, a fabulous dress and incredible honeymoon but have not love, I gain nothing.
- If I marry a man my friends think is perfect and my family accepts but I do not love, I set myself up for heartache and disappointment.
- If I have the good intentions and a desire to make things work but have not love, I am likely to fail.
Not very satisfying statements. Yet when individuals do not profoundly understand the true meaning of love, it’s easy to comprehend how couples enter into marriages where love is sorely lacking.
Verses 4-8 of 1 Corinthians 13 are well known and are the adopted passage for many brides and grooms on their wedding day. It is one of God’s biblical definitions of love.
Many years ago, in a class for wives, the speaker challenged us all to reread the passage removing the word love and put our own names or pronoun in its place. The verse would then read something like this:
Leslie is patient, Leslie is kind. She does not envy, she does not boast, she is not proud. Leslie does not dishonor others, she is not self-seeking, she is not easily angered, she keeps no record of wrongs. Leslie does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. She always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Leslie never fails.
It was only after this exercise that some aspects of the biblical love God expects me to have for my husband became crystal clear. I had to admit, some days were difficult to claim possession of even one of these traits. At least now, I knew what love looked like. Love was deep, steady and enduring. Love required discipline and self-control. It selflessly focused on others. Love was incredibly difficult yet somehow attainable. Love was possible…with God in the middle of it.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (NIV)
I cannot love like the Bible describes without closeness to God. Without Him to remind me how great His love is for me, I would not have the capacity to love others, to love my husband, or even to love myself. His awe-inspiring love teaches us, by example, how to love. It is this unfathomable, rich and spiritual love that attracts, binds and matures as the years pass.
What does love look like in your marriage? Can you confidently place your name in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 as the definition of love? If not, then begin today, trait by trait, adding to your love. Both you and your husband will love the result.
As with any check list, this one may show your strengths and weaknesses, what’s already present and what’s missing from your relationship. A check list reveals where you’re at and where you need to go. The good news is you can celebrate what’s going well and make a plan to fortify what’s lacking in your marriage. With reliance on God and some attention to the matter, you’ll soon be checking all the boxes!