Falling in love is easy. It involves butterflies, long walks on moonlit beaches, and the occasional visit from a unicorn. There are fifteen hundred organizations in this country that will take your money and your profile and connect you with somebody with a similar profile. It has never been easier to fall in love.
But while falling in love is easy, I would argue that it’s never been more difficult to stay in love. Once the initial shine of new love has worn off, there are obstacles that appear seemingly out of nowhere. There are warts, there are regrets, there is baggage. Sometimes, staying in love feels impossible.
Though the divorce statistics jump all over the place, there is little denying that we are a culture prone to giving up on love, instead of staying in it. We are a culture that believes that when the going gets tough, the tough just go.
We run away from the challenges and wonder how we could ever feel so far from someone we once felt so close to. The people we couldn’t live without become the people we can’t stand to be in the same room with.
Yet despite the challenges, there’s something in you and in me that wants to do life and finish life with that special someone. We don’t want to just be in a relationship; we don’t want to just survive the years. We want to be in love. We wonder what it’s like to be truly treasured by some- one. To be needed and missed and loved. Not just for a long weekend or even a decade, but for twenty years, thirty years, forty years, and more.
Love is a Verb
For many of us, the concept of love is difficult because we never really learned the right form of love.
In our homes, we weren’t equipped to recognize real love, never mind replicate it someday in our own lives. So we developed low relational pain thresholds. 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.
It is not an event or a one-time thing. It is not a fire- works feeling or a field of flowers. It’s an action. 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. It’s a daily commitment. But if it’s going to hap- pen, love must be a verb.
But in John 13:34, we see a different side of love. Two thousand years ago Jesus gave us the best advice for staying in love. It’s the foundation for enduring love relationships. It’s so counter intuitive, so simple, it goes right over our heads. It’s so powerful, so rare, so accessible, if two people will accept this very basic teaching of Jesus: “A new command I give you: Love one another.” It will slip right by you if you’re not careful. Jesus takes a word that we normally use as a noun and makes it a verb.
It Takes a Plan
What if real relationships actually start when we get real about staying in love? What if staying in love is possible?
I believe it is possible. I believe it’s a gift God longs to give us, and I believe there are three things we can do to accept that gift. Falling in love only requires a pulse. Staying in love? That requires a plan.
Remodel Your Approach
When you want to stay in love, you don’t just put up with your loved one’s interests. You find a way to become interested and express interest — just like you did before you got married. When you fell in love, you found out what your loved one was into and you suddenly, temporarily, were into it too. “Oh, I love to run.” You’d never run in your life, but you went to your friend and said, “Do you have any running shoes that look used? I can’t go out there with brand-new shoes.” All of a sudden you were a runner.
See, we know how to be in love. But once we’re in, we forget that we have to stay there. If you want to go deep, if you want real intimacy, then you live as if your loved one is more important than you — which means his or her interests become at least as important as yours.
To stay in love, you need to remodel your approach. You can try to draw the lines evenly so that you get a 50-50 split, but chances are that when you do, you will end up with a contract, not love. So learn to remodel. Learn to value others above yourself. Learn to put your spouse first. Learn to defer to your spouse. And remember: respect, respect, respect.
Pay Attention to Your Heart
What do you do when your marriage hits the inevitable bumps and your emotional beads spill out? Here’s an exercise that can help:
1. Instead of stuffing your feelings or justifying them, stop and think about what you are actually feeling before you speak.2. Name what you are feeling, with specific words: I feel jealous or angry or left out. I feel like a failure. I feel abandoned, afraid, betrayed, disrespected, insecure.
3. Once you’ve identified the feeling, say it aloud. Name your feelings and they lose their power
4. If and when it’s appropriate, tell your spouse what’s going on in your heart.
Choose Wisely in Filling the Gaps
Each time we experience a gap where our expectations aren’t met, we face a choice: in our hearts and minds, will we assume the worst about our spouses, or believe the best? Husbands and wives who stay in love for the long haul learn to always assume the best, either by force of habit or by intuition. By doing so, they create an “upward spiral of love” leading to greater and greater intimacy
Adapted from The Best Advice I Ever Got On Marriage, by Jim Daly.
Copyright © 2012 by Jim Daly, published by Worthy Publishing, all rights reserved, used with permission.
This article was written by Andy Stanley and is from the book, The Best Advice I Ever Got On Marriage, compiled by Jim Daly.