One of my favorite things that I get to do is help couples prepare for marriage. Inevitably, when I sit down with an engaged couple, we get to a point where each one is telling me the things that the other needs to change.
It is like they have become each other’s mini Holy Spirit—but that job has already been filled. So I ask them this question: “Could you live the rest of your life with each other just as you are today? That means no one changes. It means you are willing to commit to a lifelong marriage knowing all you know about the other person. It means you love each other enough to move forward and never look back.”
Marriage is not about changing the other person. Marriage is not about coaxing your spouse to fit into the mold you have created for them. Marriage is about loving someone just the way they are for a really, really long time.
Before Nancy and I were married, there were some things that we did not particularly like about each other; but we made the decision to get married anyway. I remember thinking that even though Nancy wasn’t perfect (actually, I thought she was very close), I really loved her and I wanted to spend my life with her—and that trumped everything else.
Honestly, it wasn’t too long after we were married that we began to regress. We had expectations of each other that we never shared before our wedding, and we began the task of trying to get the other person to change. That process went on for the first few years of our marriage and literally brought us to the brink of divorce, but divorce was the last thing either of us wanted. We needed to persevere. What God did in our lives next was truly amazing—but that’s a story for another time because right now I want to share with you what He taught us.
We actually had the first part right. No one should go into marriage without accepting that person, warts and all. This means that to the best of our ability we commit to love this person unconditionally for the rest of our lives. I think what Nancy and I did not really understand was the fact that marriage is not a get-it-right-and-coast-for-fifty-years deal. Marriage is a journey with your spouse that begins at the altar and lasts a lifetime. Marriage is about good days and bad days and walking through them together. Marriage is about being good friends, and then better friends, and finally best friends. It is the essence of perseverance.
As a marriage counselor, there are two things that really sadden me. The first is a husband and wife who just exist together. They never really connect; there is no passion; they just live their lives under the same roof day after day after day.
That is not persevering. It is more like coexisting.
The second is when a couple never learns how to pivot. Let me unpack that one for you. Most couples fight each other. The scenario goes something like this: There’s a problem. The husband and wife stand face to face with the problem between them, and they each want it solved their way. Some couples yell and scream, and others talk civilly to each other, but all of them are adamant that their way is right and their spouse’s way is wrong. Do you have that picture in your mind? Now, picture both of them pivoting so that instead of facing off they are standing side by side. The problem is now in front of them instead of between them. Now it is about how they can solve the problem together. Now they are fighting as a team.
Love that perseveres is about fighting together rather than fighting each other. It is about staying committed to each other no matter what. A love that perseveres lasts a lifetime. To persevere, a husband and wife need to love each other unconditionally. Wow! That may have caused you to stop in your tracks because loving your spouse unconditionally seems impossible to you. Think about this: it is impossible unless you let God take over.
When God is given the lead in our marriages, the impossible becomes possible. Let me give you an example. I can say that I love Nancy unconditionally, but I know there are times that I do not. My humanness rears its head and takes over. That is when I need God to step in. My role is to persevere in pursuing my love for her; no matter what my temporary feelings may be, my role as her husband is to love her unconditionally. Doing that on my own never works, but doing it with God works every time. When I am reminded of His unconditional love for me and that He has persevered in His pursuit of me since the day I was born, I know that with His help I can answer His call to love Nancy unconditionally. That is what makes the difference. That is a love that perseveres for a lifetime.
What is your next step? Let me give you a challenge. It’s risky because it involves God; and when we involve God, He always shows up. If you are in, then do this. Ask God each day for one week to search your heart and reveal anything that is keeping you from loving your spouse unconditionally. As things surface, examine each one and then turn it over to Him. You will be amazed at what God does with it. Repeat this process as often as needed until your unconditional love for your spouse is a reality. Persevere, because “love . . . always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:6–7).
This guest post was written by Kim Kimberling, Ph.D., author of “7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage”, and leader of the Awesome Marriage Movement. You can learn more about him and his ministry at www.awesomemarriage.com.
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