Loving is easy when it feels good. That’s why they call it “falling in love.” In our 21st century western culture there would be very few marriages if the emotions weren’t overwhelming. But emotions come like waves; they rise – and then they fall. What do you do then? What do you do when you don’t feel like loving your spouse?
It’s easy to love when your spouse makes you feel special, when they respond enthusiastically to your sexual desires, treat you as a hero or a queen, give you presents, dress up (or down!) and smell nice, understand your feelings, make you feel safe, and surprise you with your favorite meal or a night on the town.
But what about when your spouse does not appear so lovable? What about when they’re frustrated or angry or tired, sick in bed with the flu (or something much worse), forget something terribly important to you, or are putting their sin nature on full display? How do you love them then?
A friend of mine shared this question that I believe encapsulates how to approach your relationship when it seems everything is messed up.
Who does God need you to be to your spouse in this season? Tweet that.
You only know so much of your spouse’s heart. You have human limitations yourself, and you only understand a portion of what brought your spouse to this point, and what God is doing in them. But God knows all that, and more. That’s the reason asking this question becomes so important.
Loving your spouse when things are tough does not mean accepting bad behavior, putting up with abuse, manipulating or controlling, becoming super-spiritual, or ignoring serious issues. Sometimes love is tough and sometimes it’s tender. Usually love is both tough and tender.
Loving your spouse when things are tough might look like:
– Setting some serious boundaries in the relationship
– Learning to feed yourself emotionally/spiritually so you have more resilience yourself
– Changing your own attitude and behavior to come closer to your spouse
– Learning the necessary skills to communicate more effectively
– Putting your own needs/desires for sex toward the background so you can be more of the sex partner your spouse needs
– Caring for your spouse’s physical and emotional needs when you feel drained yourself
– Calling out your spouse to move toward the person God created them to be
– Praying for and with your spouse when you don’t feel like praying at all
And you and I, as sinful human beings, usually only learn to love well when things get tough.
Learning to Love Well
Reading that last section might make you bristle somewhat inside. But you don’t know how bad things are with my spouse! OK, here are a few even-more-practical examples.
– My spouse pressures me to have sex when I’m just not into it. Loving well might look like you doing the hard work to heal from childhood trauma over sexual abuse, getting medical help for a physical issue affecting your sexuality, learning to flip the mental switch to move toward your spouse, or studying God’s view of sex and sexuality together.
– I’m disgusted by my spouse’s addiction. Loving well might look like joining a group for spouses of addicts so you can stop enabling, doing an intervention to get your spouse into treatment, and/or praying for wisdom to assure your spouse of your love while refusing to accept their bad behavior.
– We always end up fighting. I can’t talk to him/her. Loving well might look like studying healthy communication skills, learning to seek to understand before seeking to be understood, learning to communicate in a time and way your spouse can understand, or getting some professional help if you’re not making progress.
– My spouse won’t join me in my spiritual journey. Loving well might look like giving God permission to change your own character to make a relationship with Jesus more appealing to your spouse, investing in your own spiritual nourishment even when your spouse won’t join you, and/or continuing to pray for your spouse when things look hopeless.
Loving well isn’t about your own comfort or happiness or needs; it’s about being the person God needs you to be to your spouse in this season of your marriage.
So how do you do that?
How to Love Well
None of us is capable of loving well on our own. That’s why the marriage of one sinner to another sinner is God’s perfect laboratory to have you learn this. And it’s also why you can’t do this on your own.
Two things become vitally important in this journey of learning to love well.
- Focus on what you can change, not what you can’t change. Almost always you can only change yourself, not your spouse. While your spouse perhaps should do things differently, focus on yourself. What attitudes, skills, or behaviors might you need to change? Where might you need to learn new ways of relating and connecting? Learning to love well will stretch you and change you; that’s a good thing. Parts of you may even die. This is not about suffering or “poor me”; it’s about being who God needs you to be to your spouse.
- Stay on your knees. It should go without saying that you can’t do this on your own. When you are brought to the end of yourself, lean on Jesus. Ask Him to fill you with the love for your spouse that He has for them. Ask Him to give you the courage and wisdom to deal with the tough challenges that come up. Ask Him to show you where you need to bend and where you need to be firm. Ask Him to meet your needs that no human being can ever meet.
When you don’t feel like loving your spouse, embrace God’s love to love them anyway.
And keep asking God to show you who He needs you to be to your spouse in this season.
Your Turn: How has marriage helped you learn to love well? Do you need to change your focus in any way so you can see who God needs you to be to your spouse right now?
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- When you don’t feel like loving your spouse – love them anyway. Here are some practical ways to do that. Tweet that.
Tired of feeling disconnected in your marriage?
Download the FREE Resource Guide: 4 Keys to Re-Connecting with your Spouse.