Recently, my husband and I have been doing more pre-marital counselling. This has been both fun and challenging.
Chris and I have had to really sit down and ask, what does the couple absolutely need? What are the questions we absolutely must ask to help them have a thriving marriage? What must a single person look for in a potential spouse?
I’ve been thinking, if I could only give them one trait to look for, what would it be? One way of knowing if you should or should not get married. One question that needs to be answered.
This is my question: How do you define the word love?
I reserve the right to change my mind. But, for now, I can’t think of a single more important question for a potential mate. How they (and you) answer that question will determine the health and joy of your marriage more than any other thing.
When they say, “I want to marry you because I love you”. What do they (and you) mean by that little word, love?
Once all the feelings are there. All the tingles. All the goofy grins. All the, “I love the smell of your hair” moments.
How do you define the word, love?
If I may, can I give three answers that you should run from?
The Compatibility Myth
If someone defines love as “you are the perfect fit for me”. Run. If that is the best they can give you, it’s not good enough. If they say, “You are the Whip to my Nae Nae”. Run.
This version of love says that I will show affection and commitment to you as long as we get along. As long as I feel that we are in harmony. As long as your personality syncs with mine. As long as this works, I’m in.
Here is a promise. If you get married, at some point in marriage you will feel that you are not compatible. It’s a guarantee. For goodness sake, someone wrote a book saying men and women are virtually born on different planets; Venus and Mars. We can feel very far apart in marriage, even when we are sleeping side by side. We can feel very out of sync. We can feel that the other just doesn’t “get” us. Even if we married a person who is perfectly compatible in all our personalities, hobbies and beliefs… we change. You change.
The truth is, we will feel incompatible at times. Another definition of love is needed to survive and thrive in marriage. This version of love will only further alienate and steal hope.
The Feelings Myth
We should know this. But it bears repeating. If your significant other defines love as a feeling. Don’t run, sprint. If they say, “I know I love you because I’ve never felt this way before” or “because my heart has never longed to be with someone like you.” That is all good and romantic (feelings are important)… but not the definition of love you should be looking for.
If their words somehow describe love as a feeling. That is romantic. But, those feelings will go away. And when those feelings go away (or develop in the direction of someone else!)… Where will you (and your children) be left?
The “You make me a better me” Myth
This would make a great line in a movie or the topic of a full season of Oprah specials.
We want to marry someone who “makes me the best person I can be”.
Your spouse just might just make you a much worse version of you. When they are grumpy. When they are impatient. When they aren’t as kind in their words. When they say something hurtful. When they don’t listen. Sometimes they will be that thorn of sanctification.
This is also unhealthy. Jesus makes you a better you. Of course our spouse should support us. They should encourage us towards all God created us to be. But they are not God. And this is God’s role.
You won’t always feel like your best version with your spouse. And when those seasons happen. How they (and you!) define love will determine where this all ends up.
There are many definitions of love. Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as sexual desire. These are all forms of love we experience.
But if you are getting married and you ask your potential mate, “How do you define love? The love we need for our marriage?”. I hope you hear some version of this:
Love as romance. Love as friendship. Love as that familiar comfort of a person that knows you through good and bad all grows from the soil of love as the cross. Sacrificial love leads to feelings, feelings don’t lead to sacrificial love.
You need a love that says,
I will prefer you above myself.
I will serve you.
I will ask forgiveness for my wrongs.
I will listen to you even when it’s hard to hear the answers.
I will not give in to selfishness.
I will swallow my pride.
I understand that I’m imperfect and that will affect you.
I will tell the truth.
I will keep my promises.
When I want to escape. I won’t. I’ll still come home to you.
When it’s hard, I won’t give up… because love doesn’t give up.
I won’t just think about how I feel, I will consider how you feel.
To love you means this will cost me something. I willing to pay that price for you. I commit to it.
Of course no person does all those things perfectly. Perfection will never be attained. But, if this is the love definition you both commit to from the day one. The love you aim for. I can’t think of a single better place to start.
So, how do you define love?
Photo Credit: JM Scott