When February rolls around our hearts turn toward love. More cards are bought and given in the month of February than any other month of the year except December. It is interesting that both Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day both focus on love.
I’ve often thought how wonderful it would be if every month had a Valentine’s Day. Of course, our love for each other should not be limited to a single day. It should be a way of life. When it comes to marriage, nothing is more important than remembering that love is daily.
What does it look like when love reigns in a marriage relationship? At the risk of being simplistic, I want to use an acrostic to share four fundamental aspects of love.
Long On Patience.
Recently I was visiting the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. While there, I went to the grave of Ruth Graham. On the tombstone I read these words: “End of construction.Thank you for your patience.”
I was told that Ruth was once riding down the road and saw these words on a highway sign at the end of a construction site and immediately said, “I want those words on my tombstone.” The fact is, all of us are under construction. None of us is perfect. Most of us have plenty of room for improvement. The person to whom you are married is also under construction. Therefore, having a good marriage calls for patience on our part.
Patience is the attitude that comes with understanding the reality that maturity takes time. If you have ever raised a child, you either learned patience or you lived in a state of exasperation. It takes time for children to learn even the simplest of tasks. The same is true of your spouse (and of you).
Open to Correction.
An ancient Hebrew proverb said, “A wise man will be open to instruction.” Instruction involves two things: giving information and correcting misinformation and misconduct. All of us need to be corrected from time to time.
Often our spouse sees in us something that we do not see in ourselves. We have become accustomed to our behavior and have accepted it as normal. A loving person will be open to such correction and be open to changing behavior when corrected.
Kindness is saying or doing something for the benefit of the other person. It grows out of a recognition that every human is extremely valuable. In marriage we treat each other with respect and kindness, realizing that when we are kind to each other, we are having a positive influence on our partner. My observation is that children are kind when other children are kind to them, but if a child messes with their artwork or pushes them at the water fountain, they forget about being kind.
As adults, many of us are the same. We are kind to our spouses if they are kind to us, but if they treat us harshly, we forget about being kind. Let’s be honest, our spouses are not always loving and kind to us, but we can return good for evil.
One husband told me this story. He said, “I had settled down to watch the game on television when my wife asked me a question that I knew would lead to a long discussion. I said to her in a rather harsh way, ‘I don’t have time to talk about that now. I’m watching the game. Besides, we’ve already talked about that.’
She walked out of the room and I watched the game. Thirty minutes later she walked into the room with a TV tray, a sandwich, chips, and a coke, placed the TV tray on my lap, leaned over and said to me, 'I love you,' turned and walked out of the room.”
He said, “I sat there watching the game thinking to myself, this is not fair. I treated her harshly and she is treating me kindly. I became very convicted about my behavior. I turned off the TV (after eating the sandwich and chips), walked in the room where she was reading and said, ‘I’m sorry I talked to you harshly. Let’s talk.’ And she said, “Honey, it’s OK. We can talk when the game is over.” And I said, ‘No, the game isn’t important. I treated you very harshly and you were very kind to me. I cannot tell you how much I love you.’ We had a great conversation” he said, with a smile on his face. His wife was practicing the principle of overcoming evil with good.
Some of us grew up in homes where family members spoke harshly to each other. It became a way of life for us, but we are adults now and we must evaluate our behavior. Loud, harsh words spoken to a spouse are not kind. Rather, they strike at the heart of our spouse like a spear entering the flesh. Such pain does not heal with the passing of time. It heals when we recognize our failure, offer a sincere apology and hope that they will forgive us.
Being willing to make an apology is a sign of maturity, and forgiveness is always the right response to a sincere apology. Making such apologies also helps us break the habit of harsh speech.
When we humble ourselves to apologize, we are more likely to think before we speak in the future. The ancient Hebrew proverb was correct when it said, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” When we love our spouses we are verbally kind.
At this juncture in my life I can honestly say that my greatest earthly treasure is my wife. I consider her God’s greatest gift to me. I must be honest; I did not have that attitude in the early days of our marriage. I saw her then as an irritant. I was extremely self-centered and so was she. We were two humans, yet unrefined, each demanding our own way.
When we learn the attitude of love we view our spouse as a gift from God and our hearts are lifted in gratitude. We will also express that gratitude to each other.
In most marriages there are many things for which we can genuinely express gratitude and appreciation. Someone is buying food, preparing meals, washing dishes, vacuuming floors, doing laundry, washing the car, mowing the grass, trimming the shrubs, giving the children a bath, cleaning the toilet, and getting white spots off the mirror. We often take these things for granted.
We may go days without expressing appreciation. But if we are growing in love, our minds are alert to the positive traits and behaviors of our spouse, and we are taking every opportunity to verbally communicate our gratitude for all that he or she does for us and for others.
In a loving marriage, this attitude of gratefulness will follow us to the grave. As the years come and go, we become even more grateful for each other.
One of my great joys is to see the way elderly couples treat and care for each other in times of crisis. I was once visiting a friend in a nursing home. My friend told one of the nurses that I was the author of "The 5 Love Languages" and he started telling her about the love languages: Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
She replied, “If you want to know what love is, look at Mr. Senft. He is here every day caring for his wife. In my mind, that is love.”
I fully agreed with her, because I knew Mr. Senft. We have all known husbands and wives who daily visit a spouse in a rest home, sometimes for years. They do not see it as a duty to be performed but as the natural outflow of their love for each other.
If you are long on patience, open to correction, verbally kind, and eternally grateful, you are a loving person, and there is every possibility that your life will stimulate the loving response of your spouse. Don’t wait for your spouse to love you. It is Valentine’s week! Make the most of it.