“It would be worth a thousand dollars,” my friend and mentor said when I told her what I wanted. That sounded like way more than I was used to spending for anything.
I had told her I had long-standing questions about my marriage, but didn’t know if I could afford counseling.
Ed and I loved (and still love) our life in ministry. But years of living with emotional baggage and stresses from his frequent travel had taken their toll on our marriage. Always a perfectionist, I had expected, well, perfection! As our kids left, one by one, for college half a world away, they left new dynamics at home. Ed was content, but I felt disconnected and desperate. Thankfully, I followed my friend’s advice. The counseling I (and sometimes we) received was priceless.
One of the results of the counseling is that a regular Saturday morning date, usually at home, has become a nourishing ingredient in our marriage. It’s a time just for us, with no time limit. It’s a time for us to catch up and talk more deeply than we usually take time for during the week.
It’s also a time to be done with any secrets that might have grown up between us, and to be vulnerable about our hopes, fears, and even the worst of our failures. (This is the scary part, but there’s no closeness without it.) Of course, forgiveness is an essential ingredient in our marriage recipe, too.
Date nights for fun activities are also healthy ingredients for the recipe. But for us, they are not a substitute for truly connecting emotionally, as we do on Saturday mornings.
Ed doesn’t feel the same need for this kind of conversation as I do, but he understood that I needed it and was willing to put it in the schedule. Your marriage may need less quality time and conversation than ours. That is my “love language.”¹ All relationships need true communication, but another “love language” might be more meaningful to your spouse — like gifts, or words of affirmation.
What is the measure of our love?
Ed has chosen to put my needs first by sticking with our Saturday morning dates. Putting the other person first is something God wants us to do, whether we feel like it or not. It’s a way of serving one another. “The measure of our love is our willingness to be inconvenienced,”² wrote Elisabeth Elliot, one of my beloved author-mentors.
We tend to think the more we are served, the more important we are. But God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9) and have unexpected rewards. When we are most like Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45), the more joy we will experience, as He did (Hebrews 12:2).
Some days I remember to pray about this and (Shhh!) try to serve or surprise Ed in some special way. We may have joy in surprising our children, but lose that joy over time toward our spouse — perhaps because of the dailiness of life.
Undealt-with issues, perhaps warranting the help of a mentor or counselor, will get in the way of our joy. Plain old selfishness and competition certainly will also. Our Lord Jesus did not regard equality with His Father as something to be grasped. He made Himself a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). Our value is not determined by who is serving whom.
God’s extreme recipe
God actually has a recipe for extreme marital bliss: “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10, emphasis mine). This is His standard for all relationships! We can honor each other in many ways. Besides putting the other person first and serving them, we can speak well of them, respect them, encourage them, seek their good, trust their heart toward us, and pray much for them. Our hearts can be at rest in the love of someone who honors us like this.
Honoring also includes accepting the other person as they are. “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you,” the apostle Paul wrote (Romans 15:7). Once we are married for a while, we may unconsciously begin to try and make the person over into our own ideal image for them. We may complain about their personality or their ways, instead of honoring them by choosing to accept and adapt.
During one period in our marriage, I went out of my way to accept Ed. I would say to myself, “Yes, he is ____ (whatever might be bothering me at the moment), but I accept him!” Facing the facts as I saw them and declaring my commitment anyway had surprising results: it was one of the times in our marriage when I felt the most romantic.
I’m glad we keep discovering and re-discovering the richness of marriage God’s way. As Ed and I both stir more and more of God’s ingredients into our marriage, romance spices our days. We still have a lot to learn and apply from God’s Word. But regular, real communication, mixed with increasing amounts of serving and honoring, has become sumptuous, satisfying fare.
God’s recipes always turn out better than mine. They can be costly, but feasts always are.
Will you pray with me?
Lord, help me do what it takes to make my marriage as rich as it can be. Your character in me, Your ways, Your thoughts, Your love will help me be the kind of spouse You had in mind from the very beginning of time. May I outdo my spouse in showing honor. May I love and serve my spouse — and You — with a whole, joyful heart.
What special ingredient has enriched your marriage? 💗
If you haven’t discovered life in Christ, don’t hesitate to check it out. Life is too short to miss His love and perfect plan for you. Read About “The Nearness of God” or see everyperson.com for more information. You can also read my story of coming to faith in Christ: How My Song Began.