I’m no expert on marriage, but I have learned one thing in over thirty years since I said I do: being in love isn’t enough to build a solid marriage.
Adele was interviewed by Oprah late last year. She explained that she divorced her husband, not because she didn’t love him, but because she wasn’t in love with him anymore. Oprah responded by saying that it was a great message to women who aren’t 100% happy with their marriages.
Hogwash, I say. No marriage will survive if it’s built on being in love.
When I was about to get married, I was in love. I was shocked when an older couple came up to me. “You think you know what love is,” they said. “You have no idea. Wait until you’ve been married 20 or 30 years, and then you’ll begin to know what love is.”
Even then, I knew they were right.
I may have been in love, but this couple knew something much deeper. They knew about the kind of love that only grows deeper. They knew that there’s a kind of love that’s better than the feeling of being in love.
How to Love Your Wife
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, men had two main responsibilities: provide for the wife and have kids. Society didn’t expect much more from husbands, which made Paul’s command surprising.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her,” Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:25).
The word Paul uses is agape, which refers to love that sacrifices.
He even gives us two examples of how we should love our wives.
First, we should love our wives just like Jesus loves the church. Leaving nothing to chance, Paul explains just how Jesus loves the church: he loved her, gave himself up for her, to make her holy, having cleansed her, that he might present her to himself. “The statement is so complete and comprehensive,” writes John Stott. “It seems to trace Christ’s care for his church from a past to a future eternity.”
The standard for how we should love our wives is Jesus. We’re called to love them just like Jesus loves the church. Jesus loves the church so much that he died for her.
Then Paul gives us a second example of how we should love our wives: “In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). The first example is lofty; this example is practical. Think of all the things we do every day to care for our bodies: sleeping, eating, bathing, working out. Just as we pay careful attention to the needs of our bodies, we should pay careful attention to the needs of our wives.
Paul doesn’t tell us to pursue being in love with our wives. Feelings come and go. He tells us to love our wives. Sacrifice for your wife. Love her comprehensively. Show the same level of care for her as you do for your own physical needs. Go as far as Jesus did. Be prepared to even die for her.
What I’ve Learned
I’m not proud of this, but I remember a time when I was critical of my wife. I’d been married to her for a few years, and I’d let some things get to me. I could list all the ways that she disappointed me, and she was aware that something had changed in my attitude. I was no longer in love.
Understandably, our relationship began to suffer.
I can’t remember what changed. By God’s grace, I began to see things differently. Of course, I knew that my wife wasn’t perfect. Some of the tensions continued. But I realized that the greatest problem in our marriage was my own judgmental spirit. I began to pray that God would correct my lousy attitude, and I began to look for things to appreciate in her.
Everything began to change, and she sensed it too.
When I was critical of my wife, I let my feelings control how I treated her. When I asked God to change my attitude, I began to love her despite my negative feelings, and it transformed our marriage, including my feelings.
We can’t control others. We can, however, repent of the times we’ve failed to love our wives the way that Christ has loved the church. We can ask God and our wives for forgiveness for the times that we’ve stopped short of Jesus’ example of how to love sacrificially and selflessly. We can look for ways to pay careful attention to her needs.
Being in love is okay, but there’s another kind of love that’s way better. Love your wife as Jesus loved the church. It will transform your marriage.