Tuesday, January 5, 2010

from the archives: loving your husband

Marriage so easily becomes a fertile ground for the growth of bitterness and resentment.

Perhaps it's the small things: the socks left in the middle of the floor, the unwiped bench, the restless night. Perhaps it's slightly bigger things: a forgotten birthday, a week marred by grumpiness, a month with too many commitments. Or perhaps it's big things: a move to another state for work, failure to meet primary responsibilities, or different preferences about family, housing, or ministry.

These things can especially affect us early in our marriage, when we're not used to each other's idiosyncrasies, and we're learning how to please each other. We may ask ourselves some hard questions - "What am I doing in this relationship? Who is this person I've married? Did I make a terrible mistake?". If we heard our mother complaining about what "all men" are like, or if our father continually pointed out our mother's faults, we may learn habits of discontentment and criticism which are hard to shake.

Three years into my marriage, I had an immense amount to learn about loving my husband. I was so keen for advice that I read a book about marriage, wrote its suggesions on 3x5" index cards, and kept them in my prayer journal. Interestingly, these suggestions were almost identical to Carolyn Mahaney's in chapter 2 of Feminine Appeal Feminine Appeal, where she talks about how to develop loving feelings for our husbands, so I know how effective her advice is.*

  • Remember God is sovereign over your marriage. In difficult times and difficult relationships, remember that God is loving and sovereign, and that he brought you and your husband together for his glory, the good of you and your husband, and the sake of the gospel.**
  • Keep your heart. Realise that emotions like bitterness or fear are a good early warning sign of unhelpful thinking and wrong beliefs. Examine your heart, repent of any wrong thinking, and receive God's forgiveness.
  • Reflect on your own sinfulness. We married sinners, and our husbands married sinners too. How can we not forgive our husbands, when they have forgiven and borne with us, and, more importantly, when God has forgiven us for so many more sins against him?
  • Learn to think tender thoughts about your husband. Instead of focusing on your husband's faults, think about his good qualities. Take a moment to look at him, and dwell on the things you love and appreciate about him. To retrain my mind, I actually wrote a list of my husband's many wonderful qualities, and thanked God for them daily, until it became natural to think this way.
  • Cherish your husband in your actions. Make sure your husband comes before children, home and ministry in the way you use your time and energy. Learn to enjoy the things he enjoys. You can do it: I was a sport-hating woman who actually learned to love watching football with my husband! I think I've lost some of this focus after having 4 children: I'd like to make more of an effort to organise date nights, give Steve my full attention, and make sure I put him first in my decisions.
  • Find friends who support your marriage. (I'm adding this to Carolyn's list.) When I was newly married, I had one friend I could always talk to openly and honestly about my marriage, because I knew she would always, without fail, draw my attention to my husband's many wonderful qualities, and encourage me to have tender thoughts for him. Be a friend like this to your married friends!
Believe me, you can practise and learn to love your husband with a tender love. I know, because I wasn't naturally good at this, but I practised and learnt how. And the result? God willing, a happy, loving, supportive marriage, where two people cherish each other above all others, bear cheerfully with one another's faults, thank God for each other's strengths, and give their children the security and example of a loving relationship.

* I agree with Nicole that the Greek word for "love" in Titus 2:4 doesn't necessarily mean "tender love" as Mahaney suggests, having asked my husband the same question; I'd go instead to Song of Songs or Proverbs 5:19.

** There are appropriate circumstances for divorce, such as adultery (Matt. 19:9); and women shouldn't remain in a physically abusive relationship.

And yes, the pictures (from John Bull magazine, 1950's) are tongue-in-cheek.

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