I have been formally counseling married people for over three years now, and the one thing I hear more than anything is, “We’ve fallen out of love.”
Let me start by putting my opinion right up front: you cannot “fall out of love”. You can stop liking a person, but to fall out of love is a choice to neglect a commitment. We view love as some feeling (and true, feelings are involved) but to love someone is a choice you make, no matter the circumstances or feelings.
I’ve been married to Molly for six years, but we’ve been together for 15 years (yes, we dated forever… I don’t recommend that). I have loved her for nearly all of those years, but there have been times where I get frustrated with her or our romance plateaus. I know that she would say the same. Nonetheless, our LOVE is something we’ve chosen not to neglect. We made a commitment before God and all of our loved ones; we are not about to go back on our word.
So what do we do when we hit the hard days? If we are truly in this for life, how do we stay “in love” so that our marriage continues to flourish and grow?
In my counseling office, I recommend three things often. I want to share them with you here:
First, spend time to plan how you will invest in your relationship. I remember C.J. Mahaney talking about how he would sit down on Sunday afternoons and plan his date night with his wife that week. He would search for local deals, make reservations, or simply create a plan for a date night the following Wednesday or Thursday. I was so impressed by his intentionality. Maintaining a love relationship over a simple roommate relationship involves taking the time to plan when you will invest in shared experience and make room for deep and meaningful conversation.
Second, pay attention to details. I carry around this small black note notebook in my back pocket almost everywhere I go. I take notes throughout the day in meeting, but I also take notes of things Molly says when I am around her. I write down key things she says or things I want to talk with her about later. I use this as a springboard for conversation on specific topics. I also notice what she enjoys, and I take note of those so that I can bring them back into her life on a date or as a gift at a later time. I’ve also taken notes in Evernote and even made a conversation list in my iPhone Reminders app. I do this to make sure we are talking about more than “So how was your day?” I’ve seen this tip give so much life to marriages when couples take it seriously. Observation is a key to intentionality and intentionality is a key to intimacy.
Third, keep guards around your marriage. I have a list of “guards” that I am held accountable for monthly by an accountability partner. These are specific things like, “I will not ride in a car alone with another woman” or “I will not go to a meal or coffee alone with another woman.” I also make commitments to only “compliment the character or the conduct of another woman – never her hairstyle, clothing or appearance.” I have also resolved to “speak often and publicly of my affection for my wife, when she is present and when she is not.” All of these small things are intentional guards to make sure my marriage is protected. I don’t want my heart to wander nor do I want ever to leave the door open for intruders in our marriage.
All of these things fall under the idea of being intentional. That word is often not used enough in our marriage relationships. Once we’ve had the wedding, we fall into a way of life that neglects all intentionality. We must stay awake in our marriage, paying close attention, or else we will wake up to find out we’ve crashed and will not be sure how we ever got there.
Marriage is one of God’s great gifts to us. He allows us to experience love in the deepest way possible; He created love and wants us to have a deep understanding of His glorious design. Marriage is also a picture of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The Church is referred to as the “Bride of Christ” and Christ as the groom. By being in a marriage, we are given a sweet illustration of how God views us and how He keeps His commitment to us no matter our faithfulness or feeling.
To invest in our marriage is to make a decision to steward a gift that has been graciously given to us by a great God.
Molly and I watched this video the other night and were impacted by the response of the couple. It made us both more aware that we are in this for the long-haul, way beyond beauty or happy circumstances. Love isn’t rooted in vein preferences but is a commitment rooted in the deep soil of covenant before God.
If you find your marriage struggling, below are some resources that would be good for you to check out. Simply throwing your hands in the air and accepting that your marriage already failed is letting go of something God has given you and called you to cherish. Invest in it and guard it with your life!
- Marriage Resources from the Biblical Counseling Coalition
- Marriage Counselor Recommendations from Focus on the Family
- “How do I solve Marriage Problems?” article from GotQuestions.org