Marriage is about an 'I will', not just an 'I do'
By Focus on the Family
This morning I found myself intrigued by a discussion taking place on my wife's favourite breakfast radio show - so intrigued in fact that I even put down my breakfast at one point and wandered over to the radio to dial up the volume.
The discussion was about romance, and listeners were encouraged to call into the show and state what they believe romance actually is.
One of the things that I was pleasantly surprised by was the fact that the discussion quickly moved on from talk of flowers and candlelit dinners to a presentation of a more 'other centric' vision of romance - one which seeks to serve the good of the other, rather than to simply draw them into a mutually and emotionally pleasing experience.
This discussion actually reminded me of one of the most helpful gifts we received on our wedding day (thanks Jacinta and Stoppy) - Gary Chapman's book; The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. In this book, Chapman presents a practical framework for romance and affection which is built on seeking the good of the other.
The Five Love Languages identifies the five different ways that people like to receive and show affection and love to others, encouraging spouses to discern which love languages are present in their marriage and then tailor their acts of kindness and affection to those specific love languages.
In this way, the Five Love Languages isn't merely a framework which encourages married couples to seek the good of the other, but it also encourages them to do this in a way that will be most well received by their spouse.
The five love languages that Chapman identifies are:
1. Words of Affirmation 2. Quality Time 3. Receiving Gifts 4. Acts of Service 5. Physical Touch
Although this might sound like yet another another cheesy piece of mass-marketed 'go team go' relationship self-help pap, it is actually hugely beneficial in a marriage for a husband and wife to know the best and most effective ways in which they can serve and show affection to each other.
One of the most common issues that husbands and wives will butt up against in their married life is misunderstanding in this area - it's amazing how we can spend a lot of time and effort doing things that we think show affection and care for our spouse, based on the fact that such things would be pleasing to us, only to discover that our husband or wife doesn't value those same actions as highly as we do!
This morning's radio discussion about romance also got me to thinking about the fact that one of the biggest hurdles that modern marriages have to overcome is a false vision of marriage which reduces it to little more than a mutual romantic and property/resource sharing arrangement involving two individuals.
If more married couples truly understood marriage as a permanent, exclusive and lifelong commitment to seeking the good of the other, and they engaged in their married lives together on such a basis, then I am confident that we would find ourselves living in a very different culture indeed.
You see, marriage isn't so much about an 'I do' as it is about an 'I will'.
It is now very fashionable to present a wedding day as an end to something, rather than the beginning of a new and totally unique commitment to another person that is unlike any other relationship that we can enter into with another human being.
And when the topic of successful marriages is raised, there's usually a lot of talk about communication, sex and compatibility, but very little about the importance of recognising and embracing, with self-abandon, a self-giving commitment to seeking the good of the other in our marriage.
Communication, good sex and compatibility are all fruits which grow on the tree of self-sacrificial love, yet more often than not these fruits are now presented as if they are more important, or can somehow successfully flourish independent of the tree itself.
This reality is clearly manifested by the eager willingness with which our culture has embraced and provided easy access to divorce - now even offering a version of it to couples who never actually even made any public vow of commitment to each other in the first place - and the way in which many people now believe that marriage is just a publicly licensed version of cohabiting.
True success in marriage doesn't happen by chance, and it isn't just about recognising that you have committed yourself exclusively to another person at a wedding ceremony (the 'I do' approach to marriage). Instead success comes when we recognise that marriage is a commitment to seek the good of our husband or wife, and to keep seeking their good through all the good times and the bad we will journey through together (the 'I will' approach to marriage).
So next time time you find yourself pondering the issue of romance, start by reminding yourself that true romance always begins with a desire to serve the good of the other.
Oh, and if you're a married person whose looking for practical ways of maintaining a strong focus on the commitment that you have made to your husband or wife, how about starting each day by taking 5 minutes, on your own in a quiet space, to recite and ponder on your marriage vows again.
The way we think forms our words and actions, and our words and actions form our habits - so what better way to nurture the habit of commitment within your marriage than by daily reminding yourself of the actual commitment you have made to your husband or wife.