Among the greatest needs for healthy emotional survival there is nothing more important than being in a loving relationship. In fact, studies in longevity tell us that being in a loving relationship actually adds years to our life. When the Beatles said, “All you need is love,” they may have actually gotten it right. Conversely, of all the things we are naturally inclined to develop this may be the least!
Why is it that most people will seek love their entire life and few will find it? James may have said it best: You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. People desperately desire to feel loved. They pray and they seek, yet the purpose for their pursuit is so selfish in nature that they can’t recognize the real thing when the opportunity presents itself. The first law of love may well be: love is completely neutralized in the presence of selfishness.
Love, like all other truly spiritual realities, exists within an array of seemingly endless paradoxes. 1) You can know the benefits of love but when you seek the benefits you find love. 2) You can’t receive love from others if you are not first willing to give it away. 3) You can’t give genuine love unless you are experiencing it. 4) The moment love has conditions it becomes manipulation. 5) The more we are hurt by pursuing faulty concepts of love the less likely we are to come to the knowledge of the truth!
Why is it that we seldom learn from our relationship mistakes? Instead of growing from our relationship failures we often becomes less adept! We not only make the same mistakes over and over again, as often as not we make the same mistakes to a greater degree and intensity! It seems that failed love is so hurtful that each downfall causes us to be more driven by fear. The Bible teaches that the degree of fear we embrace directly affects the amount of love we can experience. (1 John 4:18)
There is only one source to trust when it comes to understanding love: God’s Word; yet, this seems to be the last place we look! We trust our feelings which were developed as children when we had a sin (fear-based) nature. We follow what our parents modeled to us even though we do everything we can to not be like them. Even worse, we look to the immoral, godless world of entertainment that, the last time I checked, had a horrible track record for building and maintaining relationships. And then maybe most damaging of all, we trust that person who demands from us something they define as love, but is actually their own attempt to manipulate us into meeting their needs!
Why are we so resistant to God’s model and definition of love? Simple! It’s an unknown! We haven’t seen it modeled in real life. We don’t know where to look in the Bible to understand it and religion has so distorted our concept of God that we do not see Him or His love as it really is! We treat all unknowns as a threat, no matter what they promise; it is part of our survival mechanism. This is why the starting place for everything is a deliberate choice to trust God above all.
There is another major reason we don’t discover the secrets of staying in love which is less objective but more life threatening. The main issue we have with love touches on the very core of all of our life’s struggles. In fact, it is so “at the core” of who we are once we begin to address the issue of “walking in love” we actually begin to address the very root of all of our life’s problems.
Walking in love demands that we die to self. The preservation of our illusion of self fuels our every struggle, every sin, and every negative trait. The Apostle Peter said he that has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. (1 Peter 4:1) There are many factors included in the concept of “the flesh” and one of the most preeminent is “self.”
Selfishness is at the root of all sin. Selfishness is obviously the pursuit of self gratification, but at an even deeper level it is the pursuit of self preservation! Selfishness is driven by fear. Selfishness gets what it needs to survive at the expense of others. Selfishness is very close to the concept of “mammon” which may be more properly translated as “avarice.” Jesus made it very clear that you cannot serve God and mammon (selfishness.) (Luke 16:13)
Love is best understood in a continuum. No single characteristic or trait can be identified as love. However, along the lines of the continuum love will manifest in many different traits and behaviors. No matter what the situation love will manifest in a way that expresses its core nature: value. The reason love is long suffering, kind, free from envy and jealousy, never forces it’s way, is never proud or haughty, has good manners, is never motivated by selfishness, is not easily provoked, refuses to think the worst, takes no pleasure in iniquity, keeps no record of wrongs, rejoices in the truth, bears all manner of things, believes all manner of good things, and always hopes for good outcome is simply because that is how one functions toward that which they value and cherish.
When trying to understand love from a purely behavioral perspective we tend to jump into the middle of a continuum and attempt to explain it with no realization of its character as a whole. Maybe at the core of understanding love is understanding that it is, more than anything else, rooted in our character. For two people to stay crazy, passionate love for their entire lives they both must be committed first and foremost to their own character development i.e., their walk with God. The following tips about staying in love emerge from a heart that is rooted in godly character. If they seem burdensome that should be a warning that selfishness is still controlling your character.
- There must be acceptance and total commitment to God’s definition of love. To love is to consider valuable, precious, and hold in high regard the object of our affection. God loved us while we were yet sinners; therefore, we must love independently of the flaws present in our mate. This kind of value starts by recognizing that the one we love is created in the likeness and image of God and Jesus died for him or her. How we treat them is a reflection of our value and respect for God.
- We must have a relationship with God wherein we maintain a continual connection that facilitates us knowing and feeling God’s love on an ongoing basis. The Apostle John said he who does not love is not experiencing God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8) Our love relationship with God is the power of our love for our spouse. If this connection grows weak, so does our capacity to love.
- We must commit ourselves to a life of love… not just toward our mate, but to the world. If we just love our mate we are simply acting out of a degree of selfishness. Jesus said, to love those who love us is no better than the sinners. (Matt. 5:46) But if we truly desire to be like God we will love our enemies. Walking in love must be about who we are in Jesus. It should be the character we pursue as believers, not as spouses.
- We must die to self. It is impossible to live in love and live for self because the two are mutually exclusive. Speaking from a somewhat parable-metaphoric concept, we will never be trusted with true riches if we act in selfishness. Resist every compulsion to act selfishly. Few things oppose love more than selfishness.
- The moment you realize you have violated any of the behaviors of love apologize… heal the wound! Do not force your spouse to harden his or her heart as a means of surviving your behavior. Jesus taught that hardness of heart is the main ingredient that leads to divorce. If your behavior necessitates that your spouse build a wall around their heart for emotional survival, your actions become the stones that pave the road to divorce. The only way your spouse can beep a tender heart is when you don’t create a sore that needs to grow a scab; but when you do, heal the wound before it becomes insensitive.
- Love your spouse as yourself. Just a certain things may you feel loved, certain things make your spouse feel loved. Although love always embodies certain characteristics, it is very individualized. Discover the top five things that make your spouse feel precious, valuable, safe, and loved; then do them without having to be asked. When they have to ask the message you send is, “I don’t care enough to notice!” Also, learn the top five things you tend to do that are hurtful or offensive to your spouse and stop doing them, even when you feel justified. In the beginning an apology for offenses is very meaningful, but after a while repeated apologies for the same offenses are insults. To continue to commit the same offenses is a testament to your self-centeredness.
- Communicate your love consistently in the love language your spouse understands. Don’t just say the words, do the things that make him or her feel loved. It doesn’t have to make sense to you; after all, it is for him or her, not you.
- Never demand a particular behavior or action from your spouse. If you desire certain things to make you feel loved express that through meaningful communication and then inspire it with your own lifestyle. That which is given by obligation or demanded can only fulfill our selfish lusts and will never make us feel loved. Like all addictive behavior, in the end it requires more, yet delivers less each time it is indulged. Never ask that which would compromise your mate’s self worth; to do so expresses an absence of value and preciousness.
- Be your spouse’s friend. Allow (agape) love to inspire friendship (phileo) love. Friends trust each other and have few secrets. They share dreams. They don’t try to fix one another. They are safe. They have fun together. This can only happen when they share interests. If it is important to him or her it must be important to you because it contributes to his or her enjoyment. While you seek to be your spouse’s friend, you must not seek to possess them. You are not trying to be their “everything.” You are not isolating them; you are just sharing your life with them as friends as well as lovers. Friendship is a response. If it isn’t growing you aren’t planting the right seeds.
- Let agape love and phileo love produce eros i.e., erotic love. A great sex life is not the root of a great marriage but it is the fruit of a great relationship. One of the lies we have bought into is the idea that we can build a great marriage from great sex which is partially true if you only intend to stay married as long as the sex is good or if never plan to have conversations, share dreams, or have any other common bonds. Making love is the celebration of a great relationship, not the core.
These principles are based on my teachings in We Still Kiss and the many series I have on relationships.
Dr. Richards’ book, We Still Kiss, is available in Doxa’s Online Store. Just click here to purchase your copy, today. To find out more about the series Dr. Richards has taught on relationships and marriage go to www.impactministries.com.