Written By Amanda Vogelei, USA
Early on in our relationship, my husband and I committed to putting Christ at the center of our marriage. We established habits together like praying, reading the Word, going to church, participating in small groups, and talking about our faith. Of course, this did not mean that our relationship was free from moments of frustration.
Here’s one scenario: on any given morning, my husband might make me breakfast, pack my lunch, and hand me my bags and a to-go cup of coffee as I rush out the door, late for work. When I get home from work in the afternoon, I might see the dishes washed and dinner in the Crock-Pot. Yet somehow, there were times when I still felt neglected.
My initial reaction was to allow that all-too-familiar feeling to creep into the pit of my stomach: guilt. What was wrong with me? Am I that selfish? Am I that unappreciative? How could I know that my husband works so hard to selflessly serve me, but then ask him to love me in a different way? Am I not satisfied with all of his efforts?
As we pursued ways to grow and mature in our relationship, my husband and I found a book written by Gary Chapman titled The 5 Love Languages. In his book, Chapman makes the case that there is more than one way to express love, including loving through words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time spent together, meaningful gifts, and touch.
Learning each other’s preferred way of being loved is a form of selflessness. It means that we care deeply about what makes our spouse feel most loved, and we are willing to change our behavior and habits in order to love them better.
My husband and I didn’t learn our love languages overnight. We started by praying that God would help us understand ourselves and each other better, so that our love would be strengthened and endure.
We mixed creativity with a willingness to think outside the box. Inspired by Chapman’s love languages, we tried expressing our love in different ways—planning a meaningful date, going out of our way to hold hands or cuddle more, being intentional about verbally expressing our love, cooking dinner when we knew one of us had a stressful day, or buying a little gift to show that we’re thinking of each other.
We soon learned that, while I appreciate my husband’s loving way of serving me (who doesn’t want pizza brought to them while they’re laying in bed watching Netflix?), I actually felt most loved when he was building me up with his words. My husband had a similar experience—while he liked that I was constantly encouraging him and telling him why I loved him, he actually felt the most fulfilled when we spent quality time together.
Our acts of love are not limited to these ways, but we’ve made sure to consistently incorporate each other’s preference in the love that we are giving. We also remember that this might change over time. My husband and I need to constantly reevaluate and communicate in order to continue loving each other well.
Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Paul was a lover of love—he writes more than once about the patient, enduring, and kind nature of love. While Paul is not specifically talking about marriage in this verse, he is talking about relationships and interactions with all people, and how beautiful it is when this verse is played out in our lives! We glorify God when we love others, in marriage or otherwise, with a tiny piece of the unconditional, unfailing love that God has for each and every one of us.
If you had asked me a couple months prior to this experience what it meant to show love in my marriage, I might have said “being kind and respectful to each other,” or “putting each other’s needs first” or “caring about what they care about.” While these statements are nice and often true, I’ve been learning that showing love is not “one-size-fits-all.” Christ-centered love is about being intentional and personal, it requires patience and a desire to learn about ourselves and others. And we know that Christ-centered love does not end with this experience, but that as we continue seeking Christ, He’ll keep teaching us new ways to lay down our preferences, and desires in order to love others well (John 15:13).