Yes, you read that correctly. “When your love is sick.” Not when you’re lovesick. What does “lovesick” even mean anyway? I digress… I’m joining in again on a Friday Five link up with Mrs. Disciple. Our writing prompt today was “Five Ways to Express Love”. I know I’m not the only one who has trouble loving well when the marriage isn’t going so well. Sacrificial love, they say. Sacrificial love sounds doable when things are going great but putting it into practice when times are tough doesn’t prove easy.
When you’re married for any length of time you are bound to hit some road bumps. Heck, we hit some road bumps in our 1st few days of marriage. 27 years ago, no one was around to tell us how to do or how to fix things. We knew we wanted to be married but we were totally winging it. Not a great strategy, btw. We didn’t have great marriage conferences or retreats or all these amazing books and blogs and access to counselors like we have access to now. I know this season of Valentine’s is supposed to be all lovely and romantic but for some of us it’s another day of doing the hard work when the relationship is on a bumpy road.
If you find yourself in the place where your love lacks luster or your relationship is going under from deep wounds, I hope these 5 ways to love your spouse well will help. They’ve helped me.
Speak Your Expectations
The unspoken expectation is probably one of the top relationship killers of all time. We fear that if we say out loud what we want, it won’t be received or acknowledged. Sometimes we don’t even really know what we want. The truth of the matter is, though, that the risk of speaking your expectations weighs lighter than the angst and hurt we experience from our unspoken expectations. We can’t expect our spouse to be a mind reader.
In a recent marriage course that we attended, Re|Engage (find one near you), they map out how to handle expectations this way:
Identify Your Expectations (sometimes we don’t even know what we want)
Communicate Your Expectations Beforehand (be proactive)
Believe the Best (your spouse is not your enemy, they are just different from you)
Communicate with God (share your disappointments with Him)
You are only responsible for doing you. You are responsible for doing your right thing. Your spouse’s response to your spoken expectation is not within your control. Your spouse can’t do what they don’t know.
Set and Maintain Healthy Boundaries
I’ve written about this one before. Five Boundaries With a Side of Grace, Please. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is critical to loving well. I didn’t learn this early enough. In fact, it’s a fairly new concept for me. I truly think we could have avoided many of our speed bumps had we known about boundaries. Maybe that comes naturally to some but it doesn’t to me. Having and enforcing healthy boundaries for myself has given me more freedom to relax and love without so much fear. Healthy boundaries are firm and clearly spoken but they should be balanced with kindness and generosity of spirit. For more information on boundaries, read any of the Boundaries books by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Keep Moving Forward
Continue moving forward even if it looks more like stumbling. I’m amazed when I look back over our 27 years and get glimpses of the things we did right even when things were so wrong. I sent a picture to a friend recently from several years ago and told her what all was going on in my life during that time. She had no idea she was even helping me through a hard time then. It occurred to me when I saw the picture and recounted the events of that time how proud of myself I was for choosing to keep living life. For breathing. For getting out of bed that day and inviting friends over for taco soup.
Do whatever you can to continue moving forward. 3 steps forward, 1 step back is still 2 steps forward. Rejoice in your successes. Big and small. Are you breathing? Be proud of yourself. Did you take a shower today? Be proud of yourself. Did you make an appointment with a counselor or go on a date (even if you cried through the whole thing)? Be proud of yourself.
The bravest thing you can do for your marriage to love well when your love is sick is to continue moving forward. Yes, it might take a while for you to get “there” but if you get stuck no one wins.
Love Yourself Well
To love others well, you must love yourself well first. I’ve written about this before too so I won’t go into much detail here. I don’t think it’s a misprint when God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) There’s an order to things and the order in love is that to be able to love others well, we will need to love yourself first. This isn’t about selfishness or entitlement. It’s not a “you deserve that dress” type of concept. It’s the concept of self-care. When we live our days depleted and running on fumes, we have nothing to give. When we are rested, healthy, recharged… when we practice God-honoring self-care; it is then that we will be able to sacrificially love others out of our overflow.
Be Honest. No Secrets!
Secrets are an intimacy killer extraordinaire. If you are keeping secrets, and you know if you are, you will never be able to love well or have true intimacy. Honestly, even if it’s potentially painful for the other spouse or vulnerable for you to admit is always going to be the best route. It could be a little secret or it could be a big one. Things kept in the dark, whether they are sinful thoughts or sinful acts, are the devil’s playground. It is only when we bring our junk into the light that the darkness is exposed and work of redemption can begin. If there’s something major that you need to confess (and you know in your gut if you do), get some professional advice on how best to go about sharing that with your spouse with the purpose of healing in mind. Only you know if you’re a secret keeper, thus the term “secret”. We simply cannot keep secrets and love well at the same time.
To be 99% known is to be unknown. ~Matt Chandler
The cost of making right choices is up front but you reap a great and lasting reward later. Wrong choices reap an immediate reward up front but we’re going to pay for them later. Loving well is hard work. It’s going to cost. But it’s worth it. Being lazy about love may seem easier in the moment but it doesn’t pay off in the long run. I know what a marriage looks like when the love is sick. I know what a marriage looks like when the love seems terminal. Regardless of how things turn out (because we can’t control our spouse’s actions or responses) we need to come out on the other side with no regrets. I, you, need to do whatever you can to love well. Love is worth the fight. I hope for you that it turns out well but what I hope for you the most is that you remain near to God through it all. He is near to you. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Is your love sick? Can you do any of the things I’ve listed to love well? Choose one or choose them all but keep trying. Keep stumbling forward, fellow pilgrim. I’m honored to be on this journey with you.
This reflection of five ways to love is brought to you by Mrs. Disciple’s Friday Five Link Up. I am linking up with my good friend, Kelly, at Mrs. Disciple and a few other friends here, Five Way to Show Love to a Stranger. This Friday Five theme has inspired some very helpful and heartfelt words. Go check them out and leave some comment love. Share with us some ways that you show love!
Excellent advice. I know I struggle with #1, and it is damaging. In any relationship.
Relationships are hard but for some reason we keep doing them. 🙂 Than you for taking the time to comment and sharing your struggle.
I definitely struggle with voicing my expectations. but I am “stumbling forward” as a wise woman I know likes to say! 😉
I love the imagery of stumbling forward. Forward motion + grace… My life.
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All such good advice! Thank you for writing these and for your willingness to be vulnerable. We used to say in the 12th step program “secrets keep you sick.” Such truth!! Beautiful, strong words, my friend! Love you!
Secrets do keep us sick and I know so many who keep them. It hurts my heart. Thank you for your encouragement, Kelly. Your friendship is a treasure.
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This is awesome advice for any marriage! I especially love where you talk about celebrating even the smallest of successes. So, so important!
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In my 76 years,58 in the same marriage I believe the Bible gives good advice. Older women are to mentor to the younger because most of them have had similar problems. However most young women feel that if they talk to their mother about their problems it will look bad for them or that it will make in laws feel bad or dislike the spouse. Young wives need to communicate with either moms or aunts or grandmothers and they will probably get some good advice. There is no need to let it all to yourself and grieve because you don’t have someone to talk too. And many times counselor scant help as well as a close family member.