February 27, 2019

Let’s Pursue a Deeper Kind of Love

Gary Thomas — 

 

A divorced woman told my daughter that “Finding the man I honestly believe is the love of my life is still not worth the pain and difficulties of being divorced from the father of my children. At some point, having someone to talk to about a funny thing one of your kids said means more than feeling madly in love.”

This woman’s story captures the empty promise behind the all-consuming but short-lived passion that is often defined as “finding the love of my life.” We not only want to be swept off our feet by our romantic passion; we want someone who will keep sweeping us off our feet.

This woman believed such a thing existed and blew apart her marriage in search of it. Now, in hindsight, she thinks she made a very sad mistake.

Neurologically, the notion that we can find that one person to keep sweeping us off our feet is scientifically disproven. An infatuation has a shelf life of less than two years. As I said in a post a few weeks back, mature love means we have to move from “fascination” to “admiration.” Michael Jordan was voted MVP only five of the fifteen seasons in which he played pro basketball. I doubt there was a coach in the league who wouldn’t have chosen him first if he was drafting a new team in at least twelve of those fifteen seasons. But it’s hard to be “fascinated” with Jordan when you’ve seen him be “fascinating” so many years already.

In the same way, you can have an MVP spouse, but after a few years together, that MVP spouse will feel like normal, even average. That’s simply the way our brains work. If you cut your MVP spouse in hopes you can sign a newer model, be prepared for the inevitable letdown.

Neuroscience warns that if you get married because of overwhelming feelings and then break up your family and get divorced because the feelings are gone, the pain you’ll feel over your broken marriage and loneliness in parenting will last decades longer than the next infatuation ever will. You will pay for grams of pleasure by swallowing kilograms of pain.

Some women (and a few men) are all but forced into divorce through habitual unfaithfulness and abuse on the part of their spouse. Those are sad but sometimes necessary stories. But it’s particularly foolish when someone gets divorced because they’re chasing something that doesn’t exist—an ongoing infatuation. Instead of divorce being used as a protective tool, they’re using it as a weapon with two sharp sides, and they’ll end up hurting themselves just as much as their spouse.

The Spiritual Slide

When we become disappointed in an idol (and romantic infatuation is a prime example of an idol), we become resentful because we feel conned. The next step is to go overboard in the other direction: what we used to worship we now disdain. Before, they could do no wrong. Now, they can do no right.

Both stances are immature, deceptive, and destructive. No human partner can complete us. And every human partner usually has at least some redeeming qualities. But to justify our abandonment (or future abandonment), we may become crazed in our judgment and blind in our prejudice. It’s almost like we’re trying to pay someone back for not being who we thought they were.

There must come a day in our marriage when we accept a more mature love. Remember what the woman told my daughter: “At some point, having someone to talk to about a funny thing one of your kids said means more than feeling madly in love.” Contentment in marriage invites us to appreciate and value the quiet parts of a lifelong partnership.

Such an approach isn’t settling. It’s not even a compromise.

It’s reality.

Not once does the Bible promise us ongoing infatuation. Many times, however, it mentions children as a particular blessing:

Proverbs 17:6: “Grandchildren are the crown of the elderly…”

Psalm 127:3: “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, children a reward.”

And, of course, having children is one of the commands that follows marriage (Genesis 1:28). We’re not commanded to feel. We’re commanded to be fruitful.

Romantic infatuation is a wonderful, God-given experience. Since God created our brains, it’s entirely appropriate to thank Him for seasons of infatuation.  But children are also a blessing of marriage, and it isn’t a compromise to see this as an equal joy of spending life together.

When my youngest daughter was a toddler, Lisa saw her licking the window. “Kelsey,” she cried out, “What are you doing?”

“I’m a windshield wiper!”

I’m thankful Lisa immediately thought to call me on the phone instead of post it on social media to a few hundred “friends.” She knew no one would enjoy that story as much as I did. (And, fortunately for Kelsey, Lisa kept the windows very clean.)

Raising our children together has given us a lifetime of shared memories and friendship that runs as deep as the center of the earth. You want to feel especially close to your spouse? Fast with them for a day and use the meal time to pray for one of your children.

Such a friendship lasts longer than a wild, intense infatuation. I agree with the woman my daughter overheard. Romance is wonderful and I like the fact that there are still moments in my marriage when Lisa and I get weak in the knees thinking about getting alone together. But other times, simply having someone to talk to when one of the kids does or says something means a lot.

A whole lot.

Let’s not discount that.

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26 responses to Let’s Pursue a Deeper Kind of Love

  1. First of all, love the example with Micheal Jordan. Secondly, I feel so many people aren’t okay with being content…in general. We have this forever growing want for more/new. I think it will speak to a lot of couples who may be searching for more but in reality maybe once they read this they will realize they are actually at a point of contentment.

    “Contentment in marriage invites us to appreciate and value the quiet parts of a lifelong partnership.”

  2. I remember the moment when my wife went from infatuation to contempt. We were living in her parents’ second home and they came to stay with us to help with the baby. Her father was buzzing in her ear on a daily basis about my shortcomings. I came home from work and she just lit into me about my pathetic job and if I really loved her I would quit and get something better. I went into the bathroom and cried for 30 minutes wondering where my sweet wife went and who was it that replaced her.

    The divorce threats began and our marriage experienced one hardship after another until eventually we moved out and got our own place. The daily poison she was being fed by both her parents against me subsided and she started respecting me again. But that was five long years of marital hell that I will never forget and we are still dealing with the aftermath.

    We have been through two rounds of marriage counseling and my wife admitted to the second one that she started refusing sex because I wasn’t romantic enough and she wasn’t attracted to me anymore. Since I was a virgin when we got married and had no previous girlfriends, she was all I knew. My entire sex life was her. I didn’t compare anyone to her since I had no one to compare her to.

    But she had been very sexually active prior to marriage and admitted after 5 years to 2 abortions back when she was in college. She got counseled at abortion recovery at church but there was no ministry for me. I was living in a city far from my hometown and had no one to confide in. My family would have freaked out if I told them about her abortions so I kept it from them. Years later my parents and my siblings still don’t know about it.

    But I trace a lot of this back to her romantic fantasies that were messed up by boyfriends, abortions, parents, and soap operas. All of them combined to give her unrealistic expectations, and when I stopped being the romantic fantasy then I became disposable.

  3. Married 65 years this May to my best friend. All marriages have ups and downs but forebearance and trust will sustain. God hears you all the time.

  4. “It’s almost like we’re trying to pay someone back for not being who we thought they were.” How do you heal from being the one they were “paying back”? How do you feel enough again? If you can expand, thank you. If not, I still should say thank you for the post and all you share.

    • Yes, I can relate. Though he wasn’t outrightly mean to me, choosing porn and other people we knew for sexual gratification (for years) has caused a pain I don’t know if I’ll ever get over. I’ve been praying and it’s been 4 year since I found out what the problem has been the previous 12 years of our marriage, but how does one move past? Forgive? Ever feel like “enough” to their spouse again? 😢

    • Rebecca,

      Contempt is a marital cancer, so I think you have to try to treat it. The Bible says we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rev. 12:2), so that means getting our spouse to re-think their expectations for marriage. As a writer I tend to suggest books, and Sacred Marriage is one that hits this pretty hard. If your husband doesn’t like to read, I’d check out some sermons online–try Tony Evans or Tim Keller, perhaps–or go to a Sacred Marriage conference. You might also check out shows done by Focus on the Family or Family Life Today.I’ve also heard of husbands whose attitudes are transformed when they get into male-only small groups that challenge husbands accordingly. if your husband rebuffs all those efforts, then it’s time to consider going to counseling yourself to receive counsel about how to be a change agent in your marriage.

      Look, I’m sorry you’re facing this. It must be awful to have a spouse look at you with disappointment. I pray God will break the thaw in your marriage and that your husband will let his thinking be challenged.

  5. Jess, I went through what you are going through at about the 20 year period of my marriage. My husband was viewing porn ( awful, disgusting sites, as I discovered on his computer) and started treating me badly, as if I were a moron. I confronted him and asked if he wanted me to leave because I was not going to live in a house with him where he brought that into our home. He said no and basically denied, denied, denied. God is what saved our marriage. I asked God to defend our marriage against the enemy who wanted to destroy it. If you saw the movie “War Room” that is my story. I got down on my knees every morning and got closer to the Lord as He showed me through his Holy Spirit that I needed to put Him first and that if I had only Him it would be enough. The Lord did restore our marriage but it was not a quick fix, it was a journey of about 5 years. I asked the Lord to renew our love for each other and to do a new thing and He did. Looking back, as painful as it was, I would not trade it because I grew so much closer to the Lord. I pray for my husband every day and I pray that the Lord will help me to be the Godly wan and wife that He wants me to be.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Marilynn. I believe all of us can be encouraged by your story and what God has done to restore your marriage. There is always hope in Christ.

    • Thank you Marilynn! I have not seen that movie, but I will try to watch it. I really appreciate the view from someone else who has gone through it.

  6. Sadly I am walking the path that is leading to divorce. My spouse is chasing that infatuation, something that a 15 year marriage where Christ was often not the center cannot compete with. I, too, am guilty of that infatuation, disappointed in my spouse, where he could do no wrong there were absolutely times where he could do no right. I’m following your blog, Gary, because it convicts me of my own sin.

  7. God bless you Gary for this insightful article

  8. This is a wonderful post, Gary. As someone who came to the verge of walking away from my marriage to pursue someone else, I can tell you there is never a day I wish I would have. I am incredibly thankful the Lord protected me from making those decisions I could never have undone. I do have a difficult marriage, and we have to work hard at it, and there are times I do want to give up. BUT I made a promise to God and my husband ten years ago that I would be committed to him for the entirety of my life, and when the days are difficult, I keep that promise to God. There have been many blessings that have come from my obedience as well, and I praise Him for those.

    • AB,

      Thank you, AB, for this heartfelt encouragement, a testimony to God’s work in your life even through difficult times. I believe some other spouses needed to hear what you’ve said about being glad you didn’t walk away even though it hasn’t been easy

  9. Advice please. I’m in a marriage where my spouse is very critical. He puts me down, is not very supportive emotionally, and in many instances I play the role of his mother (please don’t swear around our child, please don’t watch that, it doesn’t honor GOD, etc). He has repeatedly broken trust in our marriage (porn addiction, dating sites, chat rooms etc – all the while swearing to me he wasn’t and praying with me that GOD restores the trust), and I believe he is doing much better now, but I’m really not sure and he resents me because I no longer trust him. There are many good things about this man, he’s a hard worker and is good to our son. He does a lot of positive things for me too. I just am to the point where I am tired of junk in this marriage. I’ve had years of depression because of this and I’m thinking it may be time to leave. I feel as though I’m not really being the Christian I’m called to be because in many ways this marriage stifles me. It’s hard to be an effective Christian woman when your husband ruined your morning with a bunch of negativity before he goes to work. It’s hard to be a free spirit when your spouse gives you a look like your stupid. It’s hard to be generous on every occasion when he’s irritated with you for helping out the homeless guy in the wheelchair. I’ve been married for 22 yeaars. Things have gotten better but they are no where near what I’d like them to be. Thank you for your prayers and advice.

    • Jess,

      The way you describe it, it sounds like your husband is habitually unfaithful. When you say porn “addiction” and add in “dating sites” and “chat rooms,” that’s not just fantasy (as damaging as that can be). That’s out and out unrepentant cheating. If a husband was truly repentant, his wife would know it had stopped because he’d be vulnerable, accountable, and allow her to actually see what he’s doing and where he’s been online.

      In such cases, one hour a week of marital counseling rarely works. The hurt is too deep and your husband needs too much help. I’d recommend that you go to a counselor alone to lay out a sensible plan for the future. IN these cases, I like to recommend marriage intensives (you can find out about them via Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, the Smalley Institute, and Win-Shape retreats) that allow you to go deeper in a shorter period of time. But I’d also recommend you meet with a counselor alone first to determine if an intensive is wise for you at this point. You need a caring advocate with an objective voice.

    • It sounds like your husband has a sexual addictions. I am speaking from experience. Please Recommend your husband goes to a Certified sexual addictions counselor and you go to a betrayal trauma counselor. Surround yourself with groups of Christian women who are journeying this lonely road. Learn as much as you can about sexual addictions and what it does to the brain. There is hope. God can heal his brain if he choses to undergo treatment and recovery.

  10. Truth

  11. Marriage quitters and abandoners, supported by the silence of the clergy, support the most ungodly thing that can be done to children…divorce.

    This article touches on the devastation which visits the one who is trashing LIFETIME promises.

    • Billy, you sound like you’ve been hurt and are responding out of that. I’m sorry for that but let’s be careful with our language. Many readers of this blog have experienced some awful things in marriage and will react viscerally to the harsh judgement of your first sentence. And while divorce is painful it’s not the most ungodly thing that can be done to children. Leaving a child with a sexually abusing parent would be worse. And there are others

  12. This is so very true. Have felt this way on many levels with my wife of 20-plus years.

  13. This article shows very deep truths and how we must not be blinded by the Deceiver and see what is right in front of us, precious family, given to us by our Loving Heavenly Father.