July 24, 2015

Your Greatest Need In Marriage Isn’t What You Think It Is

Gary Thomas — 

Your Greatest Need in Marriage Isn’t Final

One hundred and eighty degrees is how hot I like my chai tea lattes, and it’s also the difference between what I initially thought my greatest need in life is compared to what God thinks it is.

Most of us, I believe, are eager to get married because we think our greatest need is to be loved. We want to find someone who will always have our backs, who will be 100% faithful, who will be there whenever we need them to be, who will never falter in their love, who will forgive us when we falter in ours’, and who will stay with us until the very end.

Pause just for a minute.

Who does that sound like, really?

Is it possible for a human to do that?

But that’s what we want, isn’t it? Infatuation can make us feel like we might even have found it. We think we will be happiest when we find another person who will love us just like that.

From God’s perspective our greatest need isn’t to be loved not because we don’t need to be loved, but in the same way that a person who has just feasted at Thanksgiving doesn’t need to eat. God has loved, is loving, and will love us like we can never be loved by anyone else. We may not experience that love in a personal way if we are not making our relationship with God a priority, but it is there for the taking. God isn’t hiding from us.

Which means my greatest need and your greatest need, isn’t to be loved (because that need has already been met). Our greatest need is to learn how to love.

That’s the key behind Ephesians 5:1. Paul writes to us as “dearly loved children,” confirming that our need to be loved has been met, and now we are to imitate God by “living a life of love” (what a tremendous phrase) just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. God has done (and is doing) His part—He has loved us and keeps loving us. And, as dearly loved children, we can now focus on the all-important task of “living a life of love.”

In Colossians 3:14, Paul writes, “Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul couldn’t be more emphatic: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (vv. 2-3)

Love, love, love.1 Corinthians 13

That’s what we need.

That’s where God wants us to grow.

Few things will be as revolutionary in your marriage as this, accepting that your greatest need isn’t to be loved, it’s to learn how to love—not love Hollywood style, but love the way Jesus loved, the way the apostle Paul defines and exalts love. No one who has studied the biblical exaltation of love, the sacrificial definition of love, and the imperative to keep loving can cavalierly say, “I’ve got love down pat. I’m ready for the next lesson.”

When you think your greatest need is to be loved but you’re not being loved by your spouse like you think you should be you will become bitter, resentful, and discontent. Pause for just a second here. Does this describe your attitude in marriage: bitterness, resentment, and discontentment? If so, in all likelihood you think your greatest need is to be loved by your spouse.

You can keep depending on a spouse who isn’t capable of loving you like you want to be loved, or turn your focus to a God who has already loved you, continues to love you, and will always love you as you want to be loved.

When you honestly believe that your greatest need is thus to learn how to love, when you aspire to live a life of love above all else every day of marriage provides ample opportunities for you to grow in that need, which means you will appreciate your marriage more and more. How much you accept this—your greatest need—will determine in large part your overall satisfaction in marriage. Show me a person who thinks their greatest need is to be loved, and I’ll show you a person who often wonders if they married the wrong person. Show me a person who truly aspires to live a life of love, and I guarantee they are more contented in their marriage than the average spouse.

The Bible calls us to love extravagantly, enthusiastically, and generously in literally dozens of passages. Does “living a life of love” define you? If not, being married to a sinner is a good place to be. Trying to raise sinful kids and working around sinful people is your spiritual gymnasium. Love isn’t learned by watching movies or reading novels; it’s learned by sweating out the principles of 1 Corinthians 13, just when they hurt the most.

I don’t love well. Few of us do. It’s not natural to us. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, and it takes time to yield to the Spirit and to die to our narcissism and selfishness. But marriage can help us get there, provided we look at our marriages as schools of love, and provided we value the opportunity to grow in love. We won’t value the opportunity if we don’t see it as a need.

How is your marriage teaching you to live a life of love?

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19 responses to Your Greatest Need In Marriage Isn’t What You Think It Is

  1. Gary,
    I am a single man who would have said (albeit before reading this post) that my single greatest need which I am looking for in a relationship is to be loved. Thank you for shooting straight and pointing me in the right direction.

  2. Gary, this is the most fundamental point in all marriages, but particularly where there has been an affair or any form of unfaithfulness.

  3. Gary,

    Could you recommend some biblical resources/authors for post-divorce healing and remarriage?

    Also, I have title suggestions for future books (just thank me in the forward!):
    Sacred Second Marriage
    Sacred Suffering


    • CJ,
      Ron Deal wrote a book titled:
      Smart Step Family (you can also watch his series for free on youtube)
      Laura Petheridge wrote Smart Stepmom.
      I have found these to be great resources as I prepared for my second (and last) marriage.

      Btw: I would love to read a Sacred Second Marriage book by Gary….I heard him touch on this topic at a marriage conference once and as always, what he said was anointed with God’s grace.

  4. GARY, thank you for your recommendations on the books and website. I will be checking them out. I have passed on your comments and recommendations to my pastor as I said I would. The church I attend is a strong bible base one with a love for marriage and saving the lost. I know my husband and I will be alright. I needed to learn a gentle, quite spirit before the Lord could use me. I’m still working on it but it’s much better today then it was 3 years ago. I am so gretaful for ALL the Lord has done on my life.

  5. Hi Gary, thanks for this advice on love in a marriage, appreciate that you are a great marriage counselor and has definitely researched a lot about different peoples in the world and can throw some light on this. I come from this part of the world where culturally the boys are brought up to be husbands who should be baby sat by their wives. They will wine, sulk, commit the most annoying offenses but expect a pat on their backs!!!
    I know that for someone to receive love he must have room for it. How can I advise my friends to love such husbands whose hearts are filled with hatred, anger and unforgiveness. How to give a pearl to a swine…

    • I’m curious, Beatrice, what country are you referring to? I would hope churches in that area would challenge men even before they challenge women to rise to their calling and love their wives as Christ loved the church. As to the wives, that’s such a huge question, but everything I’d say would be in my book “Sacred Influence,” which was written specifically for wives. .

  6. Hi Susan, your husband has a weakness which is beyond only physical redress. But I believe the forty years you have lived together have lots of good memories. I should think that talking to him at this point is futile now, deal with that problem spiritually. It is only God who can change people, even those who are not willing to change. Remember Saul on his way to Damascus…That same Jesus who showed himself to Paul is still alive today. Hand your husband to him. I know how painful what you are going is, it is emotionally draining and almost kills the love. But stand by the seventy times seven times of forgiveness per day, it still counts. Divorce may not be an option because it may be the devil’s plan to frustrate you as a great child of God. Stay by your husband and support him through this difficult moment and pray earnestly. Jesus said, some of these only go by fasting. Call on the blood of Jesus to separate him from that addiction, blood of Jesus erase to traces of lust in his mind, blood of Jesus separate your marriage from all demonic attacks. Let God arise and his enemies in you marriage scatter. May God bless, protect, guide, strengthen you and give you victory in this battle. STAND STILL AND KNOW THAT HE IS GOD, … THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S. God bless you dear sister in the Christ.

  7. Thank you Gary for your quick response to my question. I love my husband very much, I always have. I want my husband to come to the Lord and repent just as I do daily in my own struggles with sin. As of todate the marriage counseling is only myself. I will continue to love my husband. Their was a time not so far in the distant past I felt I could no longer do this anymore. The Lord has put in my path a wonderful pastor/marriage counselor who truly believes this marriage is worth saving. I myself through the counseling have grown so much in the Lord. I have never felt a more since of closeness with our Lord then I do now. The counseling has also helped me realize I can still do this but only if I die daily to myself and hand it over to my God and glorifie Him. I keep remembering your blog “I was born for this” and “I do it because we’re married”. There are so many of your blogs I go back and re-read. My pastor interduced me to “Sacred Marriage” that was the turning point for me. Yes I struggle with my husband’s addiction but I also have to take responsibility for my own behavior as well. With my Lord by my side and wise counsel this marriage is till death due us part. Keep pumping those blogs out I enjoy them weekly. I’m not sure if you know of any books that can help me but if so I would love to read it. Men really have know idea what pornagophy does to a women’s heart.

    • I wrote a book for wives entitled “Sacred Influence” that gives general advice. You might also appreciate Leslie Vernick’s book, “How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong.” For very specific info on this topic, check out Covenant Eyes Website. Dr. Harry Schaumberg has a very good chapter for wives facing this issue in his book “False Intimacy.” He’s also available for counseling (though it sounds like you’re covered in that area): http://stonegateresources.org/

    • Susan…great reads are Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Surfing for God by Michael John Cusick. These will help you understand his brain and his struggle also.

  8. So profound! As I sift my years through this grid, I realize more and more that God put me where I am so that I could learn to love as He loves. Several years ago, I circled Paul’s words in Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and I underlined ONLY. This is the one thing I know I must continue to work on daily. If I can love well, then I can suffer well, too, because my lens (the perspective for which I see life’s circumstances) will be adjusted according to God’s plan for me. Any “why” questions I might have will always have the same answer….so that I may learn to love.
    As always, Gary, another excellent and well-written truth. Thank you for giving us the tools needed to understand and apply God’s living Word to our daily lives and to our marriages!

  9. SLS.
    Hi Gary Thomas, I know your blog today has nothing to do with the subject at hand OR does it. There are 2 people in this marriage, LOVE him?yes I do enough to stay in a marriage where the feeling of love is almost void.

    I have read 2 of your books, Sacred Marriage and Sacred Influence and a regular reader of your blogs. I am interested in your view on pornography, marriage, and Matt. 5:28-32. I have been married to an unbeliever for 40 years who will not stop viewing pornography. This has been going on for many years. When ask to stop he has repeatedly said, “I am not his mother and he does not need me to monitor what he watches”. I get conflicting views from pastors when asked this question. “Does God allow at any time separation/divorce in Matt. 5:28-32 for pornography”? From what I have read you do not address it or if you do I can not find it in any of your writings. What you send me my pastor (who also has read your books and I have been in marriag counseling with for 3 years) would also like to read it. We are both interested in what you have to say on the subject. If you don’t want to address this subject on reply please email me. babyjane2525@hotmail.com
    Thank you

    • I hope you will reply on this comment section also, Gary!!
      My thoughts and prayers for you Susan, and the many others who are living with lusting (sinning) husbands, as I struggle in my marriage.
      In Matthew 19 Jesus said “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts.” That’s where I find personal conviction. Is Jesus talking to the unfaithful spouse or the one who is having a hard time forgiving?
      Unfaithfulness is equally the same with adultery and pornography. (Matthew 5:28)
      My heart gets hard, as trust and grace with my man are challenged. I want to live out Philippians 2:1-18, not demanding and clinging to my rights, humbly take up the love like Christ did in giving His life away. It’s a moment by moment act of my will. I must take care of my heart as I can’t take care of my husband’s, my children or anyone else’s. I don’t want to sin as I think I can fix my husband…only the Holy Spirit can IF our spouse chooses Him over his sin.

    • When a man is unrepentant in his use of pornography–that is, when he has stopped struggling against it and has given himself up to it, and when it becomes an ongoing sexual relationship that robs his wife of what the Bible calls her legitimate rights, I believe that constitutes an affair. It is sexual, it is with other women, it destroys the marital bed and makes it impossible for the wife to enjoy healthy sexual intimacy. My only hesitation in writing this is that so many men struggle with this–high speed internet access has changed everything–that I urge wives to look at this compassionately. If a man is legitimately struggling and dealing with it, submitting to accountable relationships and working with a program to be freed, I would hope the couple would try to work through it. But when a guy is hardened in his heart and unrepentant, intent on continuing this act–well, the “exceptions clause” spoken by Jesus Himself teaches us that God doesn’t require a woman to live with a sexually unfaithful man, so why would we? I have seen many, many couples work through this and reach a place of healing and joy–but only when the man repents and submits.