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About this series
Keeping Love Alive
Four Biblical Practices Great Marriages Have in Common
How do you keep love alive when you see your marriage starting to teeter, or crumble, and everything in you wants to give up and get out? In this series, Chip provides four biblical practices that all great marriages have in common. For each one, he provides key principles, then practical implications, and finally, super practical tools to make those practices a reality in everyday life. This is a no-holds-barred, candid look at the way marriage really works and how to make yours better. If you’ll invest the time, what you’ll find in the end, are love, hope, joy, and peace - for you, and the one you love.More from this series
What are the practical implications? Practical implication number one is that love is a choice. It’s not insincere to do actions and say words of kindness and serve and help your mate when you don’t feel like it. Have you ever heard that one? “Well, I really would, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I mean, I don’t want to, I don’t want to say something nice if I really don’t mean it. Or, I don’t want to do something nice if I don’t really mean it.”
Was Jesus having any ooey-gooey feelings when He went to the cross, when He was praying in the garden? If emotions are what love is, then Jesus didn’t love you and He didn’t love me. He said, “Nevertheless, not My will but Yours.” Love is a choice. And when you get that and loving means I’m going to choose to serve my mate when they deserve it, I’m going to choose to serve my mate when they don’t deserve it, and I’m going to choose to serve them unconditionally.
And if that doesn’t get you into a life of prayer and time in God’s Word to say, Lord, I can’t do that, nothing will. But I will tell you, one person can completely turn a relationship around.
Don’t always guarantee the person is going to change overnight, but I’ll tell you, love never fails. Don’t confuse that with a doormat. Don’t confuse that with giving the person their way all the time. But serving and loving and caring – it’s a choice.
Second implication is love meets the needs of the one loved. Jesus could have come in and just not even noticed that their feet were dirty. So you’ve got to love people in a way that makes sense to them. You have to observe: what are the needs? What is going on in their life?
That was my biggest, biggest challenge in our marriage was I was loving my wife in ways that it was like, I spoke German and she spoke French. And I was trying hard and she was trying hard and we were just completely missing each other. And it was so frustrating.
Because I didn’t – things that said “I love you” to her, I didn’t even notice. I didn’t know about her family of origin, I didn’t know where her wounds were, I didn’t know her language of love, I didn’t understand how she was wired. All I knew was this is how I feel love, so I loved her the way I felt loved.
And it was like – I remember her telling me, “I can’t believe you did this. You must not love me.” And I’m thinking, I’ve been trying to love you like crazy and you think I… Been there?
Another implication is love requires extreme humility and security. Did you notice? This is God the Son humbling Himself, bending down, washing feet. And humility is rooted in being secure, knowing who you are, where you came from. In our case, it’s knowing who you are in Christ. You’re a son, you’re a daughter, you’re valued, you’re loved. Your value as a person isn’t how your mate is currently responding to you.
You can desire for them to love you and come through for you and meet your needs; you don’t need them to come through for you and meet your needs to be a whole person. When you need them to love you in a certain way, that’s called co-dependency. Your life can only work when everything is going okay. And so it creates all kind of dysfunction. When you can serve and understand: I don’t like this.
There were times where it was, God, I don’t even want to do this. I am going to do this for You. Because right now, I’m too ticked off at her to do it for her. But I’m going to choose to do this activity and say these words as an act of worship to You. And, wow, first of all it changed her and it changed me.
But it was a choice. And it was challenging. And it was dependency of the Holy Spirit. And see, that’s a whole different paradigm than, “I don’t feel this today. I don’t feel that. You never do this. You ought to do that. We always fight about money. You never want to have sex. Your parents are crazy. We talk about disciplining the kids and you never follow through. Well, you weren’t home and then I come back and then you try and run the show when you get back home.” I’ve been living in your kitchen, right?
The tool for transformation I want to give you is we are going to learn the five languages of love.
And I’m going to tell you, it’ll be the beginning of a new day.
I’ll give you the picture of this is how this works. So, my kind of, one of my love languages are words that affirm and another love language of mine is physical touch. So, and I probably after that is quality time and by God’s grace, that’s quality time is probably her number two and my number two.
And so, early in our marriage I think I’m loving my wife and so, I’m telling her, “You look beautiful. I love you.” Verbal. “I care for you. You’re wonderful.” BBs off of a tank. And, by the way, she doesn’t say that to me. I’m an extrovert, she’s an introvert, she doesn’t say a lot. There are times we get in the car and we’re driving for thirty minutes – I grew up in a family where you didn’t take turns, you just interrupted one another.
It was like, my mom grew up in this city that was very Italian. We were very Italian. Someone was talking and someone interrupts them and they interrupt you and then, “No, let me tell!” And everyone is telling stories. She came and visited my family and it was like, “These people are crazy.” She didn’t get a word in edgewise.
Well, we are a verbal family. Hers, you could hear a pin drop at supper. And so we are driving in the car for, like, thirty minutes. And so, being the man and having bizarre thoughts, I think, I wonder how long, I’m not going to say anything, and see how long it takes her to say something to me. So, okay.
It’s ten minutes, twenty-two minutes, and now I’m just like…and I am so ticked off! And we are getting ready to be where we are supposed to be. And she was looking out the window and…
And in the nick of time, she says this, and I’ll never forget it. She turns to me and she goes, “Isn’t it wonderful just to be with the person that you love and not have to say a word? On this drive, I have just looked at the hills and the animals and it has been so beautiful.” And I’m thinking, I’m so glad I didn’t say something on that one.
And so, I would say things like that and it meant nothing.
And on another occasion I thought, I’m working really hard, and I wasn’t real detail oriented to say the least. And we are in seminary and so, I go and get some flowers for her. I played a lot of pickup basketball and I would lose track of time and I kept coming home late and we’d always argue about it.
And I was trying to make up for it. So I bring these flowers or something and she, “What?” She takes them like that. She goes, “What are you doing?” So I, “You don’t like flowers?” “Chip, we only have ten dollars in our checking account. How much did those cost?” “Uh, just a little bit more than ten dollars.”
So, here’s what I want you to get. I’m trying to express my love in ways that are not communicating, alright?
And so, on her side, we’re in marriage counseling. Okay? We’re trying.
So she cooks these great meals and the house is always beautiful and she takes care of everything. Because one of her love languages is acts of service. So she is saying, “I love you” with a great meal. I’m saying, “You know what? I’ll eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hug me like this and say, “You are awesome, Chip. And you’re handsome and I think you’re brilliant and you look so sexy tonight.” There’s my love language, right? And, oh, the house looks really clean. It is a wonderful meal. Okay. And so, she’s feeling like I’m rejecting her love. Now, guys, I’m going to skip ahead, alright? Because there are some real breakthroughs.
As I learned to love her in a way that made sense to her, and she learned what my love language was, little by little by little, see, what happens is there are all kind of issues, right? We had some deep stuff, family – when you grow up in an alcoholic family, we had some challenging trauma. We have a blended family. There’s a lot of deep and insightful things and things we had to work on and we were working and working and working. But if your emotional tank is empty, you don’t want to work at it. You don’t care. It’s just like it’s not worth it.
And so, if you can learn to meet the emotional needs of your mate, then what happens is you kind of get enough gas in the emotional tank to work on those things that some of them take a long time. But the testimony of God is – how many of you prayed to receive Christ one night and just became like the apostle Paul the next day? Right?
It’s a journey. And the same is true in your marriage. In every area, you learn to communicate, you learn to develop a satisfying sex life for both of you. You learn to come up with a financial plan and a budget that works for you. You learn to relate to your various in-laws in ways that are both accepting and set boundaries.
But isn’t it a journey doing all that? And somehow – I played basketball and baseball in college and then a few times overseas. What I can tell you is when I coach kids, is here’s the deal, you’ve got to learn to dribble, you’ve got to learn to block out, you’ve got to learn to pass, you’ve got to learn to rebound.
There are fundamentals and skills and you have to practice and practice and practice and then you put it all together.
It’s a process. And you’re going to be, in forty-one years, I’d like to say, “Oh, we don’t argue, we never have any problems,” but I’d be a liar. Now, we don’t have the kind of arguments that attack each other. And after forty-one years, I know her buttons and she knows mine. And,
I mean, she’ll, I’m still, my love language is words of affirmation, so guess what, I am super sensitive when the tone of her voice is even a little bit critical. If it’s a twenty-five-cent criticism, in my brain, it goes twenty-five dollars. And I have learned not to respond too much but, ooh, it kind of hurts.
So, let’s go through the five love languages and then I’m going to give you some keys to discover yours.
The first love language is words of affirmation. Some of us, words are super powerful. A compliment. A word of appreciation. For some, just saying some words, right? Recognizing things about your character. Saying something out loud in front of the children that, where a wife says she respects you. Being out in public and saying a compliment about your mate. Something you admire about them.
And I don’t mean in some phony, artificial way. And some people, you’re not verbal. And your married to someone that their number one love language is words of affirmation, and you know what? They are starving. And you go, “But I cook great meals!” They are starving. “I gave him a nice gift,” or, “I gave her a nice gift.” They’re starving. What they need is words of affirmation. So, what do you do? You go into training and you come up with devices to become a person who shares words of affirmation, because love is a choice.
What is it that allows them to come alive? What fills their tank? And then you just become a student who says, “I’m going to flat out choose to figure out what fills her tank,” or, “fills his tank and whether it comes naturally or not naturally.”
See, you go into training. How in the world can we give more energy to our profession,
more energy to our business than we would to the person that we lie in the same bed with and say, “I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I’m going to learn and then I’m going to do it when it feels good, I’m going to do it when I don’t feel anything at all, and I’m going to do it when it feels bad.”
Because that’s what love is. That’s what real love is, because you’re going to serve them. So, words of affirmation is self-explanatory. But think of all the different things that you can say.
Sometimes it’s asking questions. “Tell me a little bit more about that. How did that go? How did that make you feel? What happened in your day today? Wow, that’s very interesting. That was very insightful. I just, I’m amazed at how God has your mind work and you process information. I really thought the way you interacted with our son after he was so disrespectful, boy I’ll tell you what, you’re a godly man. I’m honored to be married to you. How you responded to your boss or that supervisor and the way he treated you. Wow, I’m so proud to be your husband,” or, “be your wife.”
The second one here is quality time. This is just being with one another. For me and Theresa, it is our, it is our common love language. And I’m guessing it’s really probably number two. Maybe two point five for me. But I have to, I travel quite a bit, both here and internationally and before have pastored some churches that were pretty large, and so a lot of demand.
And so, we, every Friday, we had a date and just because of the age of our kids, I would drop them off on Friday morning because I had Saturday night and Sunday services. And we just had a four-hour block – twenty-five years.
And then what I learned was we had to connect because of our communication difficulties, after supper every night for ten, fifteen, sometimes thirty minutes. But we’re going to connect. And we actually went through a script. I mean, it sounds really structured, “What are you concerned about?” “What do you wish?” “What are you willing to do?” until we just got where every day, in supper or right afterwards, we would connect at the heart level. But we put it in.
Today, it is – we are early risers and we start most days in the wee hours of the morning where we get to see the stars. I learned acts of service. So, fifteen years ago, I started making coffee instead of her. I’d make it the night before and bring her a cup of coffee, sit on the floor, and just talk.
When I get home and we want to reconnect, often it will be, “Hey, do you need to go to the grocery store or Target or anything?” Because there’s just something about when you’ve been away from each other. She hates to grocery shop. To me, Costco is like, whoa! But just doing things together. Or, “Do you need to run some errands?” Just being together. “You need, you want to take a walk with the dog?”
And you just hang out. And there’s something that communicates to both of us that we are connected when we just hang out together.
And so, we do a lot of hanging out. And the good news is, that’s easy for both of us. So for me, that acts of service: are things fixed? Are things picked up? Early in our marriage, she would work very hard and she would do all the laundry and it would be on the bed, stacked. T-shirts and this and this and that.
And so, I would walk in, being very busy, and I would take all of them off the bed when it was time to go to bed and put them on the dresser. And they might be on the dresser for three or four days. And she would just look at me like, Don’t you love me? And you’ve got to understand, when you’re as warped as I am, “What do you mean, ‘Don’t I love you’?” “Well, there’s all the clothes that I made and spent all that time to serve and love you on the dresser.”
And forgive me, ladies, but I’m so hard-headed. “What in the world do clothes on the bed got to do with love? Love is about kissing!” Right? Love was like, in my brain, not – fixing the disposal and the washing machine leaks? What’s love got to…? What’s love got to do with it, got to do with it, got to…? Right?
And you know what I learned? I just, I literally, I had to write these things on cards. And every time I’d build a habit. As soon as I see it, I’d put it away. As soon as I see it, I’d put it away. When I walk by the trash can each and every day, I look in there and she’ll say, “Well, almost every day.” But it’s, because what have I learned? That means, “I love you.”
And I resisted and I didn’t like it and I was ticked off and it didn’t make sense. And then finally I thought, Chip, do you love your wife or not? Answer: yes. Well, if that means, “I love you” to her, why don’t you just shut up and do it? And so, I just started shutting up and doing it. And then she has very sacrificially learned to talk and give words of affirmation and encouragement.
And she would probably say, “Yes, he’s verbal – we’ve had conversations where, oh my gosh,” she’s almost afraid, “So, what are you learning right now?” “Oh, I’ve got to tell you!” “I don’t want to hear it.” She goes, “I don’t want the whole sermon right now. Let me get it later.”
Or, “What is going on with you or what happened when you were in China or whatever?” And I have to learn to, I’m still learning. But she listens. She asks questions. She gives me words of affirmation. And it fills my tank. And I’m learning to fill her tank. Words of affirmation, quality time, you drink coffee, you take walks, you go to coffee shops. Yes, you actually walk around those little shops and then, at times, sit on the bench outside and say, “I’ll just be here. Why don’t you take your time in there?” But you go.
The third is receiving gifts. Some people, that’s their love language. And they don’t have to be expensive. But you make something for them, or sometimes they are expensive. And see, by the way, now here’s where conflict comes. Some of us, by nature, are spenders and some of us are savers. Some of us, when we see money and the way we think about money, we think about saving and investing and that’s a good use of money. And other people think, This is money and what you do is you spend it to love people and do wonderful things.
When those two people get married, there’s a little conflict. And if they can, you learn to communicate, it’s a blessing because having money stacked up that make you feel secure somehow and not enjoying the good gifts God has given is not very smart. Or spending more than you actually have is not very smart either.
But in this whole issue of gifts, some people love surprises; some people hate surprises. Some people, a surprise with a gift is like – but it can be the gift of, I was actually talking with someone earlier and he was saying, “Valentine’s Day, I got a card in my lunch.
And then I got a card…”
His wife, little gifts, three little cards that said, “You matter. I’m thinking of you. I value you.” The gift of a phone call, the gift of a text, “I’m thinking about you today.” “I was at this little store and I know it’s really crazy but I know you collect those cups from different cities and I saw this as I was traveling and when I come home, I got it for you.”
My wife likes pink so sometimes when I’m traveling around and I’m not always sure about, I’m not the artist type, but maybe, that looks like it might fit her. And I’m not very good at picking it out, but I just bring her something. Now, that’s not real high on her list, but ask yourself: is that when you feel special?
And often, so much of this grew out of when you were a kid and your family and how they celebrated you.
Ask yourself: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service. I mean, it’s helping out. It’s working in the yard together. It’s taking care of things. It’s making sure they’re fixed. For some of you, that comes really naturally. And, by the way, here’s the thing, the unconscious thing most of us do is whatever our love language is, we express that to our mate because since it is loving to us, we assume it’s to them. And rarely is it the same.
The final one here is physical touch. And most men rank that pretty high. Don’t confuse that completely with sexual intercourse. I don’t know that I have met many men ever who have told me most women probably have no idea how deeply affirming a man feels when his wife wants to be with him and really expresses her love sexually. It just is the way it is.
But physical touch is far more than that. That can be a squeezing of the hand, it might be when you’re sitting you sit close to them, it might be a tap on the shoulder when you pour a cup of coffee. It might be when you’re sitting, I’ve seen someone rub someone’s hair.
But there are people that, our whole bodies are made to be touched and there’s something about – think of what happens in a crisis. What is the first thing that people do in the middle of a crisis when they see one another? They hug. Right?
And so, here’s what I want you to do. I’m gonna, uhm, and I want you to write down what you think your top two love languages are. And let me give you two ways if you’re, if they – for many of you, it’s like you know right now. But here’s one way: what bothers you the most? What really bothers you the most?
Like, if, “How come he didn’t notice I did all the dishes?” “How come she didn’t notice I cut the lawn, I fixed this, I did this, I did this?” Or, “How come, I mean, she didn’t even say thanks. There were no words.” If it really bothers you, that’s a good indicator it’s your love language.
The other one is is what do you ask for the most? When you’re getting really honest and you’re saying, “Hey, at some point in time,” what says “I love you” to you? What are you asking for? What do you want from your mate the most? That is probably your number one love language.
I mean, listen carefully. Unconsciously what we do is we all have challenges in our marriage and, okay, it’s a problem. And he does this or she does that. And she doesn’t do this or he doesn’t do this and it really bothers you.
And you keep looking at that and you focus on that and focus on that and focus on it.
And you know what you start doing? You start looking at your relationship through that lens and then pretty soon, “This isn’t a good marriage and I don’t really like this,” and you become very, very negative. And the fact of the matter is, if you would pull that way back, you have really, in general, a really good marriage with lots of normal problems and here’s the thing. If you focus on that little ten or twenty percent that’s negative, it will grow. If you begin to fill up your mate’s need for love in the language that makes sense to them, I will tell you what, this thing will keep shrinking and shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.
And then there are some things, we’re going to talk about how you really deal with. But you’ll have capacity. You’ll have some capacity to deal with it in a way that isn’t critical and it’s not make or break.
The biggest thing I see with couples is you think you have these problems that are insurmountable and you have fallen out of love and there is no hope or you’re on the edge when what you don’t realize is you’re just on the twenty-five yard line, you just need to make a couple more first downs and believe me, there’s a great future ahead of you. But you’ve got to make a couple first downs.
We can’t do this, Lord, without You. Fill us with Your Spirit. Fill us with Your power.
Lord, help us to choose to love when we don’t feel like it – that’s probably when we love the most.