Friday, February 3, 2012

Keeping Love Alive

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…”  Ephesians 5:25 (KJV)
“…all the wives shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small.”  Esther 1:20 (KJV)

There is great happiness and a deeply gratifying sense of security in keeping marriage vows and loving the same person over a lifetime.  
A history is built together, and in it are entangled and woven the laughter, tears, joint worries, and shared fears of everyday life.  
As each year passes, the bond between two hearts strengthens and gains depth and intensity.  Memories made by living life together fill up life’s pages and bolster and reinforce our commitment to each other.

Honeymoon emotions fade.  
Life sets in.  
Unpaid bills, decisions, aging parents, raising children, multiple health issues, and an uncertain future become stark and profound reality.  
Patience wanes and stretches thin as bodies thicken and widen.  
Hair turns gray and falls out.  
Bones hurt, muscles ache, thought processes decelerate.  
Time marches on.

So, how do we keep the love alive?  
How do we maintain a lifetime of faithfulness, in the face of a society that inflicts non-stop temptation?  
How do we retain that initial tenderness and deep emotion, while everything around us suggests something new, unfamiliar, and untested?  
How do we reinforce the ties that bind and continually resurrect the newness of that one who so tenderly won our heart?

Spring of life has faded, and we are now approaching that period somewhere between the end of summer and the dawning of autumn in our lives.  Where we are referred to not as “the young couple”, but “middle-aged”.  How did we get here so fast?  Where did our lives go?  This couldn’t be us!  In my mind’s eye, we are still young, full of zest and hope for our future married life.  What started as hopeful excitement is now permanently written on the pages of our past history book.

Being married to the same person for a long time has enriched my life in so many wonderful, countless ways.  When Kevin and I are asked the secret to our happy marriage, our answer always boils down to three main points. 
  1. Marriage absolutely takes three….God, Kevin, and me.
  2. God must come first…in our individual lives and in our marriage.
  3. Following the Bible rule book really works.
It is really pretty simple, straightforward, and easy to understand.  As stated in today’s passages, it all boils down to two basic commands…love and honor.  How do we do that in the midst of life’s confusion?  Based on Biblical guidelines, there are certain things that Kevin and I have made it a standard and practice to do and other things to never do to each other.  It has fostered a sense of respect and honor in each of our hearts for the other, and it creates a loving atmosphere in our lives and home.  There are many creative ways, and here are some of our suggestions.

Make time for each other
Set aside 30 minutes of every day for “couple” time – absolutely no cancellations allowed!

Do what is important to each other - whether it is your favorite thing to do or not.  Take turns and let each other pick how you will spend your days off or any free time together.  Give and take cheerfully, not begrudgingly.  And while you’re at it, don’t complain.  Try to enjoy it…find something about it you can enjoy and focus on that.  Don’t act miserable.  That would be totally missing the point.
Listen to each other – don’t interrupt – give time to completely speak your minds.  Hold your thoughts until the other is finished.  Try to see the other’s side of it, and remember their point is just as valid and valuable to them as yours is to you.  To invalidate that or downplay it as unimportant is a BIG mistake.  Give credence to each other’s point of view.
Look each other in the eye when you are talking – stop what you are doing, if necessary.  It is hard to inflict hateful words looking into the eyes of someone you’ve made memories with.  Don’t turn your back to each other when angry.  The eyes are the windows to the soul.  Think about what you would do if you no longer had those familiar eyes to look into.  There are many who would give anything to gaze into their loved one’s eyes….just…one….more….time.
Compliment each other – focus on the good points.  What attracted you to each other in the first place?  Remind yourself first, and then remind each other.  Write a list, if necessary.  What made you fall in love?  Those attributes are still there, I promise.  Maybe hidden deep, but still there.  Make the effort to dig for them and find them again. 
Reminisce together.  Remember when…?  Relive the happy times….throw the bad memories away.  The less you keep rehashing them, the more remote and unfamiliar they will become.  One day, you may just forget them completely.  J  Talk about the good times.  Then make some more great memories.
Hold back criticism – bite your tongue when necessary…hard, if need be.  Don’t say it.  No matter how tempting.  Believe me, your husband doesn’t need to hear how clumsy he is, how sick you are of him leaving his clothes on the floor, what a disappointment he is to you.  Your wife doesn’t need to be reminded of her steadily widening hips, her failures to meet your expectations, and how unlike the pretty, young neighbor she is.  Keep it to yourself.  Don’t inflict pain into the heart of the one you once fell in love with.  Words cannot be retrieved, once spoken.  Don’t give them life.  Toss them aside…leave them unspoken.  Then dismiss the thought and replace it with one about life….without each other.  How would that feel?
 Speak tenderly to each other – remember soft answers?  No matter how mad he is or how sulky she is….use a quiet tone of voice.  Remember, kind words receive kind echoes.  Don’t put yourself through the anguish of hearing the echo of your own cutting voice.
  Provide for each other’s needs – get up and make the sandwich, pour the tea, iron the shirt, pack the lunch, find the lost watch, save each other some steps.
Respect each other’s God-given place in the home.  Don’t dominate each other.  Don’t compete with each other.  You’re on the same team, remember?  You ARE the team, remember?  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  (Luke 11:17) Give each other room to operate in your own God-ordained capacity.  Let each other shine.  Bolster each other’s self confidence by giving each other the liberty to function in your own space.
Build each other up.  Steadily remind each other of past accomplishments and your faith in each other’s abilities and talents.  No other opinion is as valuable or coveted as that of each other.  No other praise is as precious as that coming from each other’s lips.  Don’t withhold it.  Shower it lavishly.  Don’t hold back praise.  Think of how good it makes you feel when he notices something you’ve done and tells others about it.
Admit when you are wrong.  Just admit it.  Don’t worry about the other gloating.  Let the other one gloat.  If it gives them that much pleasure, just let it be.  Don’t try to cover up your mess-ups. 
Be willing to lay aside the need to always be right or say “I told you so” when their carefully laid plans fall apart after your verbal warning that they would.  How do you feel when that happens to you?  Remind yourself of that before you speak.  They already feel bad.  Isn’t that punishment enough?  Just keep it to yourself, and don’t gloat.  Be willing to let each other do that, but don’t you do it.  J  HINT:  There will now be no gloating, right?
Do something for the other that you know the other absolutely hates to do or cannot do.  Is there a chore he has been putting off because he dreads it so much?  Can you do it for him?  Do it.  Is there a project she has been wishing you would finish because she is physically unable to handle the task?  You’re strong…don’t put it off any longer.  Do it and surprise her. 
Never, ever, EVER hit each other…under no circumstances, no matter what.  Not even in a playful way.  It absolutely crosses a line of respect that should never be crossed.  It should never happen.  Period.
Don’t ever go to bed angry.  Make things right, in case tomorrow never comes.  (Ephesians 4:26)
********************************************************************************************************Don’t bring up past failures, hurts, and offenses.  Once they are forgiven, forget them.  Let them go.  If a new disagreement arises, never bring the past into a current conversation.  That is not fair.  Deal with the issue at hand and then move on, never to bring it up again. 
Keep a continual spirit of forgiveness in your heart.  Forgive quickly and completely.  Always give each other the benefit of the doubt, and think the best, not worst of each other.  Call to mind the times you have had to apologize and how hard it was, then forgive without making the other feel worse than they already do.
Love and honor….so many creative, imaginative ways….a lifetime such a short time to try them all!  These are a few suggestions for a happy, loving, satisfying marriage.  Each day is ticking away.  Every day brings each of us nearer the final crossing when we will say good-bye to each other, and to this life….this life that we are building together moment by moment, day by day.  Let’s make the most of our journey.  How about it, my friend?  Love your spouse.  Honor them.  You can prevent future regrets by doing the right thing today.  Go ahead…pick up the phone or turn to them….right now…don’t put it off.  Let them hear your sweet voice saying the three most sought-after words…the words that single people everywhere would give anything to hear…the words that widows and widowers would give everything they have to say one more time….say I love you.  Then prove it to them….every, single day.

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