As part of my reading habits, I try to go through a variety of different kinds of books over the course of a year. One of the kinds of books I try to read at least one of during the year is on marriage and relationships. I know that I am far from the perfect husband, but it is the bar that I have set for myself because it is the standard that Christ as set for us (Eph 5:25; 1 Pet 3:7). I’ve adopted somewhat of an NFL mindset for marriage: it’s a physically and emotionally exhausting game of strategic combat where you have to match your opponent’s tactics to exploit their weakness so you can score and do an obnoxious dance in their face. NO! Not at all! It’s something you have to strive to get better at continually.
I read and watch a fair amount of pro football news and there is one phrase (or version of it) that is almost guaranteed to show up in most player or coach interviews: “get better and better each and every day.” Grammar aside…they are undoubtedly committed to their craft and even though they are at the elite level of what they do, they know that there is always room for improvement in even the smallest and seemingly insignificant areas.
For some reason, when it comes to marriage, we often get comfortable with the status quo when things are going well. For some reason, we think that the lack of complaints or corrections from our spouse means we’ve got this marriage thing figured out. “Hey, she’s not yelling at me so I must be doing it right!” Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. We will never reach perfection as long as we are living in these sin-cursed bodies; so there will always be room for improvement. You may not be as analytically driven as me, but I encourage everyone to adapt some type of purposeful effort to continuously improve for your spouse.
As I said, in my effort to be a better husband, I try to read a marriage- or relationship-oriented book at least once a year. There are a couple of excellent books I have come across that share a common thread: His Needs, Her Needs by William F. Hartley and The 5 Love Languages for Men: Tools for Making a Good Relationship Great by Gary D. Chapman (any of his 5 Love Languages books will probably share this idea). That common thread is the idea of love banking. They each have somewhat of a different take on how to fill it up, but the general concept is the same. Essentially, our relationships are built and sustained by making deposits into your spouse’s love account. William Hartley talks about making deposits by meeting your spouse’s needs whether they are physical, mental, or emotional while Gary Chapman discusses it in terms of showing your spouse love in ways that they understand and makes them feel loved. The approaches are very similar and have some significant overlap. Both, in my opinion, are greatly helpful in understanding how to keep your spouse’s love bank full.
Over seven years of marriage, this is something I have had to make an intentional effort to get better at, and I’m still working on. If your needs or love languages are different from your spouse’s (and chances are high that they are), it will take extra effort on your part to make these deposits and make them consistently. We all have this natural tendency to show love in the ways that we want to be loved rather than how our spouse wants to be loved. When you do that, though, it actually works against you and drains the love bank you’re trying so hard to fill. Your spouse gets frustrated because what you are doing is not resonating with them and no love deposits are being made. In turn, you get confused and frustrated because all of your efforts seem to count for nothing.
Learning to love your spouse in the way(s) that they want to be loved can be difficult and feel really unnatural and forced at first, but the effort is well worth it. I have discovered that Sara and I have very little in common in terms of needs and love languages. For example, she has a strong need for compliments and verbal encouragement. Gary Chapman calls this the “words of affirmation” love language. Unfortunately, I grew up with a single father who was generally non-verbal in that category, and so it rarely crossed my mind that such things would have to be spoken. When we began to work through these differences and I started to understand her need, it felt so awkward trying to compliment or comment on things like how clean the kitchen is or how great her new eye shadow looks. In my mind, I was thinking, “She knows I’m only saying something because that’s what she wants me to do to make her feel good.” One day it hit me…well, yeah that’s the whole point! There are a lot of people that like to have their feet rubbed but there aren’t many that actually like to rub feet! Yet, a foot rub usually gets described as an act of love and devotion because it is born out of a selfless desire to do something that will make the other person feel good. So what if whatever makes her feel good and loved feels awkward to me?
If my goal is to make deposits into her love bank, then how gleeful I am when writing the check is largely irrelevant. Every time I spend large amounts of money on something, I cringe and get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I go ahead and spend the money anyway because I know I will enjoy whatever it is I’m buying. It doesn’t matter if I feel awkward about commenting on clean floors or telling Sara how awesome she is for being more considerate and thoughtful than me. I know that I will enjoy her smile and uplifted spirit even more.
Whatever it is, I promise that normalizing the habit of loving your spouse in the way they want is worth every effort. If you haven’t had a sit-down conversation with your spouse about needs or love languages, it is something I highly recommend. Both of the books I mentioned above have resources (included and/or available) to help you get those discussions started and to work through them.
Beyond that, here is one final word of eternal truth…you can only control your own determination to love the right way. You can’t do anything about your spouse’s decision to reciprocate. The natural question that usually comes up is, “What if my spouse won’t meet my needs or speak my love language?” More often than not, your efforts will not go unreturned. If it does, that shouldn’t deter you from continuing to give it your best effort. Despite what the secular world will tell you, marriage is not a 50/50 endeavor.
At my grandparents’ 50th anniversary celebration, we asked them what they believed was the biggest factor in the success and longevity of their relationship. Without hesitation, my grandfather said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “It’s not about meeting each other halfway, it’s about going all the way for each other.” That is a grand bit of wisdom born out of the biblical truth that we are supposed to love and be wholly devoted to our spouse regardless of how they behave. No, marriage is not a 50/50 endeavor, it is a 100/100, all-in, all the time adventure. Take care of your 100% and leave the rest up to God. Strive to fill your spouse’s love bank, and you will be greatly rewarded with a rich and lasting relationship.